back to article Two new Linux desktops – one with deep roots – come to Debian

Maybe the DBUS developers have a point: desktops are like buses… you wait for ages, then two of them come along at once: Lomiri on Debian, and GSDE, the GNUstep Desktop Environment. Both the new offerings focus on Debian for now, although that may well change in time, and although both are quite different to more mainstream …

  1. theOtherJT

    Beautiful? Really?

    the original NeXTstep desktop is the most beautiful GUI ever invented

    Really? I think it's hideous. But I'll give it this, it's also functional and I'd take that over "pretty but gets in my way" any day of the week.

    1. Wyrdness

      Re: Beautiful? Really?

      NeXTstep might have looked beautiful in the early 90's, but now it looks as dated as MC Hammer pants.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Beautiful? Really?

        It might look dated to you but I'd prefer it to any modern flat and ugly alternative.

        1. Wyrdness

          Re: Beautiful? Really?

          Your GUI or your lower body attire, or both?

      2. theOtherJT

        Re: Beautiful? Really?

        I'm not sure it was beautiful even then. Let's compare NeXTstep with contemporary RiscOS

        I get looks are subjective, but for me it's RiscOS all the way. It's a much cleaner design that doesn't scatter different UI elements all over the screen.

        1. JoeCool Bronze badge

          I vote for NeXTstep

          You meant to start a poll, right ?

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: Beautiful? Really?

          [Author here]

          > I get looks are subjective, but for me it's RiscOS all the way.

          Interesting.

          I find completely the opposite, and it's not even close.

          Don't get me wrong: I owned an Archimedes, but I never owned a NeXTstation (although I really wanted one).

          I feel that the classic RISC OS 2 appearance was much neater and cleaner than the later RISC OS 3 look, which everyone else seems to favour. I love RISC OS for its pioneering use of scalable fonts and so on, but I never liked the textured window title bars and the grainy fonts in them. For me, RO2 was the classic look and feel, and RO3 was a cheap, gaudy, tacky replacement.

          But compared to either of them, NeXTstep is a thing of beauty in my eyes: it is an order of magnitude cleaner, smarter, better-looking, and far far more professional.

          One is a typewriter, the other is immaculate calligraphy. There is no competition here. One of them is a glorified home computer UI, a miracle of design by a tiny team, worthy of immense respect, and I love that it is still out there and open souce today...

          Whereas the other is the first time that professional typography came to the personal computer. It's not just smart or elegant: It's actually beautiful.

          And I speak as an owner and fan of Acorn computers since the late 1980s.

          1. devin3782

            Re: Beautiful? Really?

            Agreed the RiscOS 2 look was much nicer than the RiscOS 3. NeXTstep looks ok but its elements take up way too much screen space, also I'm a guy who has 3x 27" screens (1440p) and likes his apps running maximised. Jumping from an Acorn to a PC I found main menus and toolbars a step backwards as they took up screen space.

          2. timrowledge

            Re: Beautiful? Really?

            Grainy fonts? In RiscOS? You must have had some unusual settings. Until really high dpi screens arrived there really wasn’t any competition for ROS fonts. And don’t forget they worked on machines with barely any memory.

            1. John Gamble

              Re: Beautiful? Really?

              I mean, just looking at the two screenshots provided and by comparison, yes, RiscOS's fonts are definitely grainier.

              Neither is great by today's standards (even allowing for the bad flat icons we have today). Knowing nothing about it, I'd assume the RiscOS style was meant primarily for greyscale displays.

          3. xmis

            Re: Beautiful? Really?

            The design of RISC OS is way superior even from some modern OSs that are now more look like an indian wh*rehouse ... just to mention some of them:

            * UI consistency: compare it with it with the windoze mess

            * drag-n-drop between apps ... - try drag-n-drop on gnome nautilus from eg archive managers..

        3. LBJsPNS

          Re: Beautiful? Really?

          RiscOS looks very much like GEM Desktop.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GEM_%28desktop_environment%29#/media/File:Viewmax_screen_shot.png

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: Beautiful? Really?

        Would you prefer something 2D FLATSO FLATASS like Gnome+ADWAITA ? Or whatever the hell KDE became?

        I think a nice retro 3D Skeuomorphic look is both REFRESHING and SUPERIOR !!!

        I'll still use Mate with "TraditionalOK" though...

        (I really am SICK of phone-like desktops and 2D FLATTY Win-Ape / Win-10-nic TIFKAM look - and I certainly hope THAT is NOT what the authors think of when they say "polished")

        If not for Mate and Cinnamon, I'd really consider switching to GSDE. I hope it shows up in Devuan and Ubuntu-derived soon (if not already)

        1. FatGerman Silver badge

          Re: Beautiful? Really?

          >> Would you prefer something 2D FLATSO FLATASS like Gnome+ADWAITA ? Or whatever the hell KDE became?

          Yes.

          To my eyes the "3D" button look is like a Fisher-Price My First Computer. Admittedly this is probably because it's what my first GUI-based computer looked like but I have always preferred less fussy UIs that don't make a big song and dance about "Hey! Look at me! I'm a button! My border wastes 32 pixels of the UI!"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Beautiful? Really?

            Nowadays it's: Hey guess what's clickable and what's not. And let's hide some UI items like scroll bars. And let's make then 2 pixel wide when they appear.

            And at the same time let's have huge banners and have every text item with a 16 pixel margin so a 32" monitor can only display 10 lines of text.

            Vast flat empty expanses of shitty voidness where a UI and lots of content should be.

          2. Orv Silver badge

            Re: Beautiful? Really?

            The 3D look served a function, though, it wasn't just pretty -- it said "this is a thing you can click." With a modern flat interface you're faced with a number of rectangles, some of which are clickable and some of which are just decoration, and you never know which is which.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Beautiful? Really?

          Not used KDE lately Bob? Running KDE here & it looks pretty much the same as it's done for years.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Beautiful? Really?

      it's also functional and I'd take that over "pretty but gets in my way" any day of the week

      Same here, but of course "functional" is also highly subjective. What functions well for me may not be what functions well for you.

      Personally, my favorite desktop GUI of all time was UWM (one of the sample window managers that came with the X11 source distribution; UWM itself was written at DEC, if memory serves). With my configuration – UWM was highly customizable – there were no desktop graphical controls and no window decorations except for a one-pixel border that changed color for the window with the keyboard focus (and focus was implicit, as it should be, and changing focus did not change the z-order). No screen real estate wasted on the window manager or "desktop"; all window-management functions accessed by keyboard shortcuts or mouse buttons (with modifier keys).

      On-screen menus, docks, widgets, icons, window decorations and controls – don't need 'em, don't want 'em.

    3. Ken G Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Beautiful? Really?

      It looks very OS/2 to me (as someone who spent the late 90's in a different environment) but definitely better than CDE.

  2. gv

    Scrollbar on the left

    I have this for konsole, xterm and rxvt.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scrollbar on the left

      Scrollbars belong on the left, nicely abutting the fullest text edge, where you are looking. And permanent: let the the thumb just fill the whole area if there is not enough data to allow scrolling, rather than making the whole thing disappear.

      Definitely none of this modern making them vanish if you aren't scrolling fast enough or often enough! That just means you have no idea that there is anything to scroll to in the first place (or have you just been missing the stupidly narrow area that'll make the scrollbar visible?).

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Scrollbar on the left

        And for heaven's sake, why hasn't anyone copied the RiscOS practice of glueing the pointer to the scrollbar so fhat if is impossible to 'slip off'?

        M.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Debian?? Really??

    Yup.....I know there are IBM and RedHat haters out there........................................................

    But some of us have been using Fedora/XFCE/ext4 since the dawn of time............................

    ...........................and finding ABSOLUTELY NO ISSUES WITH OUR CHOICE........................

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      Make sure you can maintain Xfce4 yourself. Otherwise, *when* it gets replaced with something stupid, you will be in the same boat as the rest of us ;)

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      @AC

      I don't think that the two projects mentioned in the article are making any kind of 'statement' about Red Hat by using Debian.

      Perhaps the project developers just used the system that they are familiar with and for which they know how to install the (many and complex) dependencies?

      The precursor of one of the projects was using CentOS 8 so there will be build scripts around to modify and enhance if you wish to explore GSDE. It was explained that the maintainer of that older project has had other stuff to think about recently.

      Lomiri's upstream project was developed on Ubuntu of course so aspects of the architecture would probably work best on a Debian based distribution. I don't recollect widespread porting of Unity to other distros back in the Unity 8 times. The DE does require the replacement of the entire graphical display system so installing it is not a trivial project.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      NO issues? Not like ADWAITA or systemd or pulse audio or any of a number of POETTERING brain farts are potential "issues", right? *facepalm*

      (I also prefer dpkg-based packages - it is an easy system to master if you wanna re-distribute modified or patched versions of things)

      I've given my OK nod to Rocky Linux for testing with something similar RHEL and CentOS though, but not as a daily driver for sure, only because setup is simple and I might need to test things on it. But that is about the extent of how far I'd go with something derived from RH.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      Actually, I am a Fedora user, and I am very concerned. IBM is eventually going to destroy RedHat. Which is a problem as RedHat are by far the biggest employer of Linux people.

      Realistically, RedHat is Linux. You can't maintain all the bits with developers working on a weekend project...

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Debian?? Really??

        [Author here]

        > Realistically, RedHat is Linux

        https://web.archive.org/web/20000815063125/http://www.redhatisnotlinux.org/

        It was true in 2000 and it is true now:

        Monocultures are bad. Squeezing Linux into every conceivable commercial niche is bad. Linux is not the be-all and end-all of FOSS, or of OSes, or of anything.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Debian?? Really??

          Well… I hope you’ll be happy to work on all these FOSS projects for free when RedHat is gone.

          I can guarantee you that without paid developers, FOSS will not thrive.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      ".I know there are IBM and RedHat haters out there.."

      I think you're missing the point. The objections are that what's happening are, in the long term, damaging to Red Hat, Fedora and Linux as a whole - although Bob has a point in that RH has promoted some awful stuff.

    6. cosmodrome

      Re: Debian?? Really??

      Finding no issues with your choice is easy when you've never tried anything else.

      There's, BTW, only one true Linux and it is Debian/GNU - you heretics.

  4. AJ MacLeod

    I've been using WindowMaker since the 90s and for me it's the perfect working environment. Not beautiful perhaps, but very efficient indeed. I've never really felt the need for other bits of a "desktop" though so I don't anticipate switching any time soon. Nice to have options though I suppose...

    1. sebacoustic

      I did own a copy of Nextstep 3.3 and ran it on my tricked-out 16MB 486 but when linux grew up some in 1996 or so, I switched over to red hat then debian. I used WindowMaker and was all excited about GnuStep in the early 2000s but kind of turned away from it when other things came up... Nice to see it's still alive. And I do appreciate the NeXTStep look, and still think the vertical menu in the left corner is the correct idea, and miller columns for browsing hierarchical structures, are good. I wish Nautilus had miller columns, I think I'd used them as default probably.

    2. fromxyzzy

      When I install a Linux or BSD on a true retrocomputer, I always go with WindowMaker as my X environment over CDE or Motif. It's light on system resources and runs comfortably over a network X terminal. I used it regularly the last time I had OpenBSD running on my DEC 3000/400 AXP with 64MB of RAM a few years ago. I should bring that thing out of mothballs and get it set back up.

  5. keithpeter Silver badge
    Windows

    Display postscript?

    I ought to install Debian on a test machine and find out for myself, but perhaps knowledgeable people can tell me...

    Is GSDEs rendering of the screen based on display postscript or similar as was NeXTSTEP?

    If so is it limited to the postscript fonts or can ttfs be linked/converted?

    (MacOS uses PDF under the hood which is why Preview can copy arbitrary sections of pdf files and you can paste them into appropriate applications - Textedit/Tinderbox &c as actual pdfs. There used to be a program that someone wrote where you could type a LaTeX formula into one half of the window and it would render in the other half, then you could drag it into a document as a compete vector image).

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Display postscript?

      If it does not link to Cairo, which I think would solve all of that (i.e. if it were linked to Cairo), then that's a good point. Web fonts, TTF, raster, and PostScript (we hope) would all be supported... but ARE they?

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: Display postscript?

        Thanks bombastic

        The non-linking to Cairo does suggest that the GSDE project may be using something else to do what Cairo and all does so perhaps it is display ps.

        1. -bat.

          Re: Display postscript?

          Certainly you used to be able to use the DPSPrintf functions in GNUstep - I havent used it in a long time, but it was compatible when I last did. It didnt use Cairo though, it used Libart.

          1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

            Re: Display postscript?

            [Author here]

            *Blinks in surprise*

            -bat...?

            _The_ minusbat?

            I am honoured! Long time no see!

            1. -bat.

              Re: Display postscript?

              Yeah,'tis me ;-) Still in Angel, and still enjoying your writing. Am still on the same old twisted email if you want to drop me a line... its been, uh, a while!

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Display postscript?

      [Author here]

      > Is GSDEs rendering of the screen based on display postscript or similar as was NeXTSTEP?

      No. It's plain old X11 all the way down. No Wayland, no Quartz ("display PDF", in effect), or anything else.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Display postscript?

        @ -bat and Liam

        Looks like I'm going to have to explore this more.

        Thanks

  6. 3arn0wl

    :) Thank you @Liam. I am delighted to read of any progress with Lomiri.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wish they would have packaged Unity 7 for Debian instead.

  8. milliemoo83

    Shrubberies...

    Does it have the "NI" sound from NeXTSTEP?

  9. Jack G Fuller

    Thoughts from a [mostly] Windows user

    The information in this article, while of interest to serious Linux users, is a great example of why Linux has failed to gain traction among users of Windows. It might as well be written in Sanskrit, for all that a Windows user would understand.

    Until Linux can consistently overcome the need for technical details shown in the article, it will remain an OS that appeals to the highly technically skilled user, but not to the mainstream market.

    That said - "mainstream" distributions like Ubuntu or Mint [and some more Windows-like examples] are at least more understandable.

    My Sweet Bride - an Artist - is experimenting with Mint. But she does all her work in the cloud, and so it's all about the Browser, not the OS or the Desktop - which she never sees. And that similar experience is what has made Chromebooks so popular, especially at schools. Much lower maintenance.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Thoughts from a [mostly] Windows user

      > Until Linux can consistently overcome the need for technical details shown in the article

      That is akin (cough, hyperbole incoming) to saying that the recent article about the last ICE Lamborghini containing technical details (V12? Wossat?) shows why the general public just is not interested in owning a car.

      The audience for this article, on a (reasonably) techie website, is discussing a corner of the Linux space. Other articles on sites for general users will tell you, in 3 easy steps, how to get a word processor running without once mentioning the underlying tech.

      Meanwhile, the user who is mainly interested in online services can get hold of a ready to run laptop running the Linux kernel with an appropriate-to-their-use-case userland running on top (without even needing to know what "userland" means - or even what "Linux" is).

      Perhaps even a Chromebook.

    2. mpi Silver badge

      Re: Thoughts from a [mostly] Windows user

      > it will remain an OS that appeals to the highly technically skilled user, but not to the mainstream market.

      I have news: It already dominates the mainstream market.

      Desktop OS != Mainstream market.

      Linux powers the entire world. Almost every piece of network infrastructure infrastructure: Linux. Almost every Server: Linux. Almost every IoT device: Linux. Most Phones: Linux. Supercomputers: Linux.

      The fact that it also offers excellent Desktop environments, including paradigms that simply don't exist in the Windowed World (like tiling window managers), is just a cherry on top.

      So if people and companies want to pay licensing fees for something they could get for free, they are welcome to it. It's not my money, and there really are few metrics in the world I care less about than how many non-technical people use Linux as their Desktop OS.

      With that being said...

      > Until Linux can consistently overcome the need for technical details shown in the article

      It can and has, a long time ago.

      As my favorite example: The manjaro installer requires about a dozen mouseclicks to get up and running from scratch. The most complex technical question it asks, is what keyboard layout to use. And the installation process itself happens in a user friendly desktop environment (because it boots into a live system to install). The KDE desktop is instantly familiar to everyone who has ever used a Desktop metaphor.

      How is that "Sanskrit"?

      1. timrowledge

        Re: Thoughts from a [mostly] Windows user

        “excellent Desktop environments,”?

        I’ve never yet seen an excellent desktop on a Unix machine. But I’ve only been using Unix machines since ‘82 so I’m no expert.

        1. mpi Silver badge

          Re: Thoughts from a [mostly] Windows user

          I use i3 and KDE, both private and professionally.

          They are both superb. I also (have to) use Windows Environments, both server and local machines, also both privatly (gaming, family tech support) and professionally, so I have a pretty good grasp of the advantages and disadvantages between the systems.

          Just a short example how much ahead the Linux Desktop world is: In late 2022, windows finally managed to grace it's users with the revolutionary, unbelievably ingenious idea of giving us TABS!!!!! in the Explorer.

          https://www.pcworld.com/article/1430331/use-the-new-tabbed-file-explorer-to-simplify-your-life.html

          Again: In 2022.

          I cannot remember how long ago the default File Browser of a Linux Desktop environment didn't have that feature.

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Coat

    FVWM

    I'm still using FVWM. We don't need any stinkin' icons or buttons or docks or any of that crap...

    It's 100% all keystrokes.

    I'll see myself out.

    On the other hand, no one can use my PC since no one knows all the secret keystrokes, which I consider a good thing. They could move windows around but that's it.

    I guess they could hit F7 by accident/frustration and open an xterm.

    1. joeldillon

      Re: FVWM

      I was running plain old twm for a little while in the 90s because that's what came with the X source and I needed to do a build from scratch to support my particular S3 Virge model. Fortunately I found Afterstep fairly quickly.

  11. ShortLegs

    Wow

    I am loving that second pic, the GSDE screenshot, Liam

    It reminds me soo much of MUI, AmiDock, and MagicWB running on an Amiga, with a hint of the desktop from HP UX

    I have absolutely no need for it, but am tempted to spin up a VM just to install and gaze in wonder at it.

  12. jbordall

    it's easy to give gnustep a whirl, just go to the longstanding live os/cd/dvd project from Alex Myczko http://www.aiei.ch/gnustep/

    there's so much great gnustep info on this web page too.

    1. OffTropics

      ... and reading it makes me feel ten years younger.

  13. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Archaic

    GSDE looks archaic and not something that belongs to our modern era. In fact, it's DE's like this that have long held back the uptake of Linux on the desktop.

    Say what you will of Windows, but it looks beautiful and works generally well. Only the recent versions look schizophrenic due to the inclusion of touch-enabled UI elements. And they never quite finished it, resulting in something that looks like it hasn't made up its mind what it wants to be. Only a company with complete market domination could get away with this kind of dumpster fire of a UI.

    1. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Archaic

      No distribution is shipping a desktop like GSDE as their default, so I don't see how it could be holding back uptake. These days if you want a desktop like that, it's because you went out of your way to install it.

    2. mfalcon

      Re: Archaic, and the problem is?

      GUIs are a matter of taste. Personally I think the desire to make GUIs "pretty" has caused more trouble than anything else. I blame lots of people at Apple and Microsoft for the generally backward direction that GUIs have taken.

      I use Mate these days and in the past used WindowMaker which was a good approximation of NextStep.

    3. mpi Silver badge

      Re: Archaic

      > In fact, it's DE's like this that have long held back the uptake of Linux on the desktop.

      There are a lot of vintage car clubs and vintage car owners in the world. I don't think their existence has had any negative impact on the number of modern cars that get sold.

      > Say what you will of Windows, but it looks beautiful and works generally well.

      Yes, and so do mainstream Linux Desktops:

      https://kde.org/plasma-desktop/

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KDE_Plasma_5#/media/File:KDE_Plasma_5.24_on_Arch_Linux_screenshot.png

      Desktops like the ones shown in the article don't ship as the default setting on mainstream Distributions. They are things for enthusiasts and people with technical expertise to play around with. So how exactly do they "hold back the uptake", please elaborate.

  14. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I have one!

    I have a nextstation! I fired it up last week (after realizing I was wondering about Y2K compliance so I had probably not fired it up since 1999.) It powered right up. Then I realized I needed the password... luckily I remembered it after about 10 tries. One really nice saving grace (if you intended to actually use it rather than have it as a showpiece), it DOES support NFS, so rather than trying to find some 30 year old SCSI hard disk to replace the ~100MB HDD (and manage to get nextstep installed on it, which I think involves a boot floppy?), you can just access your terabyte after terabyte of modern storage over the network. I'm not a member of the "cult of Jobs" so I will probably sell it while the prices are high.

  15. RickRuby
    Trollface

    Long Live CDE/Motif Aesthetic

    Whatever they are teaching in UI/UX school these days, I don't care much for it. I can't stand all these modern flat, touchscreen-friendly UIs with their 1px wide hiding scroll bars. And then there are all those overused dark mode themes that are all the rage these days. I like beige. I like blocky utilitarian designs that stay the hell out of my way. I like the garish pastel color palettes of CDE. I've come to appreciate the old 90s Win95 and classic Mac OS look. I'm currently running XFCE with the Mofit Slim & Redmond97 themes--just how I like it. I think the last decent modern UIs I've used were found on Mac OS X up through about 10.6/7-ish and Win7.

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