Feeds

Party like it's 1999: CDE Unix desktop REBORN

Stirrings among Mars Curiosity screens

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

The original Unix desktop, the Common Desktop Environment or CDE, is back. Seven years after Sun replaced it with GNOME on Solaris, the Open Group's Common Desktop Environment has returned, now fully open-source and with a modern Linux port.

CDE was developed about 20 years ago as a unified desktop environment for all the various forms of commercial, proprietary Unix that dominated the workstation market back then: IBM's AIX, Digital’s Tru64, HP's HP-UX, Sun's Solaris, Silicon Graphics' IRIX and on x86 hardware, SCO's UnixWare. DEC even ported it to OpenVMS, which isn't a Unix at all, and in Linux's youth there was an $80 commercial version for Red Hat Linux 4.

The original CDE Unix desktop (click to enlarge)

It gradually sank into obscurity as the x86 PC displaced RISC workstations and Linux replaced the various expensive flavours of Unix, but it never entirely went away. Some people loved it: there’s an open-source effort to recreate it, OpenCDE, and the increasingly popular XFCE desktop started out as a CDE-lookalike. Die-hard OS/2 users will find it familiar, too: IBM donated parts of the Workplace Shell to the CDE project, so the application launcher bears a notable resemblance to the one in Warp 3.

Today, though, thanks to years of campaigning and negotiation by Linux and RISC OS developer Peter Howkins – even including a petition – CDE's owner, the Open Group, has released the original CDE, complete with the Motif toolkit and window manager, as LGPL (GNU's Lesser General Public License) Free Software. Of CDE's underlying Motif toolkit, Howkins tells us: "It's not relicenced yet, but expect an announcement from the Open Group and ICS [the maintainers of OpenMotif] very soon."

There's a preliminary build of the current version for modern Linux, too, although as of yet it's alpha-quality – but this is not some half-finished student project. It's a tested, widely deployed, enterprise-strength product. Linux CDE is some way from being ready to download binary packages and install them with a click, but the source builds, runs and works.

Why would anyone care these days? Well, as Linux moves into new low-end territory on devices with limited storage and memory, such as the Raspberry Pi, CDE's 1990s levels of resource usage seem extremely frugal and sparing. When CDE was developed, 128MB was a lot of RAM.

And CDE isn't just a desktop: it also includes a window manager, file manager and an assortment of accessory apps such as a calculator, terminal emulator and so on. Motif was once the most widely used graphical toolkit on Unix and is still used on commercial Unix – if you watch the coverage of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover, you'll see Motif apps on some of the screens.

And of course, old-time Linux veterans might welcome a dose of nostalgia and the chance to make Linux look just like Proper UNIX™.

The project website is at CDesktopEnv.org and the source is available on Sourceforge. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
Sway: Microsoft's new Office app doesn't have an Undo function
Content aggregation, meet the workplace ... oh
Do Moan! MONSTER 6-day EMAIL OUTAGE hits Domain Monster
Customers freaked out by frightful service
Sign off my IT project or I’ll PHONE your MUM
Honestly, it’s a piece of piss
Return of the Jedi – Apache reclaims web server crown
.london, .hamburg and .公司 - that's .com in Chinese - storm the web server charts
NetWare sales revive in China thanks to that man Snowden
If it ain't Microsoft, it's in fashion behind the Great Firewall
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 cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.