[TUHS] X and NeWS history (long)

Jon Steinhart jon at fourwinds.com
Wed Sep 13 10:56:12 AEST 2017


Bakul Shah writes:
> 
> Unix still needs a decent graphics API (ideally one that can work over a network).
> Any thoughts on that?

Wow, big topic.  Rather than getting into it in detail at the moment I'm curious
as to why you think that it's important for it to work over a network.

Before you bite my head off for that question, I'm not suggesting that there's
no value in taking data from somewhere on a network and using it on a local
machine.

Back in the darker ages of the Green Flash (Tektronix storage tubes like the
4014) it was common to display remote data on a local system.  The data in
those days arrived via RS-232.  Depending on the application, one could shovel
4014 commands over the wire or just raw data and use a local program to generate
drawing commands.

I've never been convinced that the way that X did it made sense.  Sure, you'd
here people say things like "your remote Cray can draw stuff on your local
screen."  But it wasn't just that; using X your Cray also had to draw and
manage your user interface: scroll bars, buttons, and so on unless you wanted
to create a separate protocol so that you could run your user interface
locally and have it communicate with the remote application.  Of course, X was
enough of a pig that maybe using a Cray to drive a scroll bar made sense :-)

So before getting off into graphics APIs I think that it would be interesting
to hash this out.

BTW, one of the best things about NeWS was the fact that with a reasonable set
of conventions the user interface personality could live in the server and be
applied to all applications.  Contrast that with X where each application links
in a UI library, and if your screen looks anything like mine there isn't a lot
of consistency because different applications use different libraries.

One of the problems with NeWS was that this was so much fun to play with that
the people doing the work kept on coming up with new ideas faster than they
could implement the old ones so there was difficulty completing toolkit
projects.

Jon


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