Graphics Muse

Set your browser as wide as you’d like now.  I’ve fixed the Muse to expand to fill the aviailable space!
© 1998 by mjh
muse-image-map-9250223 muse:

  1. v; to become absorbed in thought 
  2. n; [ fr. Any of the nine sister goddesses of learning and the arts in Greek Mythology ]: a source of inspiration 

w-8372420elcome to the Graphics Muse! Why a « muse »? Well, except for the sisters aspect, the above definitions are pretty much the way I’d describe my own interest in computer graphics: it keeps me deep in thought and it is a daily source of inspiration. 

[Graphics Mews][WebWonderings][Musings] [Resources]

t-2326399his column is dedicated to the use, creation, distribution, and discussion of computer graphics tools for Linux systems.

Wow, what a month.  Since I’d finished working on my Gimp book in July and early August, I had all of September to work on my Muse column.  Its been quite some time since I’ve been able to devote this much time to the Muse.   I managed to keep up to date on all the product announcements made over on Slashdot, freshmeat, and on comp.os.linus.announce.  And there were a ton of them.  So many, in fact, I considered leaving some out just to keep this page from being too large.  But that didn’t seem right, so this month the Muse is a big, big column.

What we’ve got this month for you:

  • Visual DHTML from Netscape – a review of their initial release
  • Configuring and using X Input for use with Wacom drawing tablets

I got rather motivated with all this extra time on my hands.  First, I planned some hardware research into getting X Input running, which then lead to plans for an article on off the shelf video boards.  This latter idea will be in next months issue since its quite a bit of information to gather and organize.  I got quite a bit of help on the X Input issues from Owen Taylor.  His tips got me up and running with X Input and allowed me to gather some reasonable information for helping my readers do the same.  Along with X Input, I’ve got a review of Netscapes Visual DHTML in the Web Wonderings section.

You may also want to take a look at the new and improved Graphics Muse Website.  I’ve complete revamped the site.  The old Linux Graphics mini-Howto and Unix Graphics Utilities pages are no more – they’ve been replaced by a searchable database of graphics tools, texts, news stories, and reviews.  No more frames either, at least not in the Linux specific sections (my bio page still uses them, however).  Its not as nice as Slashdot or Freshmeat, but its better than the static frame-based pages I had before.  Hopefully, everyone will find these updates to their liking.  It should certainly make finding tools a little easier.  At least that was the plan when I started on it.

For those who don’t want to see the new graphics in my portal pages, you can jump straight to the Linux specific section.  But take a look at the graphics in the portals some time.  I really kind of like them.



      Disclaimer: Before I get too far into this I should note that any of the news items I post in this section are just that – news. Either I happened to run across them via some mailing list I was on, via some Usenet newsgroup, or via email from someone. I’m not necessarily endorsing these products (some of which may be commercial), I’m just letting you know I’d heard about them in the past month.

Imwheel makes the wheel of your Intellimouse (and other wheel mice) work in Linux/X11 to scroll windows up and down, or send keys to programs. It runs in the background as a daemon and requires little reconfiguration of the XFree86 setup. 4 or more button mice and Alps Glidepad ‘Taps’ may also be used. imwheel/

WorldEd 0.2.0

WorldEd is a 3d modeller for KDE. It has a grid, a tree view, a 3d view, a Layout manager, and a Modeller. It will have full texture mapping, skeletal modelling, more heirarchal model design, 3dfx dual-screen support and other goodies.  Development urgently needs additional contributors. 

New in version 0.2.0 is autoconf/automake support, seperate Modeller and Layout views, support for Lightwave/Blender ASCII imports, object rotation/scaling and updated screenshots. Pentagon/Quarters/2865/

Red Hat to Release NeoMagic source

Slashdot reports that Red Hat will release the source for the X Binary Free NeoMagic server after having received permission to do so from NeoMagic.  This X server source includes support for NeoMagic’s MagicGraph128 family of integrated single-chip graphics hardware.  The full announcement from Red Hat can be found at

3dom stands for 3-Dimensional Object Modeler. The aim of 3dom is to offer a tool to model reality with user-chosen accuracy, and user-chosen inclination for a particular purpose, which can be gradually improved and extended. 3dom is designed to be a general-purpose modeler, however it is especially inclined to model scenes for Global Illumination purposes. 

  This release features better Renderpark integration, some new concepts, various bugfixes and enhancements.

Linux Quake HOWTO

The Linux Quake Howto explains how to install, run and troubleshoot Quake, QuakeWorld, and Quake II on an Intel Linux system. 

This version includes updated QuakeWorld install information for the new 2.30 release, info on using the new 3Dfx GL miniport with regular Quake and Quake2, more help on making Quake behave on glibc systems, and lots more.

Other Announcements:
Simple Direct Media (SDL) Logo contest
New Version of Quake 2 is out.

aKtion! is a video player based on xanim. It (xanim) supports many different file formats like FLI animations, FLC animations, IFF animations, GIF87a and GIF89a files, GIF89a animation extensions, DL animations, Amiga MovieSetter animations, Utah Raster Toolkit RLE images and animations, AVI animations, Quicktime Animations and SGI Movie Format files. 

NOTE: You’ll need to have xanim properly installed in your machine to run aKtion!. 

KXAnim is a C++ widget wrapper around xanim to allow video playing in your apps. 

Both of these appear to be KDE applications, although they don’t specifically state that on the Web site. 

aKtion! and KXAnim – SiliconValley/Haven/3864/aktion.html
xanim –

Prometheus Truecolour 2.0.8

Prometheus Truecolour (PTC) 2.0 C++/Java is the library of choice for demo programming. It allows you to render into an offscreen surface of your choice and then converts it on the fly to whatever video mode is available on the host machine. And it is designed to be small so it can be statically linked into your application. 

Version 2.0 of the library is currently under heavy development and updated nearly daily. A final release has been scheduled at around the end of August 1998. PTC 2.x is free software under the terms of the GNU Library General Public License (LGPL) c.nentwich/ptc/

PyroTechnics 1.2

PyroTechnics is an OpenGL-based firework simulator. Features include multiple kinds of fireworks, the ability to choreograph firework displays, a texture-mapped water surface, reflections, a moving camera, and the ability to save screenshots. 

This version updates v1.0 with bugfixes, portability fixes, and the addition of command-line arguments.

k3de 0.0.6

k3de is a 3D editor for the K Desktop Environment which generates sources for POVray. unstable/apps/graphics/k3de-0.0.6.tgz

Quick Image Viewer 0.5

Quick Image Viewer (qiv) is a very small and pretty fast GDK/Imlib image viewer.

FxEngine 0.31

FxEngine is a 3d graphics library that uses the glide API. It was made by Andreas Ingo and ported to Linux by Michael Pugliese. It is very powerful and easy to use. 
Editor ‘s Note:  watch out for bright red background – eek!

  ElectricEyes is a lightweight GTK+/GNOME-based image viewer. It allows you to view and do simple manipulate of several image formats and gives a nice thumbnail selection mechanism.

fltk beta-19980825

  fltk (pronounced « fulltick ») is a GPL’d C++ user interface toolkit for X and OpenGL (it has also been ported to windows). Fltk is deliberately designed to be small, so that you can statically link it with your applications and not worry about installation problems. As a side effect it is also extremely fast. 

  This beta includes slight layout modifications, ports to Cray and other 64 bit machines as well as lots of bug fixes and small additions from users. users/spitzak/fltk/

VMD 1.2

VMD is designed for the visualization and analysis of biological systems such as proteins, nucleic acids, lipid bilayer assemblies, etc. It may be used to view more general molecules, as VMD can read standard Protein Data Bank (PDB) files and display the contained structure. VMD provides a wide variety of methods for rendering and coloring a molecule: simple points and lines, CPK spheres and cylinders, licorice bonds, backbone tubes and ribbons, cartoon drawings, and others. VMD can be used to animate and analyze the trajectory of a molecular dynamics (MD) simulation. In particular, VMD can act as a graphical front end for an external MD program by displaying and animating a molecule undergoing simulation on a remote computer. Research/vmd/

XawTV 2.25

XawTV is a simple Xaw-based TV program which uses the bttv driver or video4linux. It contains various command-line utilities for grabbing images and avi movies, for tuning in TV stations, etc. A grabber driver for vic and a radio application (needs KDE) for the boards with radio support are included as well. 

Recent releases include updates to work with version 0.5.14 of the bttv driver and adds a command line tool for recording avi movies plus an ncurses based radio application and driver bugfixes.  If you don’t get a picture with version 2.24, check out this version. linux/#xawtv


Magician is a commercial OpenGL implementation for Java.  Portable to Unix systems, but its unclear if it runs on Linux or not. products/magician/


Gifc reads a file with graphical commands and outputs a GIF file.  It originated from the need of the authors system administrator to show various system information graphically.  The administrator found that HTML did not suit his needs, so he started a kind of contest from which this program was born.

gifc is a Perl script that requiresPerl version 5.003, patchlevel 23 (preferably 5.004).  It also needs the GD Perl module which can be downloaded at  Although the current version of gifc is 2.5, this is the first public release,.  It has been tested on Linux 2.0 and HP-UX 10.20.  The home page of gifc is:, from which you can also download the package.  The program is released under the GPL.  The README file contains build and installation instructions.

The author, Peter Verthez, can be reached for suggestions and bug reports at

Gifsicle 1.3

  Gifsicle manipulates GIF image files on the command line. It supports merging several GIFs into a GIF animation; exploding an animation into its component frames; changing individual frames in an animation; turning interlacing on and off; adding transparency; adding delays, disposals, and looping to animations; adding or removing comments; optimizing animations for space; and changing images’ colormaps, among other things.  This version has flip and rotate options. It also fixes a longstanding bug that would rarely corrupt one pixel in an image.

X-TrueType Server 1.0 – New TrueType Font Server

X-TrueType Server is an X server and/or an X font server that can handle TrueType fonts directly. With X-TT, you can use TrueType fonts on the X Window environments without modifying existing applications, and in the same feel as using BDF fonts or PCF fonts. Thanks to widely spreading Windows, you can get a large variety of TrueType fonts at no or relatively low cost. X-TT supports various font transformations, such as slanting or magnifying which makes X-TT very useful for X users especially in far-east Asia, including Japan. These users have been suffering a bitter experience that only a few fonts were available. – English version of web site – Japanese version of web site

Editors Note:  I think this is not really an X server but rather serves as an embeddable library for X servers or as a stand alone font server.  Check the web pages for more detailed information.

Mesa 3.0 Officially Released

 Mesa is a 3-D graphics library which uses the OpenGL API (Application Programming Interface). Mesa cannot be called an implementation of OpenGL since the author did not obtain an OpenGL license from SGI. Furthermore, Mesa cannot claim OpenGL conformance since the conformance tests are only available to OpenGL licensees. Despite these technical/legal terms, you may find Mesa to be a valid alternative to OpenGL. Most applications written for OpenGL can use Mesa instead without changing the source code.

Xi Graphics Accelerated X 4.1.2 Laptop X Server Upates

Explicit support has been added to the Accelerated-X Laptop Display Server for the Acer (also known as TI) TravelMate 7100 using the NeoMagic 2160 chip.  Update 7 for Accelerated-X 4.1.2 is available from the Anonymous FTP site as URL .  A description of the process to add the update is in the same directory as URL .

Additionally, another update supports the Fujitsu Lifebook 990Tx2 using the ATI Rage LT Pro chip.  If using Accelerated-X Laptop Display Server version 4.1.2, apply the update from URL .  A description of the process to add the update is in the same directory, URL .

Detailed results from benchmarking should be available on the Xi Graphics Web Site, URL , soon.  The summary of the Xmark’93 single figure benchmark results for these machines are:

Acer/TI TravelMate 7100
Depth 8bpp 16bpp 24bpp
Number of colors 256 64K 16M
Accelerated-X 12 9.9 4.8
X Binary Free 9.9 8.1 2.1


Fujitsu Lifebook 990Tx2
Depth 8bpp 16bpp 24bpp
Number of colors 256 64K 16M
Acclerated-X 27 21 2.1


SciTech is readying the first release of SciTech Display Doctor for Linux!

SciTech Display Doctor is the universal display driver utility that supports over 250 different graphics chips — just about every one ever made. SciTech Display Doctor for Linux will bring SciTech’s proven device driver technology to the Linux platform (x86 only at this point in time).

SciTech is looking for all types of Linux users to help us stress test the utility before its final release. If you would like to participate in a beta, please contact or visit the SciTech Web site at

Editors Note:  a form for registering to participate in the beta release program accompanied this announcement in comp.os.linux.announce, however I felt it was a bit too large for inclusion here.  The form doesn’t appear to be on their web site, so you’ll probably need to send email to the above contact address to request a copy of the form.  Also, this program may have already expired by the time this column reaches you.  Display Doctor may already be released for Linux by that time.

Intel signs agreements with RealVideo and MetaCreations

Intel has been busy moving into streaming video.   C|Net News reported an agreement between Intel and RealNetworks was signed licensing new streaming video technology to RealNetwork for their next RealVideo G2 release.  Along with that, Design Graphics reports in Issue 37 that Intel and MetaCreations have jointly released a new open streaming 3D format based on MetaCreations Real Time Geometry technology.  The problem with the MetaCreations agreement is that the  3D file format appears to be Intel-specific.  Not very useful to Alpha or PowerPC users, I suppose.

OpenGL driver for xmame in development

Slashdot reports that an OpenGL display driver is being worked on for xmame. Xmame is the MultiArcade Machine Emulator, basically a way to port lots of old arcade style video games to X windows.  The OpenGL driver allows you to do vector graphics direct to the hardware, eliminating the need to render to bitmaps first.  It also allows easy scaling of the game (ie for larger displays) and bilinear filtering.  The latter allows for a cleaner display using anti-aliased lines and lettering after scaling or rotations.

Crystal Space is a free and portable 6DOF 3D engine based on the portal technology. Latest version supports colored lights, mirrors, transparent textures, reflecting surfaces,optional BSP trees, 3D triangle mesh sprites (limited currently), mipmapping, scripting language, static shadows, dynamic lights (but with no shadows), …
GdkRgb is a rewrite of the image rendering subsystem of Gtk+. Advantages over plain Gtk+ 1.0.x include higher speed, very smooth and pretty dithered modes, and support for more displays and visuals. It is currently checked into development versions of Gtk+ (and used in the development tree of the Gimp), but is also packaged separately for application authors who want to maintain Gtk 1.0.x compatibility. The programming interface is quite simple.

Blender 1.37

Being the in-house software of a high quality animation studio, Blender has proven to be an extremely fast and versatile design instrument. The software has a personal touch, offering a unique approach to the world of Three Dimensions. Use Blender to create TV commercials, to make technical visualizations, business graphics, to do some morphing, or design user interfaces. You can easy build and manage complex environments. The renderer is versatile and extremely fast. All basic animation principles (curves & keys) are well implemented. 

Version 1.37 adds UV Mapping for NURBS as well as bug fixes.

KVideoGen allows for easy generation of Modelines, as used by XFree86 to determine your refresh rate, resolution etc. It will allow you to use higher refresh rates, and different resolutions to the ‘standard’ ones offered by the usual X setup utilities. Note: Read the docs on the website. This program can damage your hardware. Handle with care.
PhotoShow is a simple Perl script that allows viewing, zooming, and adjustment (brightness/contrast/gamma) of images. It also has slideshow capability and is amazingly fast thanks to Imlib. PhotoShow.html
This is a very nice Net-Fu site.  The design is quite artistic although the options available for logo generation from Log-O-Mat are a little limited (no foreground/background color, pattern or gradient specifications permitted).  The Try-O-Mat is more configurable.  The difference is probably due mostly to the limitations in the generic logo Script-Fu scripts that the site is using.
The jmk-x11-fonts package contains character-cell fonts for use with the X Window System. The current font included in this package is NouveauGothic, a pleasantly legible variation on the standard fixed fonts that accompany most distributions of the X Window System. It comes in both normal and bold weights in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes. Currently only ISO-8859-1 encoding is available. fonts/jmk-x11-fonts

KuickShow 0.5

KuickShow is a fast, comfortable and easy-to-use image viewer/browser like Acdsee for the Windows environment. It is based on Rasterman’s Imlib and therefore pretty fast in showing images. You can browse all the images in a filebrowser and display as many of them as you like at the same time.  KuickShow can zoom and flip images, as well as moving an image in its window, if it is too large to fit in it. Editors Note:  beware the popup for kISDN at this page, though. The bi-monthly magazine is offering 3D artists a chance to win a new Alpha computer (preloaded with semi-useless software, but Linux users know how to deal with that).  They run a contest for each issue of the magazine.  The contest is open to anyone and is not specific to any OS or software.  In fact they specifically encourage users of any software to enter, even if its not high end, high dollar packages.  The only requirement is that you be a subscriber to the magazine.  Interesting trade-off, but if you like the magazine you have nothing to lose.  Take a look at the Web site for more details:

Binary versions of xfsft plug additional tool

A Linux glibc2 ia32 (Intel x86) binary of xfsft-1.0 is available.  The binary is provided as a gzipped ELF executable dynamically linked agains glibc2.  The URL is:  To find out more about xfsft, you can read Juliusz  Chroboczek xfsft Web site at  Example screen shots of Netscape under X using TrueType fonts are available at

Additionally, to complement xfsft, another a small tool that automatically creates a fonts.dir file for TrueType fonts. It is available from  The distribution package contains a ttmkfdir binary for Linux/glibc2 (Intel).

MpegTV Player

MpegTV Player is a realtime MPEG Video+Audio player that runs on Linux and other Unix platforms. It supports network streaming, VideoCD, and uses hardware acceleration when supported by a XIL library (Solaris Sparc). It runs on x86, PowerPC, Alpha, MIPS, HPPA.

MpegTV Player is now able to stream MPEG’s directly from a URL, and HTTP/FTP support has been added

…A new objects collection, called simply « POV Objects », is now available for POV-Ray users.  See

…the September issue of Digital Video ( has a very good article on the availability of stock images on CD.  These images run the gamut in prices, but one place which is recommended is Corel’s huge collection of stock photos.  See
clipartandphotos/photos/index.htm for information.  The only problem is their web site doesn’t make it very easy to order the CDs.  The Super 10 Packs are supposed to offer 1000 PhotoCD images for only $39.95.  Not bad (and you can view all the images (with watermarks) online.  Its just not obvious how to order them!  I did manage to find them at MicroCenter, but CompUSA did not seem to carry the Super 10 Packs.  They did have other Corel CD image packages, however.

…issue #1 of Serious 3D, which I saw at the local Barnes and Noble, had excellent articles on texturing and modeling « creatures » (see for their web site). However, a notable omittision from all of the creatures was…. hair.  They all had scales, etc. Hair is tough.  I think the best results (see, for example some of the furry examples in recent IRTC rounds) come from image maps. — from Dan Connelly on IRTC-L

New Gimp Plug-Ins announced this past month

I have the pleasure of announcing a new plug-in for the GIMP. It called ‘cam’ and allows the GIMP to read CAM files directly. Those files are the ones stores in Casio QV-* digital cameras, that you can dump using QVplay for instance. I am afraid this plug-in is of no use for people who do not possess one of those little toys, though. 

wind – similar to what comes with Photoshop jigsaw – as in puzzle diff – produces an output image based on it’s two input images duplicate – just a quick way to copy an image and all it’s layers Screenshots and more info as well as source are available at:

Nigel Wetten

More Did You Know…  

…Issue #37 of Design Graphics has explanation of high-end graphics boards and AGP vs. PCI on pg 67.  Very good article.

Q and A

Q:   I want to place a block of text with evenly single-spaced lines using some arbitrary font onto my Gimp image.  Rather than doing it line by line with the Text Tool, is there an easier way?

A:  Yes.  Use the ASCII 2 Image script:

    Xtns->Script-Fu->Utils->ASCII 2 Image


    Script-Fu->Utils->ASCII 2 Image Layer

The former is available from the Toolbox, the latter from an Image Window.  Both of these options run a Script-Fu script that reads in a text file and turns it into one or more layers using the font you specify.  If you’re installation does not have this script, check the Plug-In Registry.

Q:  A Gimp-User mailing list member asked – A few months back someone posted a method (maybe a script) for making text look like it was dripping, as if it had just been painted on and the paint.

A:  Alan F. Ho responded:  Perhaps the page you are thinking of is:  It’s a great tutorial, though I can’t seem to make my drippy text quite as nice as JTL’s.

Q:  Also, if there anyone knows of more « tips » type pages beyond the links on the Gimp page, could you let me know as well.

A:  Here are a few:

Reader Mail

Alligator Descartes contacted the IRTC Administrators with the following email:

    Hi. I was wondering if the IRTCAdmin Team would be interested in Arcane Technologiesgiving out some personal use licenses of Magician, our Java OpenGL interface, as prizes for the next round of the IRTC?

    If this is of possible interest to you, please get in touch with me. The appropriate blurb on Magician is at:

    We’re beginning a fairly intensive period of POV tools conversion and building with Magician which will be distributed as freeware in the not too distant future.

‘Muse:  My reply to Alligator was as follows:  I’m actually contacting you on a side note.  I write the Graphics Muse column for the Linux Gazette and maintain the list of graphics tools for Linux/Unix systems on my web site (, which is undergoing a major rewrite at this time).  I was curious if you’ve tried Magician on Linux platforms and, if so, what sort of success you had with it.  I’m still not clear on the use of the runtime and development environs for Java on Linux, so a little info from a commercial venture who might have some insight on this would be helpful to my readers.

And his reply to me follows:

    Magician supports Linux both libc and glibc variants on a bunch of the JDK ports (except JDK-1.1.6 which seems hopelessly busted in many places ). We’re in the process of porting to Kaffe and the OpenGroup JVM as well for Linux.  MkLinux support in the near future is planned as is SparcLinux. Basically, we support Linux.

    It runs pretty fast even though it’s using the slightly slow Mesa OpenGL-a-like implementation and supports hardware acceleration where Mesa supports it, typically on Voodoo Graphics accelerators.

‘Muse:  I did notice the note on portability, but Linux was specifically mentioned so I thought I’d ask.

    Yup. The identical Java code is supplied for Windows95/98/NT, Linux, Irix, Solaris, OS/2, AIX and MacOS so far. BeOS ports will happen when Be supply a JVM that we can write to. So, it’s pretty damn portable!

Sudhakar Chandrasekharan wrote:

    I am a regular reader of your column in the Linux Gazette.  I have a tip for you about a JavaScript debugger for Linux.  I have it from a reliable source that starting with Netscape Navigator / Communicator 5.0 a JS debugger will be available for Linux.
    I just thought I’d let you know.

‘Muse:  Many thanks for the heads up on this Sudhakar!

Caminati Carlo wrote:

    At found some interesting suggestions on how to add fonts to Linux

      « Mount a DOS partition and use the wide array of True Type fonts available for DOS »

    I tried and I restared the Xserver but xfontsel didn’t show the new fonts.  What do tou mean exatly with « use the wide array of True Type … » ?

‘Muse:  Under X Windows (ie all Unix systems), the X server usually only understands how to deal with bitmap fonts (ie Adobe Type 1 fonts).  In order to use the True Type fonts you need what is called a font server. This is a special daemon that runs along side the X server and can tell the X server how to render the True Type fonts (thats a oversimplification, but its about right).  There are 3 possible font servers that you can consider:

  1. xfstt
  2. xfsft
  3. Caldera’s font server in their commerical distribution of Linux

The first two are freely available.  The latter is only available (or was available, I haven’t checked on it in quite some time) with the Caldera distributions of Linux.

    Carlo:  I have a RedHat 5.0 box

You probably want to look at xfsft or xfstt.  There are links to these in Septembers Graphics Muse column in the Linux Gazette: – look in the September 1998 issue for the Graphics Muse column or try – which is where I keep my archived copies of my column.

The links are in the section of the column titled Did You Know?.

Andrew Kuchling suggested this:

    Sometime, you might want to take a look at the Python Imaging Library, maintained by Fredrik Lundh. See the manual.  PIL lets you read in graphics files in a bunch of different formats, perform various operations on them, and write them out again.  For example, I wrote a SANE interface for PIL, and use it in a code snippet like this to grab an image, resize it, and write it out to a .jpg file:
    =‘dmc:/dev/camera’)’Full frame’ = 16

      image =
      image = image.resize( (self.image_width, self.image_height) )

      # Convert from 24-bit colour to an 8-bit palette
      image = image.convert( ‘P’ )

      # The quality factor ranges from 0 to 100, with the default being
      # 75.  The documentation for libjpeg says that 95 is about
      # as high as you want to go; higher values increase the
      # image size but don’t affect quality significantly. ‘foo.jpg’, ‘JPEG’, quality=95)

    It’s more powerful than gd, because you’re not limited to GIF format, but can also handle JPEG (if you have libjpeg installed), PNG, and various other formats.

‘Muse:  My only objection to doing a review of PIL is that I don’t know Python.  As it is I’m behind the curve on languages.  I just picked up Perl and want to learn Java and Tcl/Tk (I’m a GUI programmer by trade, and these are tools I hear requests for in potential jobs).  Plus I have to learn Scheme in order to offer tips for Gimp developers (another reason to learn Perl and Tcl, since these also have scripting extensions for Gimp).  Python is Yet Another Language and its hard to find the time to learn them all.

However, I’ll put it on my list of things to do.  If you’d like to write a review for this package and have it included in the Graphics Muse column (with full credit to you, of course) feel free to send it my way.  I’ll make sure it gets included (I may edit it a little to make sure it reads well, but thats about it).

Michal Jaegermann wrote to take a minor issue with last months Perl advice in the Muse:

    I have a small issue with your advice on Perl which you dish out in your Graphics Muse in issue 32 of Linux Gazette.  You write:

      « The ampersand is important – you should always prefix calls to your subroutines with the ampersand.  Although things may work properly if you don’t, proper Perl syntax suggests the results can be unexpected if you don’t use the ampersand. »

    Quite to the contrary!  The above was indeed valid for an obsolete Perl 4.  Nowadays this is straight from ‘man perlstyle’ which undoubtely you have installed on your machine and which is a worthwhile reading:

      Call your subroutines as if they were functions or list operators to avoid excessive ampersands and parentheses.

    Things not only « may work properly » without this ampersand but are guaranteed to work if you either defined or declared your subroutines before the first use and ampersands are really retained for a backwards compatibility.  Prevailing practice among people who really know Perl is to avoid spurious ampesands to even greater degree than the quoted documentation may suggest.  See, for example, perl tutorials on Randal Schwartz web page ( This implies that if you do not want/can’t define your subroutines early then you shoulddeclare them (and « use strict »).  One reason is that if you would happen to reimplement your subroutine as a function provided by a new module you would be hunting for those pesky ampersands all over the place.

    Nobody will run you out of town for an excessive use of punctuation in a Perl code – if these are your private kinks.  But claims in a widely published material that one should do that, instead of presenting this as an unhealthy personal habit, is a totally different matter.

‘Muse:  You’re obviously more well versed in Perl than I, so I bow to your recommendations here.  I had wondered why the ampersands didn’t seem necessary (I had left them off initially for some routines which were not previously declared).  I also thought they seemed rather unwiedly and wondered why a language such as Perl, which I am quite fond of after my first few weeks of working with it, would use such a syntax.  Your response clarifies the situation for me.  Many thanks for your letter.

However, I would like to address a few points about your reply.  First, I don’t have the perl documentation installed.  I did install Perl 5 binaries at one point, but I don’t (currently) run Perl at home – I run it on my Web server, whose Perl installation is handled by the commercial Web server provider (  I ran « man perlstyle » but it died trying to display the page for unknown reasons.  Same thing with any of the man pages I tried for Perl on that system.  So my sources at the time the article was written were the two documents I listed:  Programming Perl by Wall & Schwartz and the Official Guide to Programming with by Stein.  The former is where I got the information about using ampersands for subroutines.  Perhaps this is an outdated document – although I had just purchased it from Borders Books, its print date appears to be 1992!  Still, its all I had.  Yes, the Perl archives have documenation too, but I also have deadlines.  The problem with writing articles (I’ve slowly discovered) is choosing between reaching a certain level of expertise and actually getting something out to my readers.  In this case, I just happened to be working with Perl, so thats how I chose to write about Perl.  In fact, its pretty much how every months articles get written.  Whatever I happened to be working on that month.  But it limits how much of an expert I can become before I have to start writing.  Its not a very good excuse, but it is the reality of trying to do this column.  Writing is much more work than I had expected.

But, « unhealthy »?  Hmmm.  The excessive use of ampersands doesn’t seem to have affected my current bench press max….

Douglass Turner wrote:

I’ve recently started reading you « Graphics Muse » column.  Lots of good stuff. I’m a 3D graphics guy and I’m looking for code to read/write 3D models into/outof the rendering system I wrote. Have you any idea where I should be looking?

‘Muse:  Take a look at Keith Rule’s text 3D Graphic File Formats: A Programmers Reference.  This is not a Unix package/text, but he has source code for reading and writing many file formats.  He says in the book (last time I read it, which was some time back) that it hasn’t been ported to Unix but he doesn’t know why it wouldn’t port easily.  You can find a little more info on the text on his Web site.


Visual DHTML from Netscape

Last month I came across an announcement that Netscape had released a graphical-based interface for designing Dynamic HTML, otherwise known as DHTML.  DHTML is the next phase of the evolution of HTML and allows for more animated and configurable Web pages using a programmatic interface (as opposed to using, for example, the animation features of the GIF image file format).  With DHTML and JavaScript you can implement such features as drag and drop, menus and scrolling text subwindows.  Netscape’s tool for supporting DHTML is known as VisualDHTML.  Although not supported officially, I thought it would be interesting to explore the features and problems of this new product as a way of getting a little more exposure to one of the Web’s latest markup languages.

Where do you get it?

VisualDHTML, which I’ll shorten to VDHTML for this article, is a actually a tool written in entirely in DHTML.  It is available from Netscape’s Web site.  Since it is written in a form of HTML you can actually run it across the network, but you may find it more convenient to download the complete package from their web site to your local hard disk.  In the tests I ran I found that the performance was significantly better running locally.

The download page for VDHTML is the same as the index page in the package you download.  The download file is a zip file which you can save to any local directory.  Use the Linux (or equivalent) « unzip » command to unpackage the files, which will be placed in a newly created directory called « visual ».

The only prerequsite for running VDHTML is that you have a browser that supports JavaScript 1.2.  That fairly well eliminates all browsers except Netscape Communicator 4.06 or the latest 4.5 beta releases of Communicator.  If you don’t have one of these, you may want to skip the rest of this article.  Also, although you are supposed to be able to run this on your local system, attempting to run the application without being connected to the Net or by using local URL’s seemed to cause unexpected behaviours:  drag and drop no longer worked, widgets did not become visible in the preview window, etc.  I suggest, during your experimentation, that you only run this early version while connected to the Net, if possible.

What does it look like?

Once you’ve unpacked the package you simply need to open the index.html file to get started.  For example, if you unpacked the zip file in the /tmp directory you can type the following in the Location field of the Netscape browser:


The « file: » prefix is not actually necessary, but if you’re unfamiliar with accessing files this way you might use it till you get used to where you’re headed with this sort of URL.  On the index page you’ll find a link to Launch Visual DHTML.  Just click on this and a small window will open announcing that the application is starting.  For the sake of this article we’ll refer to this window as the VDHTML Main Window.  Once the page starts it looks pretty much like any other application.  However, its really just another Web page!  This is the first bit of magic to learning about DHTML.  The pages they create can look like real applications.  Note that the VDHTML page can take a while to load, even from a local hard drive.

Before we get too far I should note that VDHTML is relatively buggy at this point.  If you use it just right it works fine, but straying from the straight and narrow (ie not using it just right) can cause Netscape to crash.  I’ll point out the caveats that I know about as I go.

Figure 1 – The Visual DHTML Main Window

The New Page dialog opens when you start the application for the first time.  Its not obvious, but that dialog lives within the VDHTML window.  It cannot be moved outside the borders of that window.  Figure 2 shows what happens when you try to do so.

Figure 2 – Dialogs don’t exist outside of the application window

The four options in the New Page dialog allow you to select the size of a new browser window to open.  This new window will be used to preview your DHTML page and allow you to make edits by dragging and dropping DHTML components around the preview.  Of the four options provided, the Normal Window will probably be the most useful.  Its window is about 3/4 the size of my display, which gives it a resolution of roughly 950×750 pixels.  The Normal and Full Screen windows provide the familiar menu bars you normally see in your Netscape browser windows.  The Kiosk window is smaller than these and does not provide those menus.  That means to close the Kiosk window you have to use the window manager Close option.  Be certain you use « Close » and not « Destroy » (assuming you use a flavor of FVWM) since Destroy will exit Netscape completely and you’ll have to start over.

The Desktop option opens a window that will stay underneath all your other windows and acts like an interactive background image, except that its not « sticky », meaning it doesn’t follow you around to other desktops (again, assuming you have a window manager like FVWM or CDE/mwm that allows multiple virtual desktops).

Once you’ve opened your New Window you are ready to start adding DHTML components to it.  VDHTML comes with a set of predefined widgets that you can add to your page.  Clicking on the Widgets icon in the menu bar of the Main Window will open the Widgets dialog (see Figure 3).  Note that you may need to click and hold the left mouse button over the Widgets icon longer than you might normally in order to get the dialog to open.  At least I did on my system.  Also, when you click on a widget name in the dialog you need to hold the mouse button down until after the dialog is closed.  Then release the mouse button. If you don’t do it in this order the configurable parameters for the widget will not be shown and you won’t get the widget in the preview window.  Clicking in the Widgets dialog and releasing the mouse button before the dialog closes will simply close the dialog.

vdhtml-widget-dialog-5368553Ok, so you’ve got the Widgets dialog opened.  Notice that the dialog is actually labeled « Components Palette » – a bit of inconsistancy from Netscape, but thats to be expected with any first release of a product.  The available widgets are listed in a table, below a set of three options which act something like tabs in a notebook widget.  The first tab is the widgets tab, which provides components like menus and buttons and clocks.  The next tab is for setting specific HTML tags.  The last tab is for setting link properties.

Bug:  don’t try to access the Tags option in the Widgets dialog without a preview window open.  Doing so will crash netscape.  In fact, the widgets dialog in general seems to cause Netscape crashes at random.

The available widgets include some unusual components, such as the drawer widget.  This option creates what appears to be a small button that, when pressed, opens a drop down menu.  This button can be placed anywhere in the page but seems to want to be anchored only to window edges.  I’m not sure if thats intentional or a bug in VDHTML.  Also, the default image for the drawer (the small button) can be changed to any image you want when you configure the widget.  Figure 4 shows the configuration options for the drawer widget.

Figure 4 – Configurable options for the Drawer Widget

Any of the components you add can be dragged around the preview window (except the marqee which must be positioned using its configurable parameters before its added).  When you drag a component to a new location it causes the preview page to be reloaded.  Remember – that page is a form of HTML, so all the links have to be resolved again.  If those links are across a network (as they are likely to be if you followed my suggestion of trying this initial version only while connected to the Net) then page reloads may take a little while.  Be patient.

One exception to dragging is the marquee widget.  This widget creates a window that drops down (or comes in from the sides or up from the bottom of the browser window) with an image or text, sort of like an animated menu.  But you can’t drag marquees in the preview window.  You have to specify the direction from which the marquee will enter the browser when you create it by using the configurable options.  Apparently the marquee will always be on the left side of the preview window but as always you can edit the source later to move it to another location and have it enter the browser appropriately from any point.

Bug:  While experimenting with the various widgets I discovered that they often didn’t perform as expected in the preview window.  Sometimes I could open a drawer, for example, but not close it.  Buttons would post a menu but then I couldn’t clear it.  Its clear that the widgets functionality and their interaction within the preview window are still to be worked out.

With all widgets the VDHTML Main Window offers configurable parameters.  The defaults for those options which require a URL point to Netscape’s site.  This isn’t a problem but you should keep it in mind if you take the default option values.  If you decide to use the defaults (remember:  be online if you do so or VHDTML might crash Netscape!) you can edit the HTML document by hand later and use your own URLs.

Figure 5 – Default Marquee 



Working with X Input and Wacom Tablets

What is X Input?

To quote from the X Input Howto:

The XInput extension is an extension to X to allow the use of input devices beyond the standard mouse and keyboard. The extension supports a wide range of devices, including graphics tablets, touch-screens, joysticks, and dial-boxes. The most common use is probably for graphics tablets.

For many readers of the Muse, X Input is how you’ll want to interface with the Gimp.  Outside of the Gimp there are only a few other tools that currently make use of the X Input extension.  However, as graphics tools on Linux mature, there will be a much greater need for these sorts of extra input devices.  Later, after we cover some configuration and testing issues, we’ll restrict our application discussion to the two tools you are most likely to use with X Input:  Gimp and gsumi.

What X servers support X Input?

X Input is reported to be supported by all 3 of the major X server vendors: XFree86 (which includes SuSE since they work so closely in their X server development), Xi Graphics, and MetroLink.  Xi Graphics sent me their latest server, 4.1.2, to try for this article.  I also downloaded the 3.3.2 XF86_SVGA server for use with my Matrox Mystique.  I neglected to contact MetroLink in time to ask for a copy of their server, unfortunately.  An email I received from MetroLink back in March stated that their 4.3 server includes support for dynamically loadable X Input driver modules.  This includes Elo Graphics, Carroll, Micro Touch and Lucas/Deeco touch screens.  They also mentioned plans for support of Wacom tablets and 3D input devices such as the Space Orb but I don’t know if this support has been released yet or not.  I also don’t have any information on how devices would be configured to work with their X Input drivers.

In testing the two servers I did have, I was successful in getting only one of them to work, XFree86’s XF86_SVGA server.  I have to thank Owen Taylor for his helpful hints and suggestions in getting that server up and running with X Input.  Most of the information I’m going to provide came with clarifications from Owen.

The Xi Graphics server does list X Input as a supported extension, both in the documentation and from the xdpyinfo program.  However, there is no information available on how to get that extension to recognize and work with any particular devices.  It may be possible to use the gxid daemon, a daemon program which comes with the Gtk+ source distribution, to work with this server but I was unsuccessful in doing so.  I contacted Xi Graphics about this and the last I heard they are still looking into it.  I haven’t heard if they had any more success than I did.

Since I was only able to get one server to work with X Input, the rest of this article will focus on that server.  If I get feedback from any one, vendors or users, on getting the other two servers to work with X Input I’ll write up an update here in the Muse.

What devices are supported?

The XFree86 support of X Input includes drivers for the following devices:

  • Wacom devices:
    • ARTZ II; in Europe this is currently known as the UltraPad, but the older tablets also called UltraPad (but a different tablet, apparently) only partially work.
    • ArtPad II
    • PenPartner, but only with 3.3.2 servers and modules
    • PL300, which is the combined LCD screen and tablet
  • Summagraphics, which is actually CalComp (see
    • Only tablet specifically listed was the DrawingSlate II.  This was from a guy who patched the Summagraphics driver to work with this CalComp tablet.  I didn’t find any other information regarding other specific tablets.
  • Joysticks are supported but I didn’t try this nor do I have any information on what joysticks are known to work.

The new Wacom Intuos line, which is Wacom’s latest line of tablets, is not yet supported.  It is unclear, according to Owen, whether or not drivers will become available for these devices.

Requirements for making use of the XFree86 X Input support

I have a Matrox Mystique card with 4Mb of memory which I’ve been using for about 2 years now.  This card is still on the market and will cost you roughly $100US or less depending on where you purchase it.   Along with this I’m using a Wacom PenPartner, a 4″x5″ tablet that sells for about $79US.  This is the low end tablet from Wacom.

The Matrox card is supported by the XF86_SVGA server (see the Resources section at the end of this article).  X Input support in XFree86 has been available in since the 3.3.1 release (at least, perhaps longer).  Most Linux users will probably have either the 3.3.1 or the latest 3.3.2 servers if they use any distribution that is less than 2 years old.

-Top of next column-

No other musings this month.
Along with the servers you also need to make use of one or more loadable modules.  If you are like me and use the PenPartner tablet then you need to make sure you have the 3.3.2 version of the module.  The 3.3.1 version of this module does not support the PenPartner but should work fine for other Wacom tablets.

If you have the 3.3.1 version of XFree86, you can download the particular server you need and the X3323bin.tgz file, which contains the binary versions of the 3.3.2 modules (plus other tools).  You can find links to these packages from the XFree86 web site.  You might wonder if you can run your older 3.3.1 libraries with an the newer 3.3.2 servers and modules.  The answer is yes, you can.  You don’t have to update all your libraries, development tools, and X applications (the tools under /usr/X11R6/bin) although you can if you want a full 3.3.2 update.

Along with the server and modules there are a couple of other tools you’ll want to make sure you have:

  • Configuration tools:
  • Graphics tools:

The xinput program shouldn’t be confused with the generic term X Input.  The program is a little tool written to set various parameters for the device you are using with the X Input server extension.  This includes things like mapping pen buttons to mouse buttons and so forth.  The xsetpointer program is used to set the pointer to a given device but using the configuration we will be using in this article you shouldn’t need to do this as both pen and mouse should work as your pointer device at all times.

Configuring the X server and hardware

In order to make use of the X Input extension you need to tell the X server about how you want it configured and what driver to load for the device you will be using.  XFree86’s configuration file, XF86Config, is located under the directory /etc/X11.  Although you can use the graphical setup tool XF86Setup for most options, you can’t use it to configure X Input.  You’ll need to edit the configuration file by hand.

The first thing you need to know about is which modules you’ll need.  Under /usr/X11R6/lib/modules you will find the X Input modules.  For Wacom tablets you’ll be using the module.  Similarly, SummaGraphics tablet users will want to use the modules.  There are also modules for Elo Graphics devices ( and joysticks (

To configure the module for use with the server, edit the XF86Config file and add the following lines:

Section « Module »
   Load « »

Substitute the module of choice, of course.  These lines can go anywhere, I believe, but I placed them immediately after the Pointer section.  Next you need to add the section which defines the devices you’ll be using.  According to Owen Taylor’s X Input Howto there is a simple configuration and a more complete configuration.  We’ll skip the simple version since its just a subset of the complete version and Owen discusses it in his Howto quite well.

The text to add looks like the following:

Section « Xinput »
   SubSection « WacomStylus »
      Port « /dev/ttyS1 »
      DeviceName « Wacom »
      Mode Absolute
      Suppress 17
   SubSection « WacomStylus »
      Port « /dev/ttyS1 »
      DeviceName « WacomCore »
      Mode Absolute
      Suppress 17
   SubSection « WacomEraser »
      Port « /dev/ttyS1 »
      Mode Absolute
      Suppress 17
   SubSection « WacomEraser »
      Port « /dev/ttyS1 »
      DeviceName « EraserCore »
      Mode Absolute
      Suppress 17

The 4 SubSections define different devices to X Input.  You can see these listed (after you start the server) by running xsetpointer -l.  I’m not completely certain why you have to have two entries for each device but assume that the first entry is used by applications and the other entry is used to allow the tablet pen to be used as your regular pointing device.

The following links are just starting points for finding more information about computer graphics and multimedia in general for Linux systems. If you have some application specific information for me, I’ll add them to my other pages or you can contact the maintainer of some other web site. I’ll consider adding other general references here, but application or site specific information needs to go into one of the following general references and not listed here.

Future Directions

Next month:

  • Off the shelf video cards:  whats popular, cheap and supported by Linux.
  • My ramblings on having worked on the Muse for 2 years.  Yes, next month is my 2 year anniversary with the Muse.  It just may be the longest relationship I’ve ever wanted to keep stable!

Let me know what you’d like to hear about!

© 1998 Michael J. Hammel

Graphics Muse #1, November 1996
Graphics Muse #2, December 1996
Graphics Muse #3, January 1997
Graphics Muse #4, February 1997
Graphics Muse #5, March 1997
Graphics Muse #6, April 1997
Graphics Muse #7, May 1997
Graphics Muse #8, June 1997
Graphics Muse #9, July 1997
Graphics Muse #10, August 1997
Graphics Muse #11, October 1997
Graphics Muse #12, December 1997
Graphics Muse #13, February 1998
Graphics Muse #14, March 1998
Graphics Muse #15, April 1998
Graphics Muse #16, August 1998
Graphics Muse #17, September 1998

indexnew-9235506 homenew-7005844 back2-1585955 fwd-6062346