[TUHS] Early GUI on Linux

Paul Ruizendaal pnr at planet.nl
Sun Feb 26 07:31:22 AEST 2023

I think discussion of early Linux is in scope for this list, after all that is 30 years ago. Warren, if that is a mis-assumption please slap my wrist.

Following on from the recent discussion of early workstations and windowing systems, I’m wondering about early windowing on Linux. I only discovered Linux in the later nineties (Red Hat 4.x I think), and by that time Linux already seemed to have settled on Xfree86. At that time svgalib was still around but already abandoned.

By 1993 even student class PC hardware already outperformed the workstations of the early/mid eighties, memory was much more abundant and pixels were no longer bits but bytes (making drawing easier). Also, early Linux was (I think) more local machine oriented, not LAN oriented. Maybe a different system than X would have made sense.

In short, I could imagine a frame buffer device and a compositor for top-level windows (a trail that had been pioneered by Oriel half a decade before), a declarative widget set inspired by the contemporary early browsers and the earlier NeWS, etc. Yet nothing like that happened as far as I know. I vaguely recall an OS from the late 90’s that mixed Linux with a partly in-kernel GUI called “Berlin” or something like that, but I cannot find any trace of that today, so maybe I misremember.

So here are a few things that I am interested in and folks on this list might remember:

- were there any window systems popular on early Linux other than X?

- was there any discussion of alternatives to X?

- was there any discussion of what kernel support for graphics was appropriate?

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