Happy Fifth Anniversary, KDE
Oct 15, 2001, 05:31 (42 Talkback[s])
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
As reported on dot.kde.org,
today is the fifth anniversary of the "Kool Desktop Environment"
coming into existence with an announcement from Matthias
New Project: Kool Desktop Environment (KDE)
Unix popularity grows thanks to the free variants, mostly Linux.
But still a consistant, nice looking free desktop-environment is
missing. There are several nice either free or low-priced
applications available, so that Linux/X11 would almost fit
everybody needs if we could offer a real GUI.
Of course there are GUI's. There is the Commond Desktop
Environment (much too exensive), Looking Glas (not too expensive
but not really the solution), and several free X-Filemanagers that
are almost GUI's. Moxfm for example is very well done, but
unfortunately it is based on Motif. Anyway, the question is: What
is a GUI? What should a GUI be?
First of all, since there are a lot of missunderstandings on
this topic, what is NOT a GUI:
- the X-Window-System is NOT a GUI. It's what its name says: A
- Motif is NOT a GUI. They tried to create a GUI when they made
Motif, but unfortunately they couldn't really agree, so they
released Motif as Widget-Library with a Window-Manager. Much later
they completed Motif with the CDE, but too late, since Windows
already runs on the majority of desktops.
- Window-managers are NOT GUI's. They are (better: should be)
small programs that handle the windows. It's not really the idea to
hack a lot of stuff into them.
IMHO a GUI should offer a complete, graphical environment. It
should allow a users to do his everyday tasks with it, like
starting applications, reading mail, configuring his desktop,
editing some files, delete some files, look at some pictures, etc.
All parts must fit together and work together. A nice button with a
nice "Editor"-icon is not at all a graphical user environment if it
invokes "xterm -e vi". Maybe you have been disappointed long time
ago too, when you installed X with a nice window manager, clicked
on that beautiful "Help"-Icon ... chrk chrk (the hard disk)...an
ugly, unsuable, weird xman appeared on the desktop :-( A
GUI for endusers
The idea is NOT to create a GUI for the complete UNIX-system or the
System-Administrator. For that purpose the UNIX-CLI with thousands
of tools and scripting languages is much better. The idea is to
create a GUI for an ENDUSER. Somebody who wants to browse the web
with Linux, write some letters and play some nice games.
I really believed that is even yet possible with Linux until I
configured my girlfriends Box. Well, I didn't notice anymore that I
work with lots of different kind of menues, scrollbars and
textwidgets. I already know that some widgets need to be under the
mouse when they should get the keyevents, some sliders wants the
middle mouse for dragging and some textwidgets only want
emacs-bindings and don't understand keys like "pos1" or "end". And
selecting some text is different everywere, too. Even the menues
and buttons (for exampel Xaw, Fvwm, XForms, Motif) behave
One word to the Athena-Widgets: Although there are a few nice
applications available that uses these "widgets" we should really
get rid of them. Thinking that "Athena is a widget-library" is a
similar missunderstanding like "X is a GUI". Athena is an very old
example how widget libraries could be implemented with Xlib and Xt.
It's more or less a online-documentation for
Widget-Set-Programmers, but not a tool for application-programmers.
Unfortunately, the old Unix problem, a so good online-documentation
that people used it for applications.
So one of the major goals is to provide a modern and common
look&feel for all the applications. And this is exactly the
reason, why this project is different from elder attempts.
Since a few weeks a really great new widget library is available
free in source and price for free software development. Check
The stuff is called "Qt" and is really a revolution in
programming X. It's an almost complete, fully C++ Widget-library
that implementes a slightly improved Motif look and feel, or,
switchable during startup, Window95.
The fact that it is done by a company (Troll Tech) is IMO a
great advantage. We have the sources and a superb library, they
have beta testers. But they also spend their WHOLE TIME in
improving the library. They also give great support. That means, Qt
is also interesting for commercial applications. A real alternative
to the terrible Motif :) But the greatest pro for Qt is the way how
it is programmed. It's really a very easy-to-use powerfull
Qt is also portable, yet to Windows95/NT, but you do not have to
worry about that. It's very easy to use UNIX/X specific things in
programming, so that porting to NT is hardly possible :-)
I really recommend looking at this library. It has IMO the power
to become the leading library for free software development. And
it's a way to escape the TCL/TK monsters that try to slow down all
our processors and eat up our memory...
It's really time yet to standarize the desktop somewhat. It's
nonsense to load 10 different widgets into memory for the same
task. Imagine this desktop:
- fvwm (own widgets)
- rxvt (own widgets)
- tgif (own widgets)
- xv (own widgets)
- ghostview (athena widgets)
- lyx (xforms widgets)
- xftp (motif widgets)
- textedit (xview widgets)
- arena (own widgets)
One may argue that a usual UNIX-Box has enough memory to handle
all these different kind of widgets. Even if this might be correct,
the really annoying thing is, that all these widgets (menus,
buttons, scrollbars, etc.) behave slightly different. And this
isn't only an academic example, I've really seen such desktops
I know we couldn't get rid of this chaos at once, but my dream
is a coexistance between Motif and Qt. The Kool Desktop
I don't have the time to do this all alone (also since LyX is my
main project). But a thing like a Desktop Environment can easily be
cut into lots of parts. There is very probably a part for you, too!
If you want to learn some X-programming, why not doing a small,
neat project for the KDE? If you know others who like to programm
something, please prevend them from writing the 1004th tetris games
or the 768th minesweeper clone ;-) Think we also have enough XBiffs
So here is my project list so far. Probably there are even more
things to do that would fit great into the KDE. It's a very open
- The basic application. Run's as FvwmModule (at the beginning).
Offers a combination between Windows95 and CDE. I think about a
small taskbar at the bottom and a kind of CDE-panel on the top of
the screen. The panel has graphical icon menus on the left (similar
to GoodStuff) to launch applications, 4 buttons in the middle to
switch to other virtual desktops and few icons for often needed
applications on the right. There is for example a mail-icon that
also indicates new mail, a wastebasket to open the delete-folder
(that also indicates when it isn't empty and is capable of
drag'n'drop). Maybe a analog clock with date at the very right.
Also a nice special icon for exiting the environment or locking the
screen. All the stuff is completly configurable via GUI. I'm also
thinking about solutions, that only available applications can be
installed on the desktop and that new applications appear on the
I started to work on this panel, but would of course love some
help. There are also lot of smaller things to do, like a tool to
chose a background pixmap (for each virtual desktop) etc.
Also nice icons are needed!
- Another major application inside the KDE. The idea is not to
create a powerful high-end graphical bash-replacement (like tkdesk
tries to be), but a nice looking easy-to-use filemanager for simple
tasks. Simple tasks are mainly deleting some files, copying some
files, copying some files to floppy disk, starting applications by
clicking on a file (for example ghostview for postscript files or
xli for gifs, etc).
I'm thinking about nice windows, one for each directory, that
shows icons for every file. It should be possible to drag files
around (either copy or move), even between different windows.
Another important point is the support of the floppy-disk, so that
mounting/umounting is done user-transparent.
Dragging of icons should be done in a nice way, that means
moving around a special window (see Qt's xshape example), NOT like
xfm or xfilemanager by setting another monochrome bitmap for the
So it will also be possible to put files as icons on the
desktop. This is IMO a very nice feature. Since applications are
launched by the panel, it's even clear that icons are real
data-objects. With fvwm-1 and the FvwmFileMgr it wasn't really
clear wether an icon is yet a file or an iconified window.
Drag'n'drop inside a Qt application isn't really difficult. The
filemanager is IMO a very nice and not too time consuming project.
- mail client
- A really comfortable mailclient. IMO the most comfortable
mailclient for X is yet XF-Mail. And the author is willing to port
it to Qt when the KDE-project will start! But he asks for some
assitance (for example for coding the small popups, etc.)
- easy texteditor
- Very small but important project. An editor that fits the needs
of those who have to edit a textfile once in a month and didn't
find the time yet to learn vi (and don't have the time to wait for
x-emacs to start, and don't have the memory to use a
motif-static-nedit, and don't have the cpu-power and memory to use
a tk-monster like tkedit,...)
Unfortunatly the Qt multiline-textwidget isn't available in
Qt-1.0, but Troll-Tech already announced the beta-testing. So the
texteditor can be started in a few weeks, too.
- Similar to the CDE terminal program. A kind of xterm with nice
menu bar to set the font, exit, etc. Nice project, get the xterm
sources and add a GUI with Qt!
- Image viewer
- The application that will be launced as default from the
filemanager for gifs, jpegs and all this. Well, xv is shareware and
really needs quite a long time for startup. But there is a plain
Xlib programm without any menues or buttons called "xli". Get the
sources and make it userfriendly with Qt!
- Lots of small other tools:
- xdvi with Qt-Gui
- ghostview with Qt-Gui
- xmag with Qt-Gui
- whatever you want
- Hypertext Help System
- A complete desktop environment needs a nice hypertext online
help. I think the best choice would be HTML (>= 2.0). So a free
Qt-based html-viewer would be a great idea. It might be possible to
use the Arena-sources, but arena needs very long for startup. Maybe
it would be best to start from scratch. Qt offers excellent
functions for dealing with different fonts. For a help system HTML
2.0 is more than enough, some nice search function added and that's
it. Since it is also possible to convert the obsolete troff
man-pages to HTML, we can also integrate the original UNIX help
BTW: There is a Troll Tech Qt-competition (look at their
webpages). The best application (not only functionallity, but also
design counts. Just porting an existing great application to Qt
won't probably be enough :-( ) wins $2000 and a few Qt on NT
licenses (worth another $2000). They also mentioned a
browser-project as an example. So a nice HTML-browser in Qt, ready
in Janurary may be worth $4000 (This includes selling the unneeded
NT licenses ;-) )
- Window Manager
- At the beginning, the KDE panel will work as an Fvwm-Module.
When this is done, a lot of stuff can be stripped from the bloated
fvwm window manager. We don't need anymore fvwm-menus, icon
handling and zillions of configurable things. We need a small,
realiable windowmanager. So maybe stripping all unncessary stuff
from fvwm will make sense in a while. But this may come very
- System Tools
- Whatever a user, or you, might need. A graphical passwd comes
to my mind. But probably there are a lot more! Maybe this will lead
to a small system administration tool someday.
- We have yet a nice tetris game (an Qt example program). What is
needed is a nice set of small games like solitaire (please with
nice cards that can be really dragged!). There are several nice
card games available for X, for example xpat2. So why not take the
cards from them and write a real solitaire games, very similar to
MS-Solitaire. I really had to install Wine sometimes just to play
solitair, what an overhead! But other games are needed, too. Take
xmris, pacman, etc. add a nice GUI. Or write some from scratch.
Whatever you want :)
- A set of nice icons. 3D-pixmaps are quite a good start (but why
should the button be inside a pixmap, if we use a toolkit with
- A documentation project is always a good thing to have. But
before we should clearify how the hypertext help system should look
like. We can then start with documentation pages in the chosen
HTML-subset and for example use arean as help browser. Anyway we
need some application to document first.
- Web-Pages / Ftp Server / Aministration
- We need a server for the files and webpages that inform about
the state of the project. Especially what projects are currently
worked on and what projects still wait for somebody to do them. I
set up a preliminary homepage on
that just contains this posting yet and a few links. I may setup
real webpages for the very beginning but I would be very happy if I
could concentrate on discussion and coding. So if there is someone
out there in the net who likes to design and maintain webpages,
here is a job for him :)
- The most important topic :-) If you are interested please join
the mailing list
Subscribing can be done by sending a mail with in *Body*:
- When the KDE gets widely accepted, new (free) applications will
hopefully be based on Qt, too, to fit with the comfortable and
pleasant look and feel of the desktop.
We may for example port LyX to Qt, so that a comfortable
wordprocessor is available. But that is still in discussion in the
A nice vector-orientated drawing tool would also be fine. Well,
Xfig is a powerful but ugly monster. But there is "tgif", a very
powerful, easy to use but ugly program. The author doesn't like the
idea of adding a Qt GUI for the menus, icons and scrollbars, since
Qt is C++ and he wants to keep tgif plain C, since on some sites no
C++ compiler is available. Well, the KDE doesn't really aim on
these old and weird UNIX boxes (also I think a g++ is almost
everywhere available). But maybe the tgif-author agrees when
somebody else adds a nice GUI to tgif (the sources are free, don't
know wether this is GPL). Since tgif yet implements its own GUI
this shouldn't be too difficult. It's really easy with Qt to access
plain Xlib functionality and functions, so not very much will have
to be rewritten. Also C++ makes it very easy to include plain C
What about an easy to use, nice newsreader similar to knews?
Could also be integrated into the KDE. ... and ... and ... and.
So there is a lot of work (and fun) to do! If you are
interested, please join the mailing list. If we get about 20-30
people we could start. And probably before 24th December the
net-community will give itself another nice and longtime-needed
The stuff will be distributed under the terms of the GPL.
I admit the whole thing sounds a bit like fantasy. But it is
very serious from my side. Everybody I'm talking to in the net
would LOVE a somewhat cleaner desktop. Qt is the chance to realize
this. So let us join our rare sparetime and just do it!
Hopefully looking foward to lots of followups and replies!
BTW: Usually these postings get a lot of answers like "Use a Mac
if you want a GUI, CLI rules!", "I like thousands of different
widgets-libraries on my desktop, if you are too stupid to learn
them, you should use windoze", "RAM prices are so low, I only use
static motif programs", "You will never succeed, so better stop
before the beginning", "Why Qt? I prefer schnurz-purz-widgets with
xyz-lisp-shell. GPL! Check it out!", etc. Thanks for not sending
these as followup to this posting :-) I know I'm a dreamer...
BTW2: You might wonder why I'm so against Tk. Well, I don't like
the philosophy: Tk's doesn't have a textwidget, for example, but a
slow wordprocessor. Same with other widgets. In combination with
TCL the programs become slow and ugly (of course there are
exceptions). I didn't yet see any application that uses Tk from C++
or C, although an API seems to exist. TCL/TK is very usefull for
prototyping. Ideal for example for kernel configuration. And since
Tk looks little similar to Motif, the widgets are also quite easy
to use. But I really don't like any TCL/Tk application to stay
permanantly on the desktop. And Qt is much easier (at least as
easy) to program. Check it out!
BTW3: I don't have any connections to Troll Tech, I just like
their product (look at the sources: really high quality!) and their
kind of marketing: free sourcecode for free software.
Original document by Matthias
HTMLized by Matt McLeod