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Are there any GUI's for Linux that doesn't use X11?

Since X has very poor security :O

e.g.: Ubuntu, Fedora - what else are there?

Goal: having a Desktop Environment without X. - what are the solutions? (e.g.: watch Flash with Google Chrome, Edit docs with LibreOffice, etc., not using text-based webbrowsers)

Maybe with framebuffers? But how? :O

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Could you clarify what it is your are wanting to know: alternatives to X, or applications that can run without X? Ubuntu and Fedora are distros that can run with or without X... –  jasonwryan Jun 4 '11 at 10:19
sry, i updated the q –  LanceBaynes Jun 4 '11 at 10:22
Saying that something “has bad security” is meaningless. Security is not an absolute qualification. Something isn't secure or insecure per se, but it can be more or less secure with respect to a given threat model. –  Gilles Jun 4 '11 at 10:59
@Gilles It could mean that X does not provide GUI Isolation and hence keylogging (passive attack) is a thread. Even installing one malicous X application can basically be a thread in this sence Lance is maybe referring to that this is not the "ideal security". –  humanityANDpeace Jan 4 '13 at 9:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

No. X is the only usable GUI on Linux.

There have been competing projects in the past, but none that gained any traction. Writing something like X is hard, and it takes a lot of extra work to get something usable in practice: you need hardware drivers, and you need applications. Since existing applications speak X11, you need either a translation layer (so… have you written something new, or just a new X server?) or to write new applications from scratch.

There is one ongoing project that aims to supplant X: Wayland. However its aim is to give applications more direct access to advanced hardware features. If anything, that would reduce security, not enhance it.

You can run a few graphical applications on Linux without X with SVGAlib. However that doesn't bring any extra security either (in addition to numerous other problems, such as poor hardware support, poor usability, and small number of applications). SVGAlib has had known security holes, and it doesn't get much attention, so it probably has many more. X implementations get a lot more attention, so you can at least mostly expect that the implementation matches the security model.

X has a very easily understood security model: any application that's connected to the X server can do anything. (That's a safe approximation, but a fairly realistic one.) You can build a more secure system on top of this, simply by isolating untrusted applications: put them in their own virtual environment, displaying on their own X server, and show that X server's display in a window. You'll lose functionality from these applications, for example you have to run things like window managers and clipboard managers in the host environment. There's at least one usable project based on this approach: Qubes.

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What about the directFB project? –  humanityANDpeace Jan 4 '13 at 9:42
@humanityANDpeace DirectFB is a way for one application to access a video display. It's similar to SVGAlib, but with respect to security at least it's now maintained. It's not a GUI in the sense of a way to at least run multiple applications and switch between them, let alone do things like display multiple windows, copy-paste, etc. –  Gilles Jan 4 '13 at 10:08

The applications that you mention (Chrome, Flash, LibreOffice) are all built to run in X11 or a similar display server like Wayland.

It is possible to run all manner of applications[1] in the console, for example:

In combination with a terminal multiplexer, like tmux, you can manage the various 'windows' that the applications run in.

All of these applications are available in the repositories of most distributions.

[1] For each example I have provided, there are probably at least two to three more applications in each category that will do much the same thing... You will need a framebuffer to make this work well.

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thank you for the answer, but: "Goal: having a Desktop Environment without X. - what are the solutions?" –  LanceBaynes Jun 4 '11 at 10:45
Desktop Environments, like Gnome, KDE, etc are built on X. The approach I have outlined above is how you would use all of those applications without X. You would also need udev rules for automounting and sundry other applications to fully replicate the DE environment. But it can be done. –  jasonwryan Jun 4 '11 at 10:48
okok, thank you! –  LanceBaynes Jun 4 '11 at 10:51
Also slrn. Debian's aptitude also uses curses. –  Faheem Mitha Jun 4 '11 at 11:44

DirectFB is used in quite a lot in embedded applications. It provides a local-only windows and graphics environment with hardware acceleration etc. You can run X11 applications under it using XDirectFB

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What about the security aspect of the question? Can you tell if directFB is better security wise? i.e. that one graphical application cannot capture (keylog) the input of other applicatoins? –  humanityANDpeace Jan 4 '13 at 9:45

There is ncurses, known from midnight commander, yast and other command line tools. If you meant real graphics there is Canonical with Wayland trying to replace X. IFAIK there are possibilities to show videos on console/tty but a don't remember a name.

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Unity isn't replacing X, it's replacing part of Gnome. You must be confusing it with Wayland. –  Gilles Jun 4 '11 at 11:09
@Gilles: indeed, I mixed that up and meant Wayland –  mbx Jun 4 '11 at 11:48

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