Meet Arcan: A New Open Source Display Server Based On A Game Engine

Wayland and Mir are not the only open source display servers that may replace Xorg, Arcan is a new option and it already has a desktop environment to go with it. While Wayland is by and large considered the natural successor meant to replace the aging Xorg-server, that is, at least in the case you’re

Updated Sep 18, 2016Apps
Featured Arcan display server

While Wayland is by and large considered the natural successor meant to replace the aging Xorg-server, that is, at least in the case you’re not an Ubuntu user, it doesn’t necessarily means it should be the only non-distribution focused alternative.

A relatively young project (started on Github only about 8 months ago) is presenting to be a lightweight and at the same time quite interesting alternative to its counterparts.

But before we go in detail about what Arcan has to bring to the table and whether the open source community has a need for yet another display server, let’s first clear out of the way a basic term we’re going to use a lot in this context.

What Is A Display Server Anyways?

The wikipedian definition of a display server is as follows:

“A display server or window server is a program whose primary task is to coordinate the input and output of its clients to and from the rest of the operating system, the hardware, and each other.”

In other words, a display server is an integral part of any graphical operating system (OS) which role is to be the connecting link between inputs (mouse / keyboard clicks, touch events, etc) and the displayed outputs, delivering the signal which eventually creates them.

So as you understand, its an essential component of any modern graphical OS, even Windows and OS X has one, in such form or another.

Arcan Display Server

Back to our subject, Arcan is a display server (DS) and is one which is comprised of three unusually packed together technologies:

It combines technologies of classical display servers together with that of a game engine and a multimedia processor (ffmpeg) on top of that, as its developer – Bjorn Stahl saw there’s a large overlapping area among the three.

The main incentive behind Bjorn’s efforts is to trim down the necessity of having a large codebase and all that entails.

“… I grew tired of the unnecessarily large codebases, crazy dependencies,  vast attack surfaces and general Rube-Goldbergness of the software tools I had to use on a day to day basis. This is my attempt of [queue futurama:bender voice] ‘building my own themepark, with blackjack and …’ – in order to get some peace and quiet.”

Therefore, being lightweight is the default state of matter in this case.

Bjorn, which is the main and perhaps sole developer, excluding a couple of commits made by another developer, has already managed to create not only the display server itself with a little more than a basic set of features, but he has also have already developed a debugging tool and desktop environment to go with it, dubbed Senseye and Durden respectively.

According to its YouTube presentation (see accompanying video), the main goal of the project is to eventually cater for “different” desktop environments rather than those who are the common mainstream, such as GNOME or KDE.

Mentioning that and the fact that freedom and open source are a fertile soil for sprouting constant new streams and deviations, there’s a good chance for Arcan to be utilized at some point or another.

And finally, to fully answer the question of whether the open source community really needs another DS, i.e. another forking, more splittings in its ecosystem – let’s just say that by exploring more ways we also discover more things.

Arcan Presentation:

Durden demo:

Arcan’s home page