Novell released its contributions to Xgl to the open source community last month. It also announced that Xgl will be included in the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop to be released this summer, and has provided instructions on how you can add it now to existing SUSE releases.
You can also add Xgl to other distributions of Linux, such as Gentoo and Ubuntu Dapper. But if you just want to see and experience Xgl for yourself, without risking your current system by going through a somewhat difficult installation process, there is only one place you can go: to the new live CD from Kororaa.
Kororaa lead developer Chris Smart learned of Xgl's availability at the end of February, then disappeared for a few days. When he emerged -- yes, Gentoo readers, that was for you -- he held in his hands a bright and shiny live CD, which he announced to the world at 3:34 a.m., EST, on the 8th of March.
Kororaa is a distro that provides a binary installer for Gentoo. Djpharoah, one of the Kororaa IRC and forum moderators, says using Kororaa allowed him to completely install and configure a Gentoo system in a couple of hours instead of a couple of days.
The response to the live CD has been so great that the ISO had to be removed from the Kororaa site and is available at present only from the list of mirrors you can find here. Articles on Groklaw and elsewhere have fanned the flames of interest even higher.
What's the big deal?
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I downloaded a copy of the 442MB live CD ISO from a mirror site in Europe on Sunday, and booted into Kororaa without a clue as to what to expect. A nice, but sort of plain, desktop appeared with a cute penguin (a Korora, or fairy penguin, most likely), a couple of icons on the desktop, and not much else. As I moved around, opened windows, and exercised the graphics system just a bit, I could detect a certain snappiness to the openings and closings that isn't normally there.
The windows also seemed to have a translucence to them that ordinary windows don't have. But dragging a window from one part of the desktop to another really grabbed my attention: the window moved like it was made out of Jello. The corner I was pulling it by stretched out from the rest of the window, then everything followed. When I stopped the movement, it sort of snapped back into shape, quivering as it did so. Moving it up and down rapidly caused it to stretch and compact.
But most of the buzz I had heard about Xgl had to do with the demo AVI that Novell had released. If the link for the AVI is non-responsive, Google for "xgl-demo1.xvid.avi" and try downloading it from elsewhere on the Net. I downloaded it -- it's a big file, about 57MB worth -- then played it with the live CD's default player. The AVI doesn't include sound, but there is plenty to enjoy in the video.
Windows on the demo desktop open almost instantly, and they contain multiple images within themselves which are also instantly there. The hint of translucence I saw on the live CD windows is anything but a hint in the demo: windows become transparent and then solid again, as they are dragged over and under other windows. I'm not sure which is the more impressive, the speed of the graphics or the fancy tricks that can be done with them.
I was so impressed I wanted to install Kororaa on a machine I had reserved for another project. Luckily for that project, the live CD does not yet include an installer.
After playing with Xgl, I feel comfortable predicting that this is the year the Linux desktop arrives: with Xgl inside Linux will no longer have to take a visual back seat to Mac OS X or Windows. Keep in mind, however, that Xgl requires a 3D video card and, at a minimum, 512MB of system memory. I tested Kororaa's live CD on a system with an Athlon 64 3200+, 512MB of RAM, and an onboard Nvidia GeForce 6150/6100 video chipset.
The Kororaa crew
I spent a little time on IRC with developer Chris Smart and two of the IRC/forum moderators, who are known as dutchhome and djpharoah. Both have day jobs other than answering cries for help on IRC and in the forums: dutchhome is an IT manager and djpharoah is an engineering student.
I asked what sort of issues they were hearing from live CD users, and dutchhome replied, "The ones we do see have been either 1) my video card doesn't work, 2) I want to install it and can't, 3) issues with resolution or packages that are not installed." Djpharoah noted, "A lot of mirrors don't have the supported Kororaa XGL video card list." Naturally, that means some will be disappointed when they try to boot the CD and can't.
When Smart showed up, I immediately barraged him with questions.
NF: How has your life been going lately?
CS: Absolutely hectic ;) I have had hundreds of emails coming in with feedback about the live CD, and I've been busy replying to every one. :) Then there's the forums, which usually takes a lot of time, which has also shot up. I have over 20 threads I have to go and reply to now ;) But it's great! I love helping people where I can.
NF: Are you blown away by the reaction to the live CD?
CS: In a word, yes. The response has been truly overwhelming and very exciting. :)
NF: How long did it take you to put Xgl together with Kororaa?
CS: All in all it took a week. I spent almost three days trying to get ATI drivers working, and almost gave up! But in the end I realised my silly mistake. ;)
NF: Any guesstimate on when a version with an installer will appear?
CS: I'm actually working on an installable version as we speak. :) But it's in early preparation. Hopefully over the next month good progress will be made and we might have something installable. Right now I'm struggling with Mesa compiling with DRI support so that I can get older Radeons working. We'll just have to wait and see. :)
NF: One last question. What is your day job?
CS: When I'm not working on Linux I'm playing with Linux, but during the day I'm an IT manager for a small computer firm that I run in Canberra (that's the capital of Australia, not Sydney!)
At this point, djpharoah suggested users join the forums and the #kororaa channel on irc.freenode.net when they need help. I thanked them all for their time, and for the contributions they are making to Linux and free software, and let them return to their first love, the care and feeding of Kororaa and Kororaa users.