The next release of Debian OS (codename "Buster") is due very soon. It's currently in deep freeze, with no new package updates permitted unless they fix Release Critical (RC) bugs. The RC bug count is at 123 at the time of writing: this is towards the low end of the scale, consistent with being at a late stage of the freeze.

As things currently stand, the default graphical desktop in Buster will be GNOME, using the Wayland desktop technology. This will be the first time that Debian has defaulted to Wayland, rather than Xorg.

For major technology switches like this, Debian has traditionally taken a very conservative approach to adoption, with a lot of reasoned debate by lots of developers. The switch to systemd by default is an example of this (and here's one good example of LWN coverage of the process we went through for that decision).

Switching to Wayland, however, has not gone through a process like this. In fact it's happened as a result of two entirely separate decisions:

  1. The decision that the default desktop environment for Debian should be GNOME (here's some notes on this decision being re-evaluated for Jessie, demonstrating how rigorous this was)

  2. The GNOME team's decision that the default GNOME session should be Wayland, not Xorg, consistent with upstream GNOME.

In isolation, decision #2 can be justified in a number of ways: within the limited scope of the GNOME desktop environment, Wayland works well; the GNOME stack has been thoroughly tested, it's the default now upstream.

But in a wider context than just the GNOME community, there are still problems to be worked out. This all came to my attention because for a while the popular Synaptic package manager was to be ejected from Debian for not working under Wayland. That bug has now been worked around to prevent removal (although it's still not functional in a Wayland environment). Tilda was also at risk of removal under the same rationale, and there may be more such packages that I am not aware of.

In the last couple of weeks I switched my desktop over to Wayland in order to get a better idea of how well it worked. It's been a mostly pleasant experience: things are generally very good, and I'm quite excited about some of innovative things that are available in the Wayland ecosystem, such as the Sway compositor/window manager and interesting experiments like a re-implementation of Plan 9's rio called wio. However, in this short time I have hit a few fairly serious bugs, including #928030 (desktop and session manager lock up immediately if the root disk fills and #928002 (Drag and Drop from Firefox to the file manager locks up all X-based desktop applications) that have led me to believe that things are not well integrated enough — yet — to be the default desktop technology in Debian. I believe that a key feature of Debian is that we incorporate tools and technologies from a very wide set of communities, and you can expect to mix and match GNOME apps with KDE ones or esoteric X-based applications, old or new, or terminal-based apps, etc., to get things done. That's at least how I work, and one of the major attractions of Debian as a desktop distribution. I argue this case in #927667.

I think we should default to GNOME/Xorg for Buster, and push to default to Wayland for the next release. If we are clear that this a release goal, hopefully we can get wider project engagement and testing and ensure that the whole Debian ecosystem is more tightly integrated and a solid experience.

If you are running a Buster-based desktop now, please consider trying GNOME/Wayland and seeing whether the things you care about work well in that environment. If you find any problems, please file bugs, so we can improve the experience, no matter the outcome for Buster.


Comments

comment 1
Thanks for the post, very interesting. I would be interested to try Wayland, but I keep (far) away from Gnome3. I have tested it for in total about a year (3m, 3m, 6m with different versions), and I always felt that it is just a PITA and blocking me from work. So as long as other DE (like my preferred, Cinnamon) does not allow using Wayland, I guess it will not see more reports.
Comment by Norbert Preining,
comment 1

Ever since I started running buster I've only ever used gnome + wayland.

If it suddenly changed to xorg+wayland at this late stage, wouldn't that represent a risk for people like me because you would suddenly be shipping a less well tested setup?

Comment by Martin G,
comment 3
@Martin G, that's an interesting perspective. On the one hand, Buster has not been released, and using it is not supported (although encouraged, to help find all the bugs). The only supported releases are the releases that have actually happened: and they have always defaulted to Xorg. I am not advocating for removing Wayland from Buster entirely, merely changing what the default would be. So you could continue to use Wayland even if the default was changed back to Xorg.
jon,
comment 4
As someone who is not involved in Debian development: have you considered going with XFCE+X11 as the default? This would let the GNOME team focus solely on Wayland, as they seem to wish.
Comment by Anonymous,
comment 5
People like me who use a Wacom tablet will be surprised. You get two distinct mouse pointers--one for the tablet and one for regular mice. Had to switch Gnome 3 to Xorg for normal operation.
Comment by Regis,
comment 6
Jessie was a real bummer for me. I could only get it to run safely and stable on a headless server. I blamed systemd because that was the first time it defaulted to it. Only Jessie had those problems on the hardware. That being said, I hope they don't have another Jessie for desktop computers. It really sounds like Wayland is ready for primetime and should still only be used for testing. I know I wouldn't give up Synaptic as none of the other programs work as well. Debian's "Software" was a dud on my installs. I have been looking forward to Buster, but if it is going to run unstable software, that concerns me. Debian had been my "go to" until Jessie required me to switch. I've really enjoyed Stretch and began running it as "testing" a full year before it became stable. IDK, I don't like Gnome, and my son asked for Cinnamon on his PC so this might not effect me. I am just worried about Debian's reputation.
Comment by capeath,
comment 6
Not sure why Gnome is being used as default with Wayland if it's been acknowledged that Wayland is still not without issues for which Xorg does not suffer from. Where's the logic in that? And people think Devuan is without reason.
Comment by John,
comment 6

Hello:

I've installed Buster on my computer, and I noticed the Wayland thing. However, I need to work with three monitors (two connected to an NVIDIA graphics card and another connected to the onboard graphics). I was able to use just to monitors, so I had to switch to Xorg to work with three... (BTW, Windows can work easly with three monitors). Is there any way to improve this in the future? Thanks.

Comment by Pablo Medina,
comment 6

I concur with the previous poster, the lack of support for touch pads and pens is a huge problem. For anyone doing design work, Xorg is a must. To have a default which disallows a huge user bracket is just not sensible. GIMP and Krita both need Xorg in order function properly with pen tables.

I like that there's two mouse points when you have 2 mice in Wayland, that's great. Not being able to access pressure sensitivity is not.

Comment by Benjamin Green,
comment 10

there are no alternatives to synaptic, if you want to manage dependencies from UI,

the fact that they don't consider to fix synaptic, and insist on usage of Gnome Software,

feels that they don't do a release for power users, but a release for rookies, and this is sad, cause there is ubuntu which covers this user base.

I think debian is loosing focus.

Comment by ion,
comment 10
Pls consider going with XFCE+Xorg as the default. Wayland does not work with nouveau for nvidia legacy display adapters.
Comment by Lindroidux,
comment 12
I won't qualify #1 as a demonstration of how the process is being rigorous. It is not. Truth to be said, there's zero chance to change the default desktop on Debian. Arguably, the Debian installer let you choose another desktop if you want by using Alternative Desktop Environments.
Comment by Fathi B.,
comment 14
Was this the secret master plan, to switch into systemd, then into gnome, then merge into IBM Red Hat? =)
Comment by mark,
comment 14

Thanks for the blog posts. I had to switch 'back' from Wayland to Xorg because of some suspect issues with proprietary software from VMware (e.g. copy & paste does not work reliable, switching to tty with Ctrl+Alt+Space+F(X) does not work and so on. Also it is nearly impossible to run X applications as root from a non-root session (which is not bad in general, but sometimes necessary).

I would personally welcome very much to choose Xorg as default for Buster.

Comment by Marcus,
comment 16

I think it is a mistake to not make Wayland the default, but then I don't use basically any defaults, I do a bare minimum CLI network install, and then build up what I want package by package in aptitude.

I have been using Wayland for a long time now, at one point something in X init broke (on Sid), so I started using Weston... didn't bother to switch back when the X issue got fixed. I really wish you would release Buster with Weston 6 instead of 5 (5 doesn't work with current mpv anymore), and Sway 1.1.

Comment by Kelly,
comment 16
If one wants to install Gnome+Xorg how can that be done? aptitude install xorg-server followed by aptitude install gnome?
Comment by Onan the Barbarian,
comment 18

I really wish you would release Buster with Weston 6 instead of 5 (5 doesn't work with current mpv anymore), and Sway 1.1.

I'm afraid, quite besides what happens wrt the default desktop, neither of these things will happen. Sway has been packaged, but only uploaded to the experimental suite at the moment; Weston 6 came out after the Buster freeze began, and has yet to be packaged (perhaps because there's no chance it would get into Buster). It's possible that one or both will be made available as backports in the future.

jon,
comment 19

If one wants to install Gnome+Xorg how can that be done? aptitude install xorg-server followed by aptitude install gnome?

I'm not certain (to be certain one would have to trace the package dependencies, as I have just done, but more carefully) but I think the metapackage "gnome" will pull in both the Xorg xserver and Wayland components, so you have the choice of either.

jon,
comment 20

Wouldn't it be better to just delay buster a bit longer until the bugs are resolved around Wayland? Xorg is indeed dying, another 2ish years on Xorg would be tough.

Comment by Alex Z,
comment 21

Working with the Gnome/Wayland combination as it currently exists in Buster for two days has been a frustrating experience for me, and I am certain that it will be so for many users.

I am not ready for a functionally crippled version of Linux and Debian, and the frequency with which the system freezes is alarming. If the Gnome team want testers, they need to do that externally to a Debian default release.

I have been using Debian on all my devices since 2001, and this is the first time that I have felt betrayed by the distribution. This combination is not ready and is not worthy to be the default desktop.

Providing I can still configure XFCE4 or Plasma without something wacky being installed by default or something useful missing, I will stick with Debian because I feel at home with the management tools.

I have loaded Manjaro on a laptop today just in case the Debian team finds an average 1 hour freeze interval acceptable... and here I always thought the Ubuntu team too capricious for my taste.

Comment by Larry Cadle,
comment 22

Hi Larry,

Providing I can still configure XFCE4 or Plasma without something wacky being installed by default or something useful missing, I will stick with Debian because I feel at home with the management tools.

You can still use even GNOME with Xorg, the issue is just what default is presented to users who haven't specified an explicit session whilst logging in. (And I think your last session choice is sticky, so once you've selected e.g. GNOME Xorg, it should default to that afterwards. But I can't confirm that right now)

We agree that the default is important. But for existing users, you are not going to be forced to use Wayland, and so there's no technical reason you should have to change distribution (just a philosophical one)

jon,
comment 23

I believe that a key feature of Debian is that we incorporate tools and technologies from a very wide set of communities, and you can expect to mix and match

Yeah, this is why you need a distro fork to change init. Sure, sounds legit.

Comment by Anonymous,
comment 24

Yeah, this is why you need a distro fork to change init. Sure, sounds legit.

You don’t: Debian still supports sysvinit if you want it. What changed was the default.

jon,
comment 25

As I see Debian 10 will come with the mate dektop environment V 1.20. But Mate control-panel with wayland support needs V 1.22. Seems to be even worse with other mate applications. Where Wayland ist supposed for future release only - See:

https://wiki.mate-desktop.org/roadmap https://mate-desktop.org/blog/2019-03-18-mate-1-22-released/ https://wiki.mate-desktop.org/wayland

At least, for me as mate user I will stay with X-org.

Comment by Fred,
comment 26
Yes, you can change this default and use Gnome on Xorg but I can't understand the decision to make Wayland the default when there is no way to run an application that requires administrative priviledges. It makes me loose trust on other decisions the developers may have taken. Almost 20 years using Debian and I am considering moving to another distro.
Comment by Alvaro,
comment 27

Yes, you can change this default and use Gnome on Xorg but I can't understand the decision to make Wayland the default

It was more of a passive decision than an active one, for the most part: the move from Xorg to Wayland actually took place years ago, but in the unstable distribution; and that decision was not revisited.

when there is no way to run an application that requires administrative priviledges.

This isn't true. It is possible to run such programs under Wayland. The issue with Synaptic is the precise way in which the privileges are obtained. I can go into further detail if you wish. But the counter-example is "virt-manager": It requires privileges to operate, and asks for them upon launch (in most cases), and works under Wayland.

jon,