Linux Graphics Demystified

(May 2, 2014)

It’s already been a few weeks since I held a presentation at Chemnitzer Linuxtage (»Chemnitz Linux Days« – a small Linux congress held at the university I used to attend). As it’s about a topic that might be of general interest, I translated the slides into English and made them available as a download (click on the thumbnail above; PDF, 302 kB). The German version is available for download as well though.

The topic is graphics on Linux. That’s a field that used to be simple a decade ago: There was the X Server that did graphics, and not much else. In the recent years however, dozens of new graphics-related technologies cropped up. Most of them have strange names (»Wayland«) or acronyms (»UXA«), some are outright misleading: most people immediately associate »DRM« with Digital Restriction Management, though another expansion of the same acronym – the Direct Rendering Manager – is the centerpiece of modern graphics on Linux. This presentation is aimed at making some of these things clearer.

The topics covered here are:

  • Console and Frame Buffer
  • X Window System
  • OpenGL, Mesa and Gallium3D
  • DRI – Direct Rendering Infrastructure
  • KMS – Kernel Mode Setting
  • Compositing
  • Driver Overview
  • Other Graphics Systems – Android, Wayland and Mir
  • Video Acceleration
  • Hybrid Graphics

Some technical information, in case you’re wondering how the slides were made: Originally, I planned to use LaTeX, but after reading how ridiculously complex it is to do as little as specify a freaking font, I canceled that plan. Instead, it’s now all handwritten HTML5 with SVG graphics drawn in Inkscape. Unfortunately, there’s no way to create proper PDFs from HTML with open-source tools – all browsers suck, and so does wkhtmltopdf. So I had resort to Prince, a commercial tool, which is the only sane way to do HTML/XML-to-PDF conversion. This program works like a charm, generates nice compact PDFs (200k for the whole presentation including figures, but the title page’s detailed Tux adds another 100k) and processes whole documents in a shorter time than TeX needs for startup alone. In fact, I love that program so much, I’d even pay for it, but their pricing model is nowhere as good as the software itself: The cheapest license is about 500 dollars, which is just ridiculous. So I used the free demo version that adds a small icon to the title page of the presentation, but I hope that’s OK for you. (And for their lawyers ;)

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