back to article Silicon Graphics' IRIX and Magic Desktop return as Linux desktop

Those of you yearning for the experience of running a 1990s-vintage graphics workstation are about to have a good day: a developer named Eric Masson has resurrected the IRIX Interactive Desktop that shipped on Silicon Graphics Workstations and now offers it as a Linux desktop alternative. Silicon Graphics (SGI) had a crack at …

Anonymous Coward

proprietary workstations became an oddity.

And yet, pretty much all my graphical and computational routines written for Irix of that vintage will compile with minimal effort on a modern Linux system, and run fine. Proproetary indeed.

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SGI

was expensive, but beautiful kit all the same.

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Re: SGI

"was expensive, but beautiful kit all the same."

It was. We moved a large number of workstations over to Dell/Linux/dual Xeons from SGI in ~~2003 and saved a small fortune. As mentioned above little needed to be done in software terms.

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Alert

Re: SGI

Agree, superb hardware. As soon as I saw a Tezro demoed in an engineering design house I visited I was smitten. Then they told me the price. Made my Powermac seem like bargain bin.

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Angel

Re: SGI

We had an SGI Origin 2000 in our server room back in the early 2000s.

One of the systems guys claimed he used to go in there just to look at it, it was so pretty.

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Re: SGI

as was Sun.

Ah the lovely SCSI external drive with neat removable psu, wires clipped neatly into place and a polished chrome looking finish....and that was just the insides.

Even Compaq made some nice kit...(if you exclude the razor sharp edges that would slice you open)

Then they all made over priced generic tat.

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Re: SGI

University of Leics recieved one of the first three Origin 2000s to get shipped to the UK. The Met Office got another, and SGI were tight lipped about who bought the 3rd,......

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Re: SGI

We had an Indigo and an O2 for 3D reconstruction work. Lovely kit. We also had a Space Ball 4D joystick control. $*cough*,000s The PSU alone (a 9V wall-wart from Tandy) was listed as £400.

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Anonymous Coward

Secrecy

I remember being present at a Sales meeting when the Sales Manager asked who the customer was - Salesman replies "Sorry can't tell you, you don't have clearance"

- signed, an ex SGI pre-sales techie

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Perhaps I'm a dinosaur - but I prefer these old GUIs to the overly flashy GUIs of today. I like OpenStep, TWM and the IRIX GUI. they're simple, uncluttered, and functional. I'm delighted by this development - and I'll certainly give it a bash on my Linux box (GNUStep, despite interesting but abandoned (and, in any case, too flashy) developments like Etoile, doesn't work brilliantly well).

Fingers crossed that this one is Ronseal (does what it says on the tin)

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Unhappy

When I first used Linux, I set it up with olvwm, and just used the commandline in the little console window to launch GUI applications. Mostly plain ol' xterms (and variants on that theme) for working in, but also a web browser and other such modern gizmos.

I'd still work like that if I hadn't got fed up with the number of hoops they make us jump through today.

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Anonymous Coward

XFCE on Mint

The reason I stick with XFCE on Mint, maybe not as simple a desktop as something like CDE but XFCE is simple, stays out of the way as it should, stuff can be found in a split second and it just runs stuff without any silly graphics frills. In a busy IT environment where Windows is king I want to run a Linux desktop, I need something fast and so simple my granny could use it. Topped with Firefox, Evolution, SQLDeveloper, Terminator ( superb fast, multi-split terminal windows ) for getting to the *nix servers and a copy of rDesktop for Windows access when necessary, all sorted.

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I actually still use CDE quite a lot, on a SUN workstation, even.

Though admittedly that's mostly for nostalgia. It's too mouse-intensive for my taste - for *ix systems I usually run ion/notion.

Still looks better than Windows 8/8.1/10 though!

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XFCE then.

I wish they could prt it to QT and be shot of GDK.

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+1 for CDE but I still preferred OpenWindows with the multi-paned olvwm.

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Yes!Since about 2005 there has been a continual erosion in the end-user configurability of desktops, and a mad proliferation of "look at me interfaces. Of course, they have to rip off the knobs, to force everyone to look at their so called "pretty" and "modern cruft. I maintain there's nothing wrong with a system that just does its job and otherwise stays out of the way

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Unfortunately olwm isn't included with newer Solaris. I suppose I could install the free version, but it just wouldn't be the same, you know?

Also, while it does include xlock, it no longer shows the SUN logo in the game-of-life screensaver :-(

(though I suppose the ancient xlock has about a million trivial bypasses so I'm better off with xscreensaver regardless)

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"When I first used Linux, I set it up with olvwm, and just used the commandline in the little console window to launch GUI applications. "

Yeah. I played around with fvwm a lot.

MS has brought back the need to type things to launch them though, with a start "menu" that is anything but.

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I actually still use CDE quite a lot, on a SUN workstation, even.

I'm sure they open sourced CDE a while ago. If I ever win EuroMillions I intend to quite and start rolling my own Linux distribution to answer silly questions like

- what does Linux using real CDE feel like?

- can a Linux distribution function without using any GNU software? (not because I have anything against gnu, just that I want to see if it can be done)

and finally, and most important

- do I actually have the patience to bother tinkering with all that stuff anyway?

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Re: XFCE on Mint

+1 for Mint XFCE. Fast, unobtrusive, low RAM overhead for a GUI, and it runs great on anything from a Core 2 Duo on up. There are lighter distros, of course, but IMHO Mint XFCE hits the sweet spot for footprint, performance, and functionality.

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To answer one of your questions, there are already dists based on busybox and uclibc or musl.

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Linux

XFCE Yes!

You'd be surprised, the latest incarnation (stil in dev) uses GTK3 and surprisingly uses much less memory and it is noticeably faster than the GTK2 counterpart.

Also it has an enhanced compositor and proper vsync support.

As much as I despise Gnome and their API breakage policies GTK3 once it has reached maturity its proving to be decent.

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I don't see how GNUStep has been abandoned, even when considering it is seen as Mature, the latest release was published 53 days ago.

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The wikipedia page on SGI is interesting. They were delisted in 2005.

Dang, I'm old, because I remember intensely lusting after SGI (and NeXT) hardware. And now that was 12 years ago...

It also mentions SGI sold Linux servers pre-1999. I wonder if that means they already ported the desktop?

The original IRIS motherboards were descended from SUN workstations? I didn't know that!

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Anonymous Coward

Dang, I'm old .... And now that was 12 years ago...

in 05? where were you in 97?

I;m not following . you lusted after them once they were obsolete?

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SGI's early Linux servers were shipped with the option of either Redhat Enterprise Server or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, running either the standard KDE or Gnome GUIs according to user preference. SGI never ported the IRIX GUI to Linux, though it did port the XFS file system and a number of other tools to Linux. The effort described in this article began as a third party project to port the look and feel of the IRIX desktop to Linux, under a limited license from SGI.

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Happy

Hardware nostalgia

I remember my second '90s SGI workstation[1] particularly fondly. But that was down to the superb quality of the hardware: a monitor that was a pleasure to use (now long-surpassed by others, particularly Mac), and a fantastic keyboard that still stands out as the best I've encountered in my life.

There was no pleasure to the software. Well, it was a functioning UNIX system on which one could build all the usual apps, but no more than that, and it was certainly buggier than Sun kit of the same era. I don't even recollect the desktop environment, except in that it was the first to be configured with a GUI login screen rather than a CLI login followed by some invocation like "xinit" or "startx".

[1] @work, of course. Way beyond my personal budget.

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Mushroom

Re: Hardware nostalgia

It is now 2017 and I am typing this on an Silicon Graphics keyboard! Well, yes, running Slackware, not Irix.

I have once and only once seen a Silicon Graphics hardware failure. One day I returned to my office after lunch and noticed a strange smell. One of the two board of the IRIS workstation that I used at the time had to be replaced because of an electrical shortcut.

Another incident was when a SGI server that was used for MPEG encoding regularly failed because a RAM-module was ripped out of the machine while it was running, apparently without further damage. We got the cleaners who did this on camera.

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Re: Hardware nostalgia

I do still have a bunch of SGI kit that I acquired when it was being thrown out. Kept meaning to do something with them and never quite found the time.

As a result, hidden at the back of our server room is a Challenge L (4xR8000) (it is actually exceedingly difficult to 'hide' a Challenge server the size of a small fridge), 2-3 Indigo2s in various states of disrepair (including 1 Indigo2 Impact), a couple of Indys and an O2. The Challenge needed some hard disks, I think the Indigo2s were fine but had stripped them down in order to max the RAM in one.

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XFS - Ta SGI

SGI did have the decency to liberate the XFS file system for Linux, still a good option, so thanks for that.

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I was just sitting here thinking, "Y'know what? There just isn't enough desktop choices for Linux."

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When it comes to "desktops" that don't either require the user to do really extensive config or make it difficult at best to customize simple things (like choosing the color and style for window elements, not a united preset theme**), there really isn't anymore.

**I wouldn't mind the united preset approach if 99% of the options didn't boil down to "grayscale with a very minor accent color." (If I want my windows to be a shade of blue, dammit, I don't want to have my options boil down to "gray with slight hint of teal", "black with a hint of cerulean", and "white with faint blush of something that might qualify as blue in the right light.")

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SGI - Playing at work

I was at a Flight Sim company that used SGI for modelling the scenarios and it had the software to fly around the model to check for artifacts, break-up etc and many a quiet hour was spent practising landing the curved approach at the old Hong Kong airport.

There was even a company using SGI systems slapped on a basic cockpit as an starter pack for trainee pilots, the graphics really were that good.

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Anonymous Coward

The IRIX desktop is basically a port of CDE with a few extra apps thrown in. The source of CDE was open sourced a few years ago and there is an active project cleaning up and porting the code to modern Unix like operating systems.

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While both CDE and the IRIX desktop were built using the Motif toolkit, they are two very different beasts with very different desktop metaphors, configurations, code, and essentially no overlap at the desktop application level. Both were first released within a few months of each other in 1993. (Note: it was possible to install CDE instead of the IRIX desktop on SGI machines, but that was a relatively rare scenario. Perhaps that is what you are remembering?)

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I was on board with the whole thing then I saw Eclipse

Oh well that's something else that isn't going to work

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Tangential note re GUIs of yesteryear

You can a quad core 64bit machine running AmigaOS!

http://www.generationamiga.com/2017/03/02/the-upcoming-amigaone-x500040-64bit/

No relation to SGI, I know, other than both systems were used for CGI back in the day.

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hmv

1980s not 1990s.

Of the triumvirate who escaped Stanford (Cisco, Sun, and SGI), SGI initially concentrated on building graphics terminals to connect to big machines but soon started running IRIX locally to appeal to the graphics intensive workstation market (including pharmaceutical drug design). These were initially 68000 machines but soon adopted the MIPS processor.

The introduction of "low end" (< £10,000) workstations for multimedia in the 1990s was an attempt to attack the Mac domination of the content creation market. Not entirely successfully, although I did run Photoshop 3 on an SGI for a while.

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I still have an Indy Webforce in store, but not sure if it would still boot, nor if the psu caps are still ok. The monitor was given away years ago, but a TFT would work fine. Had Photoshop, Illustrator, a good flight sim, web and video apps etc, out of the box + of course, the Indy Webcam. Years ahead of it's time and beautiful artsy desktop, but too expensive for most. They really were the king of colour graphics at the time...

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Boffin

but soon started running IRIX locally to appeal to the graphics intensive workstation market (including pharmaceutical drug design).

I get the impression that the Computational Chemists have never quite forgiven us for getting rid of the SGI boxes in favour of HP workstations running Linux. We do still have a couple of productiveish SGI workstations running some software that "was ruined" when it was ported to Linux!

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Onyx

Ah, the 90's. In the post production place I worked, we had several Onyx machines, which were something to behold. They were 5.5 feet tall, and you could fly a kite above their fan output vents. Awesome kit.

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Anonymous Coward

If the effort spent in writing the n-th ddesktop manager for Linux...

... was spent in making one truly usable with a decent design, decent icons and decent fonts... there would also a lot of spare time to write decent, usable desktop applications. And maybe we would see more commercial and useful software ported on Linux as well, with less variables to cope with (of course, for those who are not so miserly and greed they can't pay for software).

A good example when more choices actually just means fewer, real, usable ones. But this will be the year of Linux on the desktop... just it's the same desktop, just changing manager <G>.

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Re: If the effort spent in writing the n-th ddesktop manager for Linux...

That's kind of the point of this project, though. The old IRIX Interactive Desktop *was* "truly usable with a decent design, decent icons and decent fonts." While it might not have all of the fancy animations, transparencies, and so on that people expect today, it was a mature, snappy, well-designed GUI that nicely balanced essential functionality with unobtrusiveness. I kept using it long after SGI systems were surpassed in raw performance because no other Unix/Linux X11 GUI matched that balance. I look forward to trying this on modern hardware.

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"and maybe do serious work"

You mean maybe spend the best part of two weekends fiddling about, getting everything to compile, getting your existing apps to work with it, hours spent searching obscure foreign-language forums (mangled through Google Translate) for an answer to why X won't work with Y, all for a 2% subjective improvement in the GUI? No thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

This is the year of Linux on the desktop!

^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this! ^this!

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Too long ago to remeber exactly what it was

but I used to use an SGI workstation and Cadence software to do chip design. I do remember it would process at 1Mips which seemed incredible considering it was 100th the volume of the similar performance VAX box in the server room.

I remember it being a really nice machine to work on - and the combination with the Cadence software let me do some amazing things. Got a bit scared after a long long session when a colleague down the corridor worked out how to fuck with my XWindows making it melt slowly after disabling the keyboard. If I'd lost that work I would have fried the bastard.

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Re: Too long ago to remeber exactly what it was

use of 'xhost +' or 'rsh' considered dangerous, perhaps?

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Interesting nostalgia project

I too remember these. This is an interesting nostalgia project, but I'll stick to modern Linux, thanks.

But if we could get those extremely cool and sexy chassis back? Yeah, that would be nice...

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Correction...

SGI died when Rick Beluzzo, long time Microsoft munchkin, took over the company.

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Re: Correction...

> SGI died when Rick Beluzzo...

I imagine that in effect that SGI died the same day that HP's workstation business died. The day that AMD launched the 64bit X86 chip. Before then HP & SGI owned the performance graphics marketplace because x86 boxes couldn't handle the large flat memory spaces needed by the applications. Once that limitation was done away with the writing was on the wall. PC hardware was going to nuke the specialist boxes because they'd never be able to compete on price and due to the volumes involved would be out spent 1000:1 in development.

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