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MaXX Interactive Desktop: A Re-Implementation of the IRIX Interactive Desktop

3 min read
https://maxxinteractive.com/books/misc/page/not-just-a-theme

Here’s the breakdown of what makes The MaXX Interactive Desktop a true successor of the great IRIX Interactive Desktop only found on SGI systems and not just a theme or skin on top of an existing window manager. As per the detail below, you will realize the extent of which it took to implement a true IRIX Interactive Desktop experience and to continue its evolution as if SGI was still in business…  


At the heart of any SGI system is the IRIX operating system, the IRIX Interactive Desktop a.k.a. IID and its 4Dwm window manager which was an enhanced version of Motifwindow manager. Similarly the MaXX Interactive Desktop sits on top of the operating system, has its own 4Dwm compatible window manager called 5Dwm and is based on OpenMotif window manager.   The development of 5Dwm started as early as March 2000 and was entirely done by Eric Masson in his free time. 5Dwm provides an identical user experience to 4Dwm and is even compatible with 4Dwm support files and configuration.  5Dwm comes with its own tellwm and telldesktop command tools also found on IRIX.   5Dwm is lean, fast and ultra responsive. It supports multi-screens, HiDPI resolutions, UTF-8 and can use FreeType font rendering for crisp texts if the user desires.

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IRIX Interactive Desktop running on a SGI system.


The distinct SGI look and feel is powered by SGI Schemes and it was specific to SGI systems only until the MaXX Desktop.  SGI Schemes are based on X11 Resources mechanism allowing the definition of standardized colors, sizes, fonts and other behaviors throughout the user experience. Those settings are auto-magically injected into every X11/Xt/Motif application at startup. The changes required to support this “injection” goes deep into the X Toolkit Intrinsics Library (libXt) and therefore required our own version of libXt called libXt-maxx.  BTW, this is how SGI did their own implementation and this is how we did it too. We even reuse the IRIX scheme files in our implementation.

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MaXX Interactive Desktop running on a Linux system demonstrating SGI Schemes.

The SGI-Motif library found on SGI system offers a nicer+smoother look and feel than the regular Motif.  This lead to the creation of our own SGI-Motif libraries version 2.1.32 and 2.3.8 allowing a drop-in binary replacements on most Linux Distributions without sacrificing stability and compatibility. 


The Viewkit Motif C++ application development framework is at the heart of many commercial SGI applications and even part of the actual SGI Desktop. The initial plan was to offer ICS’s Viewkit license (for a fee) but sadly it failed to realized right after SGI declared bankruptcy and the several attempts to resurrect the company.  ICS is a really cool company and I keep contact…  Enters ViewKlass, a from scratch implementation derived from the Hungry ViewKit project originally written by Chris Toshok. It aims eventually to be source code compatible with a large subset of SGI’s ViewKit library.  We intend to extend and bring ViewKlass to the modern age of computing and is a big part of our strategy.

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MaXX Interactive Desktop running on a Linux system demonstrating ViewKlass in modern look and feel.


Other SGI technologies like Open Inventor and OpenGL Performer are part of MaXX Interactive Desktop.  Most of the code came from oss.sgi.com (Open Inventor, OpenGL Performer and other OSS projects).

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