The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

X11 is dead?

The X11 Desktop's (what you see to the left) client/server protocol is built-in. There's no need to use vnc in most cases!!

I have no idea why it is so hard for people to grasp the power of client/server graphic networking. It's simple. Easy. Transparent. And so enormously useful that innumerable projects use it to great effect, and if only more people would just turn X11's network support on, it would be a better world.

I can only imagine it's a conspiracy.

Legions of PHBs hunched over their laptops in 1989, saying: “THIS X11 CONCEPT IS TOO POWERFUL! Imagine a world where every cell phone, handheld, laptop, desktop, server and supercomputer in the world could run all their applications on each other over a network transparent protocol!

“There'd be no need to rewrite every application for every new paradigm. We'd stop having to support all the old ones in the field, too. Every app on your cellphone could run on your desktop! And every app on your desktop could run on your cellphone! Think of all the jobs that would be lost! Think of (my) children and my golf fees!"

X11 is dead, long live X11

The X11 Windowing System is something that's hard to explain to someone who doesn't normally use computers remotely, and thus it's even hard to explain why using a computer remotely is even desireable.

I was first introduced to X11 in college, most likely by my friend Ken, who regularly came barging into my office with “Hey Sean! You gotta see this!”

X11 was cool because the Computer Science and Engineering Department would regularly install neat programs, such as a little program called Mosaic that allowed one to view information on something called the “World Wide Web,” that I could use in my office (in the Math Department one floor below the Computer Science and Engineering Department), without having to go to the trouble of installing it on my own computer (well, it wasn't my computer, but I was the administrator of it).

I even learned how to use X11 to get the login screen from my office computer on the computers in the various Computer Science and Engineering computer labs if I was stuck upstairs for some reason (and I preferred my office machine, an SGI Personal IRIS 4D/35 with video-editing capability, over the run-of-the-mill Sun SPARCstations CSE used).

I don't use X11 in that way much anymore; I find very little need for remote running of graphical programs, but when I do, it's nice that I can.

Unfortunately, there's a perception that X11 has poor performance. And yes, compared to NeWS, X11 is very clunky. And the pretty 3D eye-candy of modern windowing systems leads to even more poor performance across the network.

Besides, Microsoft Windows was never designed with network transparency in mind, and thus, to get access to Windows programs remotely, you need something like VNC. The same goes for the Macintosh. And hey, if you have ported VNC to both Windows and Mac, it's not that much work to port it to X11.

Sigh.

Another part of Mike Taht's rant skirts around true peer-to-peer networking, which the Internet was about fifteen years ago, but now, what with Microsoft's poor record at security and a perceived lack of IP addresses, is no longer the case. IPv6 will supposedly fix that, with an address space large enough to give every atom in the universe its own address, but the change in the Internet infrastructure (at least in the United States) will be expensive, not to mention time-consuming, so don't expect it to happen any time soon.

Yet another sigh.

Updated on Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Why VNC may be better than X11.

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