4 Feb 2005 pasky   » (Journeyer)

Living on my console

I've read this very nice article calling for a console distribution few while ago, so I decided to followup on my blog. I think I have some things to say, using the Linux console (virtual terminal, virtual console, Linux terminal, call it how you like - just the thing your system scribbles its startup messages to; I'll further call it just "console") almost exclusively on my home desktop and exclusively on my notebook. Some popular console applications also originate from my software stable, namely ELinks, which I've originally created (read as forked from Links) and been maintaining until this autumn. So much for the self-advertisement. ;-)

I manage a Debian installation on my notebook and I simply refused to install X there. And sometimes it was pretty challenging to edge my way through the dependencies forest so that nothing I really want and is in fact for console doesn't depend on X too. It's basically impossible for SDL applications with both X and fb backends (unless I compile them myself). Eventually I gave up and let it install the xlibs. I still don't have any X server or so there, but so many things were linked to xlibs even though they had framebuffer frontend too, that I decided the disk space is worth it. The situation is generally getting better though - i.e. gnuplot-nox depended for some reason on gnuplot-x11, now it only suggests it. Of course it is more complicated with games, since even SDL-based ones which should work fine in framebuffer often depend on xlib (I'm sorry that I'm unable to come up with a specific example now since I have my notebook at work right now).

On my "desktop" home machine the situation is of course better just because I have a LFS-based own distribution there. So I get to decide what goes there and what does not and what links against what. As I said in my previous blog entry, I'm migrating to Gentoo which also has this sane dependencies advantage, so it seems things will go fine there, too.

So, how is life on the console for me? Well, I'm a programmer, not typical office computer user. So I never really needed any office suite for console since I simply doesn't use any. If I need to write something pretty-looking, I usually do it in TeX, and wvWare mangles most .doc files to some usable format successfully. Otherwise, I indeed can live fine with vim, Mutt, ELinks, irssi, mpg123 and ADOM ;-). I've been doing some TeX work lately and got some specs in PDF, but fbi (comes with fbgs so that I can watch .ps and .pdf files, too) and dvifb handle it all excellently. (Well, fbi still has a long way to come, because it is pretty much unusable for viewing i.e. photos since it does not support rotation well; I will start producing patches soon, I think.) Note that without a framebuffer (that is, if you have a video device w/o accelerated framebuffer), you can alternatively use dvisvga and zgv for these tasks.

So, am I ever using X? I don't have an X server on the notebook, so not there (and never needed it yet). On the desktop machine, I have to spawn Mozilla for some webpages - but much more rarely than you would say. (I usually went the ELinks-Links2-Mozilla path in the past but websites not working in ELinks didn't work in Links2 more often than not and since I got a faster machine this intermediate step really wasn't worth it anymore.)

Otherwise, long time ago (before I got a graphics card supporting framebuffer and VIDIX) I had to use X for movie playing movies, but CVIDIX is simply excellent so I don't need X for that anymore. X can be useful for debugging SDL applications (i.e. OpenTTD) - even though they run fine in framebuffer, it's difficult to gdb them there :-). And the only other thing I run X for is XMMS, since has a nice alarm plugin with fadein. I used to use mpg123 + <kbd>at</kbd> before, but this is more convenient; I could live without it, though. I also used XMMS for doing some transcripts lately. I patched mp3blaster's <kbd>splay</kbd> utility so that it does some seeking too, but it is not fine-grained enough for transcripts and I was just lazy to touch the patch ;-).

So, I live on the console and I'm happy. I don't mind using X when necessary, but it really isn't needed but very rarely. The writer of the original article wondered why an office suite isn't an itch for any console developers. I guess that if you are already "hardcore" enough to live exclusively on the console, you just won't need to do office stuff in office application, since you can usually mine the contents from the office formats and write own office-like documents in some markup. And regular users are scared of the console anyway. >:)


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