Lower Hutt's Rocklyte goes GUI

I've been following the efforts of Paul Manias and his Rocklyte Systems software company with interest as he is beavering away at creating an alternative graphical user interface for Linux.

I’ve been following the efforts of Paul Manias and his Rocklyte Systems software company with interest as he is beavering away at creating an alternative graphical user interface for Linux.

Lower Hutt-based Manias has been at it since 1998, and used to develop software for The Greatest Computer of All Times, the Amiga. Since the unfortunate demise of that platform, Manias has released The Pandora Engine, which he describes as an “all purpose object-oriented software development kit” that supports both Windows and Linux.

The Pandora Engine uses Modular Object Oriented (MOO – Manias had better watch it lest our greedy politicians impose the fart tax on his software) technology, and comes with the source code publicly available. The licence for The Pandora Engine is flexible: if you’re a freeware developer, and make the source code available freely, you don’t need to pay a fee. Commercial developers have to pay, however, either $US99 a developer and project (maximum $US999) or $US299 a developer for unlimited amounts of projects; both options cover a licence period of 24 months.

Manias has also come up with the Dynamic Markup Language (DML) which is based on extensible markup language (XML) and is compatible with Netscape, and browsers that support plug-ins. DML is free, for both freeware and commercial developers.

The Pandora Engine and DML form the basis of Rocklyte’s Athene operating system that runs on both Windows and Linux distributions – go here to download it for a trial run; it’s pretty small at 10MB (Linux) and 11MB (Windows) respectively.

Currently, Athene looks great (check out the Omega theme, which is based on the Amiga desktop) but it is more of a developer’s preview than a general purpose user interface. Crucial items such as a native web browser and email program are missing, ditto 3D and networking support.

Thanks to the DML scripting language, Athene is easily customisable by simply editing .dml files, and it supports anti-aliased TrueType fonts and most graphics formats plus audio files.

Interestingly, Manias has put together a full, bootable operating system, called Athenyx. It uses a patched Linux 2.4.20 kernel, and runs all the usual GNU userland console apps. X11 support is also being finalised, which will broaden the application base for Athenyx.

Manias uses SciTech Software’s SNAP Graphics drivers, which support up to 150 video card chip sets currently. SNAP Graphics is interesting because although it’s payware, it can replace the XFree86 video drivers – go here and download a 21-day trial. Although open source purists may frown upon Athene/Athenyx because it contains proprietary stuff, it is a noteworthy project that has thrown up a promising desktop alternative.

I hope Rocklyte Systems will be able to refine it further and add full internet and multimedia support. Perhaps a technology grant from the government would be in order here?

Saarinen is an Auckland IT consultant and IDG contributor. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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