Feeling Nostalgic? Here Are Three Retro Desktops For You [Linux]

Linux users have an almost infinite number of UI’s to from which to choose. Arguments over which is best among mainstays like KDE, GNOME, Unity, and XFCE can (and have) go on for days on Internet boards. Purists can still just use the command line. There are even desktops designed to give users the “retro” feeling by emulating earlier desktops on Linux or other operating systems. Here’s how to install some old-school desktops.

Do you miss KDE3?

The switch to KDE4 caused some problems in the community when it was first released. For those who miss the old style of KDE, the Trinity Desktop Environment project has you covered.

To install this retro KDE desktop, take the following steps:

Add the following lines to your “/etc/apt/sources.list” file:

deb http://ppa.quickbuild.pearsoncomputing.net/trinity/trinity-v3.5.13/ubuntu precise main
deb-src http://ppa.quickbuild.pearsoncomputing.net/trinity/trinity-v3.5.13/ubuntu precise main
deb http://ppa.quickbuild.pearsoncomputing.net/trinity/trinity-builddeps-v3.5.13/ubuntu precise main
deb-src http://ppa.quickbuild.pearsoncomputing.net/trinity/trinity-builddeps-v3.5.13/ubuntu precise main

Note: The latest stable Trinity Desktop supports up to Precise in Ubuntu. To install on Quantal, you’ll need to try the Nightly builds.

Also add the Trinity GPG key:

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.quickbuild.pearsoncomputing.net --recv-keys 2B8638D0

Next, update your package lists

sudo apt-get update

Lastly, install from the repository:

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-default-settings-trinity kubuntu-desktop-trinity


Then you can select it from your Display Manager next time you log in. I installed this on my old (PIII) Gateway notebook, and was pleasantly surprised (and more than a little nostalgic). Which brings us even further back in time…

Nostalgic for Windows XP?

Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft, the Windows interface (starting with Windows 95) set a standard for UI’s that many systems (including Linux) still follow today. If you’re looking for a WinXP-like experience on Linux, icewm uses a similar layout with a “Start”-style menu in the lower-left corner, a system tray in the lower right, and a list of running tasks between the two. The window manager even provides a theme for window decorations that looks like the old blue-and-green.

To install icewm on your Ubuntu system, select it from the Software Centre, or use the following command:

sudo apt-get install icewm


Note that there are configuration utilities for icewm (iceconf and icemc), but they’ve been removed from the repositories, so you may be required to manage this through configuration files found in the “~/.icewm/” directory. Fortunately, there’s a nice explanation of how to do so on the Ubuntu Help site.

Pining for Amiga?

Lastly, if you’re an Amiga fan from back in the day, you’re not alone among Linux users. The community has worked to bring the Workbench UI from the old Amiga machines to Linux in the form of amiwm. This window manager is decidedly minimalist, but Amiga users will feel right at home.

amiwm runs very light, as it consists of a single package (the dependencies of which should be installed out of the box on most Ubuntu systems), which can be installed with the following command:

sudo apt-get install amiwm


Like icewm above, configuration of amiwm is done through a configuration file, specifically “~/.amiwmrc”. And while there are no utilities to help with configuration, some guidance and sample config files can be found around the Web.

To get an appreciation for how far the Linux desktop has really come, give some of these a try sometime. Or if you have a low-powered machine, one of these can be a fine alternative to the more robust (and more resource-hungry) options of GNOME, Unity, and KDE.

Aaron Peters

Aaron is an interactive business analyst, information architect, and project manager who has been using Linux since the days of Caldera. A KDE and Android fanboy, he'll sit down and install anything at any time, just to see if he can make it work. He has a special interest in integration of Linux desktops with other systems, such as Android, small business applications and webapps, and even paper.

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