I’m a happy BeOS refugee this morning after having just tried Simply GNUstep. Simply GNUstep is a new Operating System that runs on the latest Linux kernel compiled with the latest GNU compiler. This new OS is way more (perhaps by being less) than just-another-Linux-distribution. It aims to be similar, extremely similar, to Apple’s OS X. However, Simply GNUstep, unlike OS X, will run on your PC. In fact, you can be running it in under 15 minutes from this very moment.
After a quick visit to http://simplygnustep.sf.net you are met with refreshingly little information for a Linux site. That is because this isn’t about Linux. Simply GNUstep isn’t your average bloated Linux distribution. It doesn’t include GNOME or KDE and doesn’t discuss any other software besides GNUstep. Linux is used only to enable your hardware and launch GNUstep (although your favorite Linux applications will most likely run just fine).
By this time you may be wondering, “what is GNUstep?” GNUstep is a platform that matches the Objective-C Object Oriented desktop that Steve Jobs created with NeXT and OpenStep. To my knowledge, GNUstep was started before NeXT returned to Apple, just as the NeXT platform was fading. GNUstep developers wanted a free software version of the OpenStep platform. Fearing that NeXT would fade into oblivion, they wanted to ensure that their favorite desktop would not.
Visit http://www.gnustep.org and http://www.gnustep.net to learn more about the history of GNUstep. To sum up the experience, GNUstep found themselves in great fortune when NeXT was chosen by Apple as the foundation for Mac OS X. Steve Jobs took the great work started with the OpenStep API and called it Cocoa. The result? GNUstep brings Cocoa to Linux and you x86 PC. Well, almost.
Apple has been busy improving the OpenStep API, turning it into Cocoa. The display technology for Mac OS X, called Quartz, uses vector based PDF language to render your view of the desktop. NeXT used Display PostScript but Apple dropped it to improve performance and avoid licensing fees to Adobe. GNUstep uses the original NeXT style PostScript method avoiding licensing issues with the free software GhostScript. The desired result is the same but expect the GNUstep display method to run a bit slower today.
The next difference between GNUstep and Cocoa is that GNUstep has the goal and therefore the burden of matching 100% of the original OpenStep API. Apple started with 100% of the API years ago and has been free to expand it. GNUstep is catching up very quickly for a project that, before today, you may not have known exists. Progress meters on the main GNUstep site indicate that the libraries responsible for the user experience are roughly 80% complete. Developer tools match OpenStep at about 40% completion. As we will soon find out, these percentages, for the OpenStep API give a tremendous amount of functionality.
As a BeOS refugee looking for the next-great-desktop I was overjoyed by the invitation to download Simply GNUstep as an CD-ROM ISO image at about 110 MB in size. Users of BeOS know how simple it was to download FreeBe at approximately 50 MB and boot into BeOS about 3 minutes thereafter. Considering GNUstep includes developer tools (a separate download for FreeBe) it is very comparable to BeOS in size. FreeBe used a BFS image inside a large 500 MB file that lived inside your Windows partition. GNUstep must be burned to a CD-R before you can boot it. I would imagine, however, if there was a demand (which I doubt there is) the FreeBe method could be applied here as well.
After downloading, extracting and burning Simply GNUstep in about 14 minutes with broadband Internet and a 12x speed CD burner you are booting straight to the GNUstep desktop. During the Linux boot procedure you do see the common kernel messages as it loads this driver and that daemon. The creator of Simply GNUstep, Chad Hardin, could have disabled these messages like the popular Mandrake Linux. They serve a purpose, however, and for a 0.0001 release, expect some rough edges. As your graphics adapter is initialized the Linux experience fades into the background.
For a second or two you are met with the all too familiar hounds-tooth wallpaper of X Windows. Don’t panic as the GNUstep desktop is served up nicely by the excellent WindowMaker. WindowMaker is a popular X Windows manager which, unbeknownst to many, is a full OpenStep style application. The fact that many Linux users choose WindowMaker without knowing or caring about GNUstep serves as a testament to its features and style. You are greeted by a clear desktop, a virtual workspace switcher and an application dock. Finding your way around is easy. Just remember to try double clicking and single clicking with the mouse button. Also, explore with your right mouse button.
Without having to install the OS you can try out applications right off the CD-ROM. Application launching feels a little slow, but that is sure to improve after installing to a hard drive. One thing you may notice is that all your GNUstep applications have a consistent look and feel. In my opinion, I think they look consistently like junk, but I will explain why this doesn’t bother me.
Creating GUI applications on Mac OS X, and before that NeXT, is said, by almost everyone, to be a complete joy. When developers create applications in GNUstep they have access to high quality APIs and standard dialogs. GUI is a dream and event handlers are the best of any platform. GNUstep has all these benefits and widget classes are used with functionality, not appearance in mind. As you use the applications on Simply GNUstep imagine those sharp grey widgets softened to smooth, semi-translucent Aqua style effects. When something like this is added to GNUstep these application will look beautiful. I would imagine this would happen without a recompile. Develop for GNUstep today, look beautiful tomorrow. Just update the base libraries and voila!
The application set on Simply GNUstep is not too great. There is a email application but no web browser and only a Rich Text editor. Take a look at the IDE, however, and you can see that these developers have their priorities straight. They are focused on building an excellent IDE with a drag-and-drop GUI builder. These applications will provide the same tools that Cocoa developers enjoy on Mac OS X. It is a case of “if you build it, they will come” and I applaud GNUstep for it. Expect to see cross platform development between Mac OS X and GNUstep, in both directions!
Simply GNUstep will add an installation system and a GUI install tool to the next versions of the product. If the present experience is any indication, the installation will be as simple as on BeOS. Hardware support will be a little tricky. Linux does a great job with the latest kernels, but some configuration is required for some drivers. Simply GNUstep will have to provide those configurations to be truly simple. At least they can use any free software projects that are already available. Mandrake Linux has some form of hardware detection and configuration although I can’t speak for the quality or licensing of it.
The GNUstep desktop is very complete. Workspace switching under WindowMaker is snappy and full of features. Great thought went into UI design in GNUstep wether I like the look or not. Applications do not have individual menus, like Windows. GNUstep seems to have some kind of common menu, but the metaphor is a little confusing. I would suggest GNUstep cut to the chase and work with WindowMaker to develop a Mac OS style common menu, docked at the top of the screen.
A great deal of fonts are installed on the system, but they don’t look their best. Font smoothing is something that could be improved on GNUstep in general. Also, it is not clear to me if the fonts are True Type or PostScript. Obviously, True Type would be important to support.
GNUstep has the benefit of being able to replacing the underlying display technology at anytime. Perhaps GNUstep could leapfrog Mac OS X by replacing Display GhostScript with Mesa’s OpenGL and DRI. Hardware acceleration would just happen on supported video adapters. I leave that to the experts.
The widgets are all consistent and the applications function great. That drab skin, however, feels too dull and boxy. You can apply colorful themes and wallpaper to your desktop, but the widgets keep their boxy nature. Catching the vision of GNUstep would be much easier if it looked more like Mac OS X. Skinning should be added to GNUstep as soon as possible. The similarities between the two systems are far more than skin deep. In fact, the skin is what’s missing!
All in all, I give Simply GNUstep (version none) a 10 out of 10 for an OS alpha test. It is a perfect example of what most OS developers should be doing: Take what works from free software and make it better. Why worry about the kernel when Linux is here today and works? After your OS is something special and you have a system in place, go back to the kernel and replace it or make it better. If Apple ever licenses Darwin as free software, Simply GNUstep could switch. Also, do we need KDE and GTK+ when OpenStep rocks and is GPL under GNUstep? I admire GNUstep for recycling an excellent API rather than reinventing the wheel.
Looking to the future, Simply GNUstep will be the Mac OS and Cocoa of x86. Waiting for Apple to release Mac OS X for your Windows PC is just silly. If you want something that OS X has, but you can’t get behind Apple for whatever reason, try Simply GNUstep today.
About the Author:
Richard R. McKinley (therandthem) is a Java programmer and computer science student. A BeOS user since Preview Release 2 he has been searching for a new desktop OS that won’t leave a bad aftertaste. Richard can be reached at therandthem-at-hotmail-dot-com.
I looked into GNUStep when OS X hit Public Beta because I liked the idea of developing in Cocoa and having it run on Linux and Windows. There is a very unstable GNUStep for Windows if I remember correctly. Hopefully this project comes to fruition. Cocoa/OpenStep development really is a joy, even if you have to learn another language to do it on other platforms.
i haven’t tried this (no cd burner! what a pain), but why linux? wont that mean we’ll have to recompile the kernel for different drivers and features?
Right now you can develop for GNUstep in at least Object-C, Java, and Ruby
“but why linux? wont that mean we’ll have to recompile the kernel for different drivers and features?”
Yes, but the trade-off is drivers, drivers, drivers! Today GNUstep can run on many platforms. Simply GNUstep chose Linux.
Visit: http://www.gnustep.org/information/machines_toc.html for a list of supported platforms.
On a brief look it seems the JIGS Java bridge is source-code compatible with the Cocoa Java bridge. Is that true, or is that a drive. If it isn’t, then we’d have to stick with Objective-C. I’m really excited!
<blockquote>wont that mean we’ll have to recompile the kernel for different drivers and features?</blockquote>Most drivers are now as modules which can be inserted into a live kernel (it’s been this way for some time). Some features will require a recompile, but a stock install will be able to do most things. I can’t be any more specific without knowing the features that you want.
“If you want something that OS X has, but you can’t get behind Apple for whatever reason, try Simply GNUstep today”
Erm… am I the only one who thinks the main thing consumers will like in OS X is Aqua? People will never try this GNUStep without something like Aqua!
Someone whose name I know not said: “People will never try this GNUStep without something like Aqua!”
My fiance’s reaction to Aqua after she got her OS 10.1 upgrade for Xmas: “Ugh, how do I turn all that stuff off?” Her UI is now no more than something much more colorful and prettier than WindoMaker with a drag-n-drop desktop and better icons…and it runs a bit quicker than full-blown Aqua.
How about some screenshots somewhere? I don’t want to download a 110mb ISO and burn it only to find out the whole thing looks like CRAP like most Linux WMs. A picture says a thousand words.
This is why there was a link to the windowmaker web site in the article. Follow the link and you will see how it looks like in general.
I love the NeXTStep look…even more than Aqua. My favorite is the way they did menus.
As usual, an OS is really as useful as the applications that run on it.
What is out there for GNUStep? What comes with the “Simply GNUStep” suite?
Anything comprable to iTunes (no I’m not kidding) or do all Linux programs work flawlessly? It would seem that getting and easily installing programs on GNUStep would be of top priority. Ease of use and desktop elegence are two reasons that many people choose Apple’s products to begin with.
I just installed it onto my laptop here, i must say.. its very minimal (i like that). Especially with regards to what’s actually contained on the CD. It’s got exactly what it needs.. though it is missing some things, like a browser, etc. but again, check the version number. I’m sure it’ll only get better.
> Skinning should be added to GNUstep as soon as possible
> Why worry about the kernel when Linux is here today and works?
i think a little reevaluation of priorities is in order. skinning definately helps things aesthetically but if app support is as abysmal as you claim, i would think that that should be the first order of business. i dont know of many people can accomplish their day-to-day tasks with only a (minimal) text-editor, no browser, no email client, no nothin …
perhaps you’re not all that familiar with kernel development. sure, some features of the kernel are not always strictly *necessary*, but a lot of subsystems on linux are quite broken (vm, usb to name a few). giving up on the kernel for a time to work on other things (like skinning?) would lead to a system that’s maybe more useable, but at the cost of support for large chunks of current hardware that most non-technical users (presumably the target audience of simplegnustep in the first place) would potentially have. i don’t mind rebuilding the kernel and playing with development/unstable patches to get my system how i want it, but this is hardly the thing an everyday user should expect…
If the GNUStep interface is brought anywhere near compliant with the Cocoa standard, then they have a good shot of getting many OS X Cocoa programs ported over directly, since it would be mostly a recompile. It would be a lot like wxWindows or something like that…write once, compile everywhere.
“f Apple ever licenses Darwin as free software, Simply GNUstep could switch”
Isn’t Darwin already free? I was under the impression it was licensed with the FreeBSD licence.
Please straighten me out.
ya, darwin is free, and is the core(kernel) of osx. it uses(to my understanding) a lot of freebsd, which it is based on. Also, a future goal for apple or maybe just the darwin developers is a full(full) blown OS, not just the osx kernel…. hope that helps
Review said it should handle most programs pretty well, but how has everyone found it? for stuff like emacs or gimp?
Hm…nothing in it that I couldn’t do on my existing Debian system, right?
Its a bit of a strech to call this thing an “OS.” OSs are resource managers for programs. This thing is, in fact, is nothing more than a distribution of Linux packaged with the GNUStep destkop environment. Save yourself some trouble, don’t DL the 110 MB ISO. Just install GNUStep from http://www.gnustep.org.
Darwin is open source, but not (forced) “free” by Stallman’s definion. It’s under an extra licence, which is not the FreeBSD licence. And please stop with that “…it’s based on FreeBSD” – it’s as well based on Mach, NetBSD or OpenBSD. It uses code from various sources, FreeBSD just happens to be the most prominent.
Why not just use windowmaker on a regular linux distro, and install the other gnustep stuff?
from what I can work out it’s ment to be easy!
Not (like linux) on hell of a time faffing about with config files.
As far as I can tell you can get the same thing under FreeBSD by installing the gnustep-1.0.2 and windowmaker-0.80.0 ports
I just installed windowmaker and it’s about a billion times faster than gnome
Yup, WindowMaker is the window manager of my choice when I am under any Unix. I run WindowMaker happily for 2.5 years now…
I’m still lost without Tracker though, can you suggest a good filemanager? It looks like windowmaker expects xfm, is that good? (the already funky cursor in mozilla is even stranger under windowmaker: I do like the minimalistic window border)
I would recommend to try <A HREF=”http://krusader.sourceforge.net/“>Krusader for file manager.
There is also http://www.enthdimension.com.au/software/fm/screen_shots.dsh“>AM… Amulet” rel=”nofollow”>http://www.amuletexplorer.com/”>Amulet Explorer, http://www.obsession.se/gentoo/“>Gentoo theLeaf” rel=”nofollow”>http://www.theleaf.be/projects/fm/”>theLeaf and another one that looks like Explorer and works pretty well I must say, but I can’t remember its name…
you can do it via any OS (inc Win32 with GNUStep!)
the point is thou. this is a nicly & tightly (one would hope) set up system, which boots of a CD.
But yeap, it’s “just” a linux distro.
“I just installed windowmaker and it’s about a billion times faster than gnome”
Gnome could run on top of WindowMaker, so you can’t really compare that.
It’s a bit like saying “woah, DOS runs faster than Windows 3.11!”.
> I just installed windowmaker and it’s about a billion times faster than gnome
Umm… GNOME isn’t a window manager. WindowMaker is.
From the Gnustep.org site, from the link “why use gnustep” on the homepage.
“First of all, GNUstep is not an operating system and it’s not a window manager (although it is closely tied to the Window Maker window manager, the “official” window manager of GNUstep). GNUstep is a development environment. ”
Unless they’ve changed their minds and not got round to updating their own website to tell us about it, GnuStep is intended as a cross-platform development environment, with OpenStep compatibility. Very interesting, but NOT intended as a replacement for your OS.
There was a project which tried to clone MacOS X for x86.
It was based on GNUstep. It’s dead now. Check http://sf.net/projects/achelous
From reading this article, I was expecting a goodlooking, sharp, simplistic GUI like the two he compared it two (Be, Mac OS X). Then I see a screen print and was amazed that such a fluffed article was written about this. I was like “So”. I think enlightenment looks better. And Blackbox is the best WindowsManager for linux I think (at least for now). IT looks better. Plus it is VERY resource friendly and is a tiny download.
So this guy makes it seem he discovered the next great OS. How could you compare it to Be. Be was fundamentally SO different in its OS concepts and design. Can you say On-the-fly module/driver recognition and load at bootup, in under 15 seconds?!? This is just Linux and xfree86 with a different Windowsmanager.(both 20 year old botch jobs. Not taking ANYTHING away from either. They both have come along way. Especially Linux)
You don’t take a tank (Linux) and throw 20 inch Michelins on it and a new paint job and then claim it revolutionary…
You want a simple Linux distribution that is small in size to Download and is geared as a very nice, easy to setup “desktop” replacement that doesn’t include all the Junk (can be added if needed of course, it is Linux) TRY PeanutLinux.
Hmmm might try that. I’ve always like afterstep/litestep.
How do I install it instead of running from CD? Is there a dialler? Didn’t see one. Doesn’t seem to give access to my Win partition either. Where can I ask questions about it, the site is so empty.
Okay, I meant the combination of gnome/sawfish. Anyway, it doesn’t look like I need gnome as windowmaker seems to fill in for at least some of what gnome is for. Something BeOS refugees need too is something to replace Deskbar. Gnome panel is okay, but if I start running more and more gnome apps…
Apropos Slashdot discussion from 12/28/2001, is
“Newbie’s Guide To A Lo-Fat Linux Desktop”:
This isn’t a new OS, it’s a linux distroid designed to focus on and exploit GNUStep.
GNUStep isn’t an OS, it’s the API from NeXTSTEP.
It’s supposedly really really cool to program in because Objective-C is a lot more dynamic in its design than C++. (Much less type checking = less recompilation, more rapid development, it’s a lot more like working in Smalltalk or a scripting language like Ruby. So I hear from people who use Objective-C in my company.)
HOWEVER it ain’t ready, GNUStep is still laying the foundations. When they’re all laid, it should be possible to add a lot of very good apps very fast. (NeXT is most famous for having been something you can develop apps very well and fast in.)
This is an interesting start.
GNUStep apps should be relatively easy to port to Cocoa and vice versa, that’s the extent of the connection.
All this yammering about how pretty the window decorations are is silly. It ain’t about looking like candy, it’s about being pleasant to use and working well.
All this stuff about “being the next BeOS” is silly too. This isn’t about users… not yet. It’s about developers. It isn’t a new OS, it’s a new programming environment and a Linux distro optimized for it.
Long live NeXTStep/OpenStep! eheh If they would replace X with another windowing system, i’d be impressed. X is old, not meant for desktops really. It seems really nice, and im a huge fan of WindowMaker (Although i run blackbox), but what i worry about is… if i right click on my debian box, go to Window Managers, and click “Window Maker”, what am i lacking here that i would get in that? If their goal is to bring linux/WindowMaker/GNUStep into the homes of computer illiterates, ok, good luck with that (i do believe its possible), but i like playing with configuration files and battling it out with my kernel config (sound is a bitch on an Alpha), so i think i’ll stick with Debian thank you.
I tried to download the program but the file seems not to be there.
is there a mirror that I could download this file from??
Chad has asked that the following be posted:
I’ve got to run to work (I’m late!), but if one of you could please put a post on the slashdot article explaining the problem I would be very thankful!
It seems I broke a rule at sourceforge which limits file sizes to 100MB
If someone could offer a mirror site I would be very thankful for that as well!
Here’s what sourceforge had to say
My name is ********; I am the Quality of Service Manager for
SourceForge.net. This message is directed to you since you are
designated as a project administrator for the Simply GNUstep project on
First, we would like to take a moment to congratulate you on your recent
press exposure on Slashdot.org — we love to see Open Source projects
succeed, and press exposure of this nature is always of great benefit.
Since the announcement of your project efforts on /., your project has
received roughly 2241 downloads of the ISO image provided through your
download page at: http://simplygnustep.sourceforge.net/Download.html
It has come to our attention that you are making use of SourceForge.net
project web services as a mechanism to release file materials in excess
of 100MB in size. Each project hosted on SourceForge.net is provided
with project web services as to ensure that they may adequately provide
an online description and information regarding their project.
I have two things I wanted to note – (1) GNUstep should support TrueType fonts (answering the author’s question), if it uses XFS, like a good X11 desktop environment should. (2) I don’t understand how using GNUstep can make one question whether we need KDE. KDE is much more mature and robust than GNUstep in it’s current state, and features a large variety of quality applications. KDE also a great, well thought out framework – QT is very nice to work with (so I hear), and technologies like DCOP, KParts, and aRts push KDE’s capabilities far ahead most others. Hey, and KDE implements themes such as “Aqua” just like the author must look ahead to the future to see on GNUstep.
Yes, it seems that the author is talking about it as a new OS, but it seems a lot of you are missing the point. The way I see it, it is just another Linux distro. Some Linux distros are centered around Gnome, other KDE. This new distro is based on GNUStep. Yes you can get GNUStep and Windowmaker and install them on Linux, but this person has gone to the trouble of gathering, compiling and setting up a GNUStep environment with GNUStep applications. I applaud him for this. And remember that this new environment could increase the porting of GNUStep and MacOS X applications back and forth. And remember what version it is.
I have used Windowmaker as long as I can rememeber running it on Linux at home and on Solaris and HPUX at work. It’s a nice interface.
It’s just to bad that I can’t download the ISO and try it out.
i have a solution for your Tracker and Deskbar replacement…..why not run XWindows under BeOS in a Window ?? then you’ll have all of your favourite X apps just sitting there and the power and flexibility of BeOS at your fingertips.
If you cant find the stuff you need for this, email at the address above 🙂
… And to think all this (NS) was out doing what it’s doing before Windows ever made it in the mainstream. Look at all Billg stole – and he’s still behind!
If I can come up with a mirror (NO promises!), where do I get the zipped iso? from Chad?
you can get it at
Hope you like it. Remember it’s what it is, but what it can become…