[TUHS] Early GUI on Linux

Warner Losh imp at bsdimp.com
Sun Feb 26 10:39:13 AEST 2023

On Sat, Feb 25, 2023, 2:31 PM Paul Ruizendaal <pnr at planet.nl> wrote:

> 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?

No. Mgr was available but harder to setup than X. This is from like 0.98pl5
or so days, so very early on...

- was there any discussion of alternatives to X?

Discussions yes. But not much more than talk.

There were vgalib apps that ran graphics on the console, but I never used

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

Some. But mostly it was to switch graphics modes between x11 and console
apps. Very little beyond that.

By the time Linux arrived, x11 had already won in the workstation space, so
the quick push was to get x11 going. It wasn't long before everything was
XFree86 (or XFree98 if you were in Japan).


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