X Servers

By Moshe Bar

August 1, 2000

The open source community is extremely productive. There is hardly anything in the Linux world that you have to buy for money.

The quality of open source products is usually much higher than that of the proprietary ones, due to peer review and extensive collaborative testing throughout the world.

One exception is the graphics-adaptor driver market. There are many extremely capable graphics adaptors out there that Linux enthusiasts would like to use, but fail do so because the vendors only offer binary drivers for the Windows XX market. These vendors, for some strange reason, do not want to offer the source code for the drivers. But what's even worse is they do not open up the specifications of their boards.

The smart people developing Xfree86 (www.xfree86.org) are capable of reverse-engineering the specifications of most boards in no time, and they have a driver ready for us. In some cases, however, they do not manage to reverse-engineer all functions of the board. Or, more commonly, it takes them a few months to have a driver ready for a new board.

While said vendors do not disclose the specs to the open source community, they are willing to sell them to a commercial organization that is willing to also guarantee the confidentiality of the specs. One such company is Xi Graphics.

Xi Graphics has been offering X servers for various Unix platforms for years, and recently it is doing a lot of business with X servers for the Linux market. It has X servers capable of doing accelerated 2-D, 3-D, and of managing multi-headed (more than one monitor) systems.

One of the graphic boards not fully supported by the Xfree86 server included in all Linux distros is NeoMagic250 series. These boards have very nice 2-D acceleration and can be found in some Dell and Toshiba laptops. My Toshiba Tecra8000 laptop has one of these boards. Even with the new Xfree86 version 4.0, it does not fully support all the accelerated function of this boards.

Xi Graphics was kind enough to send me a copies of its software for laptops and for workstations. The server is very easy to install. It will ask for license number, resolution, and color-depth. Then it will quietly replace the old X server. No change whatsoever in your configuration is needed. Once you start X with "startx" or through the boot scripts you immediately realize the better quality of the picture and the faster animation and movements of objects on the desktop.

Un-installing the product will automatically restore your previous Xfree86 configuration and all is back to normal.

I don't use X-Window a lot, preferring the power of the shell prompt instead. Also, most of my Linux and Unix servers at home are head-less, meaning that no screen is attached to them. Still, if I had to do serious X-Windows working I would easily pay the $99.00 for the product, it just makes life much easier. Recommended.

Moshe Bar [ moshe@moelabs.com ] is an Israeli system administrator and OS researcher, who started learning Unix on a PDP-11 with AT&T Unix Release 6 back in 1981. He holds an M.Sc in computer science. Visit his website at http://www.moelabs.com/

Copyright 2000