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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A new version of the X11 windowing system, used by Unix-like operating systems including Linux, will become generally available in ten days time.

This is significant as it's likely to be the version that will face most users in future distributions. Known as X11R6.7, it's the first release from the XOrg consortium. This was originally founded to steer the specification in May 1999, but only recently decided to do something about it, citing the glacial pace of development by the XFree86 consortium.

XOrg created the XOrg Foundation which is backed by IBM, Sun and HP and blessed by Jim Gettys, one of the authors of the original X11 specification, 20 years ago. XFree86 continues to be supported by a clutch of smaller Linux distributions, including Conectiva and Slackware, although the big players, including Novell and Red Hat, have thrown their weight behind XOrg's efforts.

New licensing terms from XFree86 have finally convinced the power brokers to endorse a XOrg's fork, although XFree86 maintainer David Dawes says the new terms are no more onerous than the previous license. But politics has played no small part in the adoption of competing systems. X11 owes its success to a backlash against the superior PostScript-based NeWS system from Sun Microsystems.

Meanwhile, the To-Do list for the new branch is choc-ful of patches and proposed extensions, including work that may eventually lead to X11 getting a modern compositor, as seen in Apple's Quartz display system, and promised in Microsoft's Longhorn. You can see a glimpse of what might emerge here, from Keith Packard.

Users will be able to download X11R6 from 25 April. ®

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