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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CDE Released As Open Source

For those of us who have been around UNIX and UNIX-Like systems for a while this news comes as a big surprise! The Common Desktop Environment (CDE) has been a UNIX only staple for quite a long time now. It is one of those things you either love or hate. I personally have a fondness for it and have always hoped I could run it on Linux one day.

The CDE was a joint effort of several big UNIX players including IBM, HP, and Sun. Their goal was to create a unified face for UNIX to compete with the growing threat of Windows. Before establishing the Open Group, each company had their own spin on the UNIX desktop, which made the operating system look fractured. By standardizing on a certain interface and it's associate toolkit, Motif, they were able to ensure user familiarity regardless of the underlying version of UNIX. 

For me, the news broke on OSNews yesterday. I immediately downloaded the sources and built the software. Presently, the sources build pretty cleanly on Debian Squeeze (6.0 stable), and Ubuntu. I built it on Bodhi Linux v1.4.0 which is based on Ubuntu 10.04. I followed the instructions for building posted on the CDE Sourceforge wiki here. The build went smoothly and didn't require any intervention from me once I added all the development packages required.

What I got was a mostly working CDE. By mostly working, I mean this is alpha quality at the moment, and some of the applications that come with the CDE did not work. For example, the dtmail application does not work. Also, the version of vi installed in Ubuntu didn't recognize the termcap used in dtterm.

One thing I was very pleased with is that when CDE windows are opened, they aren't too big for the screen on my little netbook. It is sad that so many other applications and desktop environments still can't determine the size their windows should be for a smaller screen.

With all the eye candy that desktop environments feel compelled to throw in nowadays, CDE appears rather homely. The beauty of this homeliness though is the performance. It is very responsive - downright snappy! Sure, there is not glitz and glamour, but I am willing to make that sacrifice for usefulness.

Note: Image courtesy of the Wikipedia entry on the Common Desktop Environment

CDE is all about consistency and stability. It uses a bygone set of design principals that are by and large ignored today. It's design is utilitarian. The interface is very consistent in it's presentation. In short, it does what you expect it to do in any given function.

So why did the Open Group decide to release it now? I don't really care, though I wish they could have done it a long time ago. It has not really received any love in a decade. The good thing about waiting is that the CDE hasn't been cluttered up with constantly changing glamour libraries or tied to KDE/QT/GTK/Gnome.

What I would like to see is all the DT applications working, with perhaps the backends upgraded to support current API's. In other words I'd like to be able to use the DT calendar and mail apps with Google services. I also noticed that the dtterm termcap was not liked by vi on Ubuntu 10.10.

 Another useful feature would be a native looking system tray, since so many applications use them and nearly every window manager and desktop provides that functionality. Better yet, have dockable apps just create a desktop icon like minimized programs do. I temporarily installed stalonetray so I could access the NetworkManager applet to connect to wifi.

Thanks, Open Group. Looking forward to the release of Motif as well. Speaking of which, check out this Motify GUI from the Wayback Machine: http://www.breadbox.com/geoscreens/motif.gif

Ah, the good old days ...

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