Xgl - Desktop Linux's Savior?

I’ve followed the Linux on the Desktop thing for quite a while. At one point I had one of the distributions installed on my laptop and swore that there was nothing that I needed out of Windows that Linux didn’t provide for me. And for the most part that was true, except for my corporate e-mail client, which I ended up running in a vmware session.

I trotted along with that for a while, but after a couple of months, I went back to Windows in frustration. Despite the promise of Desktop Linux, it just felt sluggish and blurry when compared to my Windows boxen. When working with reams of code in Eclipse, the desktop experience is critical to my productivity. And unfortunately, I’m just more productive in Windows that I was in Linux, which is too bad since I really prefer Linux for software development. I just seems to give me more control over my execution environment.

And then one day a Mac G5 landed in my office. There wasn’t much installed on it so I didn’t have much use for it, but the desktop environment sure looked cool. After a little investigation I found out that at the base of it all was OpenGL. The promise of using OpenGL, or 3D acceleration in general, for desktop environments had really peaked my interest. With the pending arrival of Microsoft Vista, I think we’ll soon realize how clunky the ole’ 2D desktops really are.

So if Mac OS X can do a 3D desktop on a *nix base, why can’t Linux. That’s when a few google searches brought me to the Xgl project going on in and around X.org. Xgl is an implementation of an X server on OpenGL, assuming I understand the documentation correctly. The progress on Xgl has been slow and I kind of lost track of it’s progress until an article appeared on ZDNet the other day. I’m still not sure it’s moving at a pace where we’ll see it common place anytime soon, but with the backing of Novell, who hired the developer of Xgl, my hope has returned, at least a little bit.

I love Linux for software development and, if I had the right desktop experience and I had access to all the apps I needed to be super productive in my job, I’d switch again in an instant. Here’s hoping that the Linux community sees the potential of Xgl and works on finishing it and bringing it into my favorite Linux distribution sometime soon.

Update: Here’s the news release from Novell. Includes some cool movies showing off a demo of Xgl’s advanced capabilities.