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X.Org Becomes New Home for X Window Technology

The success of the Linux operating system has given X Window technology - used to underpin the Linux graphical user interface - a longer lifespan than many commentators expected. Yesterday a new organization, called X.Org, was formed to become the "official stewards" of X. It will be headed by Gary Tyreman, also senior director of marketing at Ontario, Canada-based PC X server vendor Hummingbird Communications Ltd. The Open Group continues to change its focus towards enterprise integration, emphasizing large users rather than vendors.

Originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, X became the standard base for device independent graphics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mostly in the Unix workstation world. It later came under the control of the X Consortium, an industry body which provided the funding and directed its development. In 1996 the Open Group absorbed the Consortium, and ran it as a working group. Funding remained separate from other Open Group activities. Now X.Org will be the recipient of those funds. Six executive members - Compaq Computer Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, Hummingbird, IBM Corp, Silicon Graphics Inc and Sun Microsystems Inc - will pay annual fees of $50,000, with 12 other "premier" members paying $15,000. X.Org says it is no longer a working group, but now a "non profit organization of the Open Group," to which it will still be paying management fees.

X.Org takes over the existing X Project teams. Its purpose, according to Tyreman, is "to add some spurs to X developments." It is effectively "a recommitment to X" he says and a way of making sure of its status as a standard. Tyreman says that over 90% of the most important companies involved in X Window development are represented by the group.

One of the main tasks for X.Org will be to bridge relationships with the Linux community, where the majority of X Window growth is coming from. X is available free and is effectively open source, but its standardization efforts make the development efforts much slower than those of The XFree86 Project Inc, an open source organization developing X server for Intel processors. When the Open Group announced the release of X11Release 6.4 just over a year ago (CI No 3,384) it added new licensing restrictions that caused XFree86 to say that it would stick with R6.3 as its technology base. Such a split would have done severe damage to X's claim to be a standard, but the Open Group backed down in September 1998, reverting back to the traditional X Window style copyright. XFree86 says it now plans to incorporate R6.4 into its own forthcoming XFree86-4.0 release. Tyreman says he hopes that X.Org can cooperate with XFree86 so that it can work with it on faster bug fixing, while also continuing its own standardization brief.

X.Org won't, however, get involved in defining the desktops built on top of X Window technology. It's leaving that to those working on the Gnome and KDE Linux desktop projects. "We are responsible for X, but don't want to dictate on the desktop" says Tyreman . But, he says, the group is considering what it might do with the Motif and Common Desktop Environment technology, currently still under the control of the Open Group.

A year after its official introduction X11R6.4 is still filtering onto the marketplace. Beyond that there is no official major new release of the technology scheduled. Some smaller introductions, such as full support for audio, and wider keyboard and internationalization support, should be out soon. X.Org will initially concern itself with setting itself up and establishing branding before working on a firmer roadmap after talking to its members. Tyreman says his main goal this year is to "establish a value proposition for the membership, saving them money through bug fixes and patches, so they can add the technology as a shared cost."

&co; Copyright, NISS or original authors.
niss-news@niss.ac.uk, 18 May 1999


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