On the Desktop
Linux in the news
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
HP and the visual effects industry. The visual effects industry is moving to Linux in big ways these days. Visual effects, which is more commonly referred to simply as VFX, has two distinct sides: the renderfarm side and the desktop, or Digital Content Creation (DCC) side. While most readers are well aware of the role Linux plays on the renderfarm side (such as with the movie Titanic), few people are aware of how strongly the DCC side is being infiltrated by Linux.
Most of the major studios have already started to migrate to Linux. Originally studios relied heavily on SGI systems which had very powerful graphics hardware. When SGI began to fall on hard times, studios felt they needed alternative solutions. Most turned initially to Microsoft but found the going rough. Applications written for SGI's Irix platform were not easily ported to WindowsNT and graphics libraries and support were not nearly on par with the more evolved SGI systems. Then, in the summer of 1999 things began to change.
One of the driving events that year was the announcement of SideFX's port of Houdini to Linux. Houdini is the desktop application artists have used to create visual effects for such feature films as The Grinch, The Matrix, X-Men and Godzilla. SideFX ported its application to Linux without the availability of hardware acceleration - XFree86 didn't release support for hardware acceleration until March 2000.
Once SideFX made its software available, VFX studios could then begin to request hardware vendors to supply systems which could run Houdini. One company that answered the call was HP.
"In early 2000 we started getting strong requests from the DCC marketplace for a Linux desktop solution," said Karen Ghavem, Linux Program Manager for the Technical Computing Division of HP in Colorado that worked on HP's VFX support. "The main technology lacking on the Linux desktop at the time was the ability to run accelerated, OpenGL 3D graphics. To do that you need to run under X." At the time the XFree86 team was just developing DRI/DRM and their delivery date was expected to be after the time frame HP needed to provide their solutions to their early adopters, which HP refers to as Lighthouse customers.
"There were two options for us: one was to beef up DRI/DRM to make it robust enough," but that would have taken too long. HP decided to use its own, mature HP/UX solution that they could port over to Linux in order to deliver product to the DCC customers. Ghavam noted, "We started shipping those systems about 9 months ago," with early access customers getting systems up to 6 months prior to that.
HP ported their own X server over to Linux along with their own hardware accelerated OpenGL. This gave them better performance than what users were getting with XFree86 when used with some of the graphics cards available at the time, while allowing them to utilize their existing expertise with Linux. And while HP could deliver early to the DCC marketplace with their own proprietary offerings on top of Linux, they knew that market was looking for open source. "We recognized that the open source community and the 3rd party graphics drivers would evolve and become stable enough under the XFree86 environment."
"The reason customers are moving from those other Unix solutions to Linux is because of choice and commodity. They want to not be locked into a single vendor solution," Ghavam pointed out.
In July HP released the X2000 and X4000 systems which are based on Red Hat 7.1 and accelerated XFree86 servers for the FireGL cards. "We have an OEM agreement with Red Hat and proactively certify our systems with Red Hat releases at the time of the OS release." HP's role here is to work with graphic card vendors like FireGL to push the requests from DCC customers to make Linux and XFree86 work well with HP systems. "There are even some areas where 2D performance can be improved," says Ghavam. Some of these improvements will come as more customer demands drive the work. "But from what we're hearing from our customers, and even in our internal R&D, XFree86 is pretty stable and a good desktop now. People are pretty happy with it."
Many of HP's new Linux DCC customers come from Unix backgrounds, though not necessarily HP/UX, while many of their existing customers are happy in their current HP/UX solutions. That means they'll be maintaining both their HP/UX environment along with the newer Linux solutions. It also means that HP has begun looking at taking some of the technologies in their current X environment and making them available to the open source world. Ghavam couldn't elaborate on most of those but she did mention one in particular: SLS - single logical screen. This technology allows multiple monitors ("screens" in X parlance) to appear as one large screen, with individual windows spanning multiple monitors and the cursor moving across screens. In the XFree86 world the equivalent option would be Xinerama. "But the current Xinerama release doesn't support accelerated 3D applications to run in a window. SLS does."
When they were putting together those early Linux systems, HP decided to provide SLS for their DCC early adopters. Ghavam described the setup: "Artists like to use two screens for their work, one for animation work and another for video playback but with the ability move windows and the cursor freely between the two monitors. Even though some hardware, such as the FireGL cards, now provide multiple monitor support in hardware (removing the need for software to handle this), many cards still don't."
And in keeping with their eye toward the future, HP is considering contributing SLS to XFree86. Such contributions are driven by the requirements of their customers. "There has not been an immediate need for it, but in the future we think this will move into the XFree86 space," says the HP program manager.
While HP may appear to have skipped the open source route while putting together desktop workstations for the fast growing, Linux-based DCC market, they in affect chose to provide a solid solution with a hybrid environment while waiting for (and helping to move forward) the open source alternatives. It's a reasonable solution for commercial organizations who simply can't wait for open source to catch up to existing offerings, but who also don't want to ignore the benefits of open source, and the demands of their target industries, over the longer term.
Relocatable Java installs? Well, sort of. This story might never end, but after last week's note from IBM that the Java RE they provide is in RPM format and therefore relocatable, one reader wrote in to let us know our test system, Red Hat Linux 7.1, might not let us do so.
Actually, relocation is broken in the rpm shipped with RHL7.1 (bugzilla bug #25876). The rpm in rawhide is fixed in that regard, but it is broken in other ways (most probably because it is under active development), so ymmv.
The bug report was against RHL 7.0 while the closure puts it against 7.1, however. (Thanks to Ronald Cole)
Kernel Cousin KDE #18. This week's Kernel Cousin KDE carries an analysis of the extended discussion on the future of KDE after 2.2. "The other main point of concern was the current state of KDE2 and the number of outstanding bug reports. Peter Kelley verbalized this objection saying, 'I think having a 2.3 version will be very important from the point of getting a stable and relatively bug-free version of khtml. Right now there are over 700 open bug reports for khtml and kjs combined...'" Eventually, Waldo Bastian posted a schedule which puts a KDE 3.0, which includes the migration to Qt3, out in the early part of 2002.
Minutes of the GF Board Meeting (July 24, 2001). The GNOME Foundation Board meeting notes reveal that the current plans for GNOME 2.0 include an imminent API freeze, and that the board wants to do more to let those with special needs know what GNOME has to help them out.
GNUstep weekly update. There was only one minor bug fix this week according to the GNUstep weekly update but that doesn't distract from the release of a new version of the Java language interface (JIGS).
KOffice Suite 1.1 Release Candidate 1. The first release candidate for KOffice 1.1 has been made available by the KOffice project team. Final release is targeted for mid-August.
KSpread 1.1 Beta 3 reviewed. In this second part of a full KOffice review, this review covers the KDE spreadsheet, KSpread.
Evolution 1.0 Beta 1 announcement redux. Last week we mistakenly noted the release of Ximian's Evolution 1.0 Beta 1 in the Development page under the subtopic of "Browsers". Well, we knew better. Evolution is an Outlook-styled application providing calendaring, email and an address book.
The Beta 1 preview releases begin the countdown to the 1.0 release this fall.
AbiWord 0.9.0. A new release of the AbiWord word processor has been announced. The new release includes better import/export support for RTF, XHTML, MSWord and ApplixWords, spell checking improvements, automatic numbered headings, and a plugin architecture.
The new release is also noted in the AbiWord Weekly News.
Review: theKompany's Universal Documentation Tool - DocBrowser. The DocBrowser, a KDE tool for reading man pages and info files, was reviewed this past week on GUI-Lords. " The Info pages are brought to new life and new appreciation for me with DocBrowser. Smooth treed navigation, all hyper linked. Very nice, I actually enjoy these info pages now. As for my favorite, 'man'... it was doomed. Now granted I didn't have DocBrowser's documentation, but I just could not get my systems man pages to work. "
GIMP 1.2.2 released. A new version of the GIMP 1.2.x distribution has been announced. Unfortunately, the original announcement came before a problem with building from source was noted and a second, identically named distribution was made. That means there may be two versions of this 1.2.2 release out there, only one of which may build. Be sure to grab the right one.
OpenOffice anniversary report and build 633. The OpenOffice site has posted a report on the anniversary of the release of StarOffice as an open source project. "To put it bluntly, OpenOffice.org is not here to produce a finished product. Sun Microsystems is doing that with StarOffice 6, which will have been built using code derived from OpenOffice.org. Rather, OpenOffice.org's far more ambitious goal is to create a sustainable process of code making and community building."
New desktop layout package: Scribus. A new desktop layout program was brought to our attention this week: Scribus. This package is still in early development but does fall under the GPL and comes with a Qt/C++ based interface. (Thanks to Florian Cramer for pointing us to this package)
And in other news...
Chinese language Qt/KDE programming text. A new text on programming Qt/KDE2 is available in traditional chinese.
ISBN: 9572085689 author: Chuang, MingChe publisher: SoftChina Pages: 432
Vituascape releases Flash SDK as open source. Noted on the GIMP-User mailing list: Virtuascape, a media design agency, has released a Flash SDK as open source (using the BSD2 license), with the company suggesting it might make a nice addition to the current GIMP 2.0 work currently underway.
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
August 2, 2001