More Trusty Excitement

I have another bit of exciting news on the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS front.

dota2One  of the things we’ve done is managed to port the Simple Direct Media layer (SDL) to the Mir display server.  For those of you fortunate enough to not have a clue what the means, SDL is a portability layer used by many games, including many available on Valve’s Steam platform.  The consequences of that work is that a whole slew of really good games are going to be available immediately on Unity8 when it finally hits the desktop.

Wait!  There’s more.  SDL autodetects the actual video layer.  That means you can install a game from Steam on Unity7 running on X11 today on Ubuntu 13.10, and when you log in to your Unity8 session running on top of Mir on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, it will just work.  Isn’t that just the bee’s knees?

There’s still more.  The SDL layer isn’t just used for games.  It’s used for professional applications like remote desktop interfaces and various visualizers.  They will all just work on the Unity8 desktop running on Mir.  I’m really excited by this, and you should be too, because it just might mean next year will really be the year of the Linux desktop. Heh.  Humour me.

The screenshot here is the game DOTA2 running on Mir, taken by Brandon Schaefer. He’s the wizard who did most of the work of making the wonderful and widespread SDL library work on Mir in cooperation with Valve and the SDL maintainers.  I’m sure it was tough having to play games during work hours, but he made the valiant effort out of a sense of duty when asked.  Unfortunately, now he has to get back to work fixing high-DPI issues in Unity7.

The Mir back end will be released with libSDL 2.0.2 in the very near future.

Edit: Brandon also has a video capture.

Progress on the Converged Desktop

It’s still very early days in Canonical’s efforts to unify the experience from phone to tablet to desktop to TV, but results are starting to trickle in.

Picture of Unity8 home screen

Unity8 home screen on a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro

One of the side projects on my plate is a Unity8 login session you can install alongside the regular Unity7 desktop (or other desktops, your choice). The idea is to have a preview session available for the Trusty Tahr that lets Unity 8 developers and Touch App developers tune the experience on the desktop. For example, there’s evidently still some work to be done to make Unity8 useful on high-DPI screens like my Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (3200×1800 pixels on a 13″ laptop).

Sorry for the potato. I haven’t got screen capture working yet so I had to use an actual physical camera. Early days. You can see the high-DPI issues in this picture.  For example, see the teeny-tiny indicators at the top?  Didn’t think so.

The cool thing about this session is it runs on the Mir display server with no X11 in sight. LightDM (the program that accepts your password and logs you in in Ubuntu) uses X11 to run the Unity7 greeter, then shuts it down gracefully and starts a Mir server, then uses Upstart to run a Unity8 session. Gee whiz.

Right now you could just install this from a PPA and go at it, but there are some big wrinkles that still need to be worked out. For instance, there’s no cursor support so mouse and trackpad support is a little troublesome (works swell with a touchscreen), and keyboard input seems to have no effect — Unity8 has been developed with phones and tablets in mind, they don’t generally have a mouse, trackpad, or keyboard. It’s OK, there are plans in the works to add those, and that’s one of the reasons we have this session at this point in the Ubuntu release cycle.

Also, there is no way to log off from Unity8 (phones and tablets don’t generally support that concept) so that pretty much requires a reboot of the whole system unless you have an SSH session open.

Finally, there seems to be some trouble actually launching applications. No worries, that’ll get fixed too.

I think this is pretty exciting. That’s why I’m letting you all in on this project in its infancy. The Ubuntu community deserves to be kept abreast of the coming excitement that will be available in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.