Mixed Feelings About Wayland on Gnome

I’ve been a Gnome 3 user pretty much since I first started using Unity on Ubuntu (RIP Unity). When I started learning about Wayland, I got very excited (granted I’m a sucker for new shiny and performance optimized things). My main hesitation with using it, even to this date, is compatibility. Although Wayland is more-or-less intended as a replacement for X11, it’s an entirely new protocol, which requires a compatibility layer in order to use older applications (AKA most applications currently). This need for compatibility sadly means there are issues, such as with gaming. I’ve been bouncing between Gnome under X.org and Wayland for a few months now, and as much as I’d like to be using it full-time, there are a few things preventing me from doing so.

The biggest thing that’s been preventing me from migrating 100% to Wayland is the lack of support for Redshift. This application adaptively adjusts the screen’s colour temperature and brightness throughout the day, but isn’t designed in a way that will natively work with Wayland due to differences in the protocols (see this thread for details). Although Gnome 3.24 includes a night mode, which has similar features, it doesn’t work quite the same way as Redshift (notably lacking automatic adjustment based on geographic location, and brightness adjustment). While it’s not to say my PC is unusable without it, I quickly realize how much more straining it is on the eyes. Thankfully, there have been many efforts to bring Redshift’s functionality to the Gnome desktop. Apart from the aforementioned night mode, there is a shell extension that implements some of it by patching the gnome settings daemon. I even attempted to add functionality to it, adding the missing brightness control, though there was an apparent lack of interest in including that change. A more recent development, which so far seems more effective is a fork of the original Redshift, adding support for Wayland using the Gnome RR library call. I’ve submitted it to the AUR, so arch users can easily test it. So far it seems to be functional, and I hope it will stay that way.

The other compatibility issue I encounter is with the tool xbindkeys. As the name suggests, it’s a tool for X11 to remap key and mouse button presses. It can even be used to run macros or launch applications. Although it works under the XWayland compatibility layer, as more and more applications get native Wayland support, this tool will be less and less effective. What’s worse, as the Wayland protocol was designed with more modern security standards, it may not even be possible to entirely implement what xbindkeys could accomplish here. Thankfully I only use it to map extra buttons on my mouse, but it will still be missed.

The other frustrations I’ve encountered are minimal and more miscellaneous, and as such should hopefully disappear as updates are released. I have, for instance, had issues with the GDM screen shield (I wish it could just be disabled honestly), where once I restore from it, my shell extensions are disabled. On X.org this isn’t too much of an issue since the shell can be restarted, however in Wayland it’s necessary to logout since the “–replace” option in gnome-shell isn’t supported. Thankfully I haven’t experienced this issue since upgrading to Gnome 2.34, so I’m hoping it doesn’t reoccur. I’ve also had issues with certain applications not functioning properly, or at all. Teamviewer 12 for a time didn’t work, though that one has been mitigated it seems. I still cannot get grub-customizer to work, though I’m in the process of figuring that one out.

Despite these issues, which frankly aren’t that bad, I still have much reason to use Wayland. Full-screen applications run beautifully, without causing strange resizing or stuttering issues. What’s more, the lack of screen tearing in all applications (this includes full-screen YouTube and Flash videos) is fantastic. I also feel running games gives better performance, though I can only objectively validate this in a few instances. So for now I’m going to try sticking with it yet again, and hopefully I won’t have much to complain about.

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