Feeds

Gem, the GUI that beat Windows to market, goes open source

And Caldera's move makes a certain writer all misty-eyed...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Gem, the PC GUI that beat Windows to market, has finally gone open source. It was originally developed in 1984, when Windows was still a shaky beta. Current Gem owner Caldera has now made it available under a GNU public licence. Caldera inherited it from Novell, which in turn obtained it when Novell acquired Digital Research, where it was developed. Following the disbanding of the Andover, UK-based Caldera Thin Client team (see separate story), Caldera decided the time was right to make Gem open source - Caldera no longer has any particular plans for it. The GEM source code is being made available by Tim Olmstead at the Finnish site, with two US mirror sites. Gem was developed at the instigation the late Gary Kildall, the originator of CP/M. In many ways Kildall was the founder of the open software movement, for he was the first to isolate system-specific hardware interfaces in a set of basic I/O system routines - the bios - so that applications could be machine independent. Kildall also developed the filing system and data structures for CD-ROMs. GEM was released in October 1984, five months after a similar but less-flexible interface from Quarterdeck called DESQ (later DESQview). Apple, inspired by the Xerox PARC work, developed its GUI, and Bill Gates was shown a prototype by Steve Jobs in the summer of 1981. In September, Gates initiated the Interface Manager project, which was to be called Windows from 1983. Along the way, Microsoft benefited from being able to examine in detail a Xerox Star (a commercial derivative of the Alto) which Gates bought for $100,000 in 1981, and a prototype of the Mac in early 1982. Meanwhile, VisiCorp had developed VisiOn, a GUI that worked with MS-DOS. At the 1982 Comdex show, where it was first seen, Gates was reported to be transfixed and to have watched the demo three times. In 1985, IBM produced TopView, which it had announced in 1983, but it was unsuccessful. One of the hitherto-secret Gem documents available for download contains fascinating references to Gem DOS (version 13) for the Motorola 68000. This requires just 128K RAM, 160K ROM, a video controller card with 320 by 200 resolution, and a mouse. It is dated May 1985. (DR-DOS, for Intel processors of course, first appeared in May 1988, when Microsoft was offering MS-DOS 3.) There is even a German version of Gem, and some Turbo Pascal libraries commented in German. The Gem Desktop version 3 requires up to 1.6 megabytes. Gem was also modified for the Atari and the Tandy 1000 series. There are Gem applications such as Draw, Graph, Paint and Write. The downloads provide a fascinating insight as to how it might have been, had Digital Research decided to compete with MS-DOS in 1985, but the decision to compete was taken two or three years later by Richard Williams, the new CEO, after Gary Kildall had left. It is likely that Gem will be dusted down and incorporated into software for special situations, where fast rendering, small size, and above all, low cost, are important. It provides a useful alternative to X-Windows - and it's free. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.