We have some very good news for those of us with a love for the Common Desktop Environment. I’m a huge fan of CDE – I’ve even dedicated an article to it – so I’m excited about this. CDE has been released as open source under the LGPL, and can be downloaded as of today for Debian and Ubuntu. Motif will follow later.
What is the Common Desktop Environment? From my earlier article on CDE:
CDE was announced in 1993, as a joint development effort by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Novell, and Sun. CDE was part of the Common Open Software Environment (COSE), an effort by the major UNIX vendors of the time to counter the UNIX wars which were basically holding UNIX hostage. The big UNIX guys realised that Microsoft was making strong inroads into the traditional UNIX space (workstations and data centers), and that something needed to be done to make sure that UNIX would be able to stand the major competition they were about to face.
COSE had several areas of focus, such as networking, graphics, multimedia, object technology, and many other things; they wanted to ensure interoperability between the various UNIX offerings in the world.
Sadly, CDE was closed source, and as such, never gained much traction beyond big-iron UNIX systems like Solaris and HP-UX. The open source world focussed on KDE and GNOME instead, and while Xfce was inspired by CDE in its early days, it started carving out its own path later on.
So, yes, it might be too late, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less cool and awesome. “The Common Desktop Environment project is proud to announce the open sourcing of the Common Desktop Environment a.k.a. CDE,” the project writes, “CDE was long the defacto standard among workstation vendors which enabled ease of software porting and training. It is still in use by Solaris (up to version 10), HP-UX, AIX and OpenVMS.”
Motif, the widget toolkit used by CDE, will also be released as open source, but since there are still a few legal issues to work out there, this will have to wait. In the meantime, the project decided to move ahead with CDE, since it can be built using Open Motif anyway.
Why should you care? Well, most importantly, while CDE is outdated and not exactly what you’d call pretty, its usability is of a kind you don’t see anymore these days. For me, the core quality of CDE is that it never does something without without the user initiating the action. From my earlier CDE article:
CDE might be lacking in the bling department, but it more than makes up for in the usability department, or, as I like to call it in CDE, the common sense department. CDE has achieved something that no other desktop environment has ever given me: a complete and total dedication to expected behaviour – or, put differently, a complete absence of unexpected behaviour. It is hard to put into words, but when you are using CDE, you are rarely, if ever, surprised by the results of your actions.
In addition to that, CDE never goes out and do things without your consent. It does not bother you with pop-ups, (modal) dialog windows, or more of that nonsense. It is focused on just one thing: serving you, The User. CDE will not do things without your full permission, something so many other desktop environments do constantly. Where Explorer, KDE, GNOME, and the Finder are more like cats, CDE is more like a dog. And even though I am a total cat person, I really like CDE for it.
I’m very interested to see what the future has in store for CDE – I’m hoping they maintain the UI behaviour, but will move to making things a little prettier. And when they do decide to add new features, I hope they won’t harm the spirit of CDE – although I do realise concessions may have to be made.
In any case, I wish the project lots of good luck!
I used CDE for years in a Sun Blade workstation running Solaris 8 and I loved it. It was really nice and fast.
I think that many ideas from CDE are cool even today, iconification of running applications is one of them (similar to Windows 3.1 but better).
Unfortunately GNOME became the “de facto” standard of the majority of unix desktops (Solaris included) and CDE didn’t get any major improvement since then.
I hope open source put CDE back at the top. 🙂