February 23, 2019

From the Desktop: AfterStep Into My Parlour

AfterStep: Love it or Loathe it

  • September 26, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

When I am not busy trying to wring out some sort of language about the latest desktop trick or a new Linux product, I like to get in an airplane and fly around the Midwest.

This isn't an aimless pursuit, either. I am well on my way to getting my private pilot's license. Then flying around will be an aimless pursuit.

Hanging around the airport gives a new perspective on what things people think are important. Right now at the flight office there's a friendly debate going on about the virtues of tri-wheels versus taildraggers.

A tri-wheel is the kind of plane I fly. It has two big main wheels on the side and a fair-sized nose wheel. A taildragger has two big main wheels and a little teeny wheel in the back. Both kind of planes fly pretty much the same way, but as you might guess, landing and taking off is a different proposition in each plane.

In the interests of objectivity, and because I do not want to irritate my flight instructor, which is always a Bad Thing, I will not reveal which side of this argument I come down on. Suffice to say, the discussion has ranged from good-natured jibing to out and out insulting arguments. It is, to me, amazing what people will get passionate about.

It is in that same vein I look at AfterStep, the first desktop getting examined in this round of desktop reviews. Linux users, I have discovered, seem to feel only the extremes about this window manager: they either love it or loathe it.

Set the Wayback Machine

Imagine it's 1995.

I know, bad memories of sky blue shrink-wrapped boxes and geeky corporate-types cavorting about with the likes of Jay Leno. Bear with me, we're only here for a moment.

It is in these turbulent times that Bo Yang gets the clever idea to patch fvwm 1.24 and make it look like the NeXTstep desktop. The NeXTstep OS was originally tied to NeXT PCs, which had their production stopped in 1993. The OS still lived on, resuscitated every once in a while by a small but energetic fan base. Yang was one of those NeXTstep proponents, which led to the creation of the fvwm patch, which was called BowMan.

A year later, Frank Fejes split the code off from BowMan and started working on AfterStep with Dan Weeks and Alfredo Kojima, which led to the release of AfterStep 1.0 in the spring of 1997.

Soon after this release, a debate ensured among the AfterStep developers as to what direction the manager should go. It came down to two ideas: more features or a stricter adherence to the NeXTstep interface. Kojima parted ways with the AfterStep team and started work on his own window manager: WindowMaker.

In 1997, the lead AfterStep developer was Guylhem Aznar, now of Linux Documentation Project fame. Aznar continues the push to add more and more features to the fledgling window manager, resulting in AfterStep 1.6, which was released in January 1999.

From that point on, AfterStep has been in the hands of Ethan Fischer and (today) Sasha Vasko, who provided much of this history in an online interview this week.

History lesson over, let's get to the interface.

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