A Graphical Forever Project

A month ago, a nice little blog post made rounds on the internet. It describes the joys of having a Forever Project, a project that can’t be completed but that you also can’t stop to think about.

Needless to say, I quite liked it. I used to think that I was just not productive enough, not working hard enough on those kinds of projects. The post promotes a quite different, more romantic view: How wonderful, all those people working on crazy, ambitious, world-changing stuff!

However, the post says “a” forever project, as in “one” – and I have more than one that would fit the description. So I still think I’m slacking too much. The truth is probably somewhere in-between.

My current Forever Project (see? that doesn’t sound right – you’re supposed to have only one) is a GUI, as in “desktop environment”. I don’t have anything to show, yet. But I thought I might just join in with all the programmers that talked about their crazy/stupid Forever Projects and – well – talk about it.

Today, I’ll start with a rough outline of my goals:

I’d like to do some things that are hard or impossible to do in current desktop environments. Some examples:

  • I’d like to replace the SSL certificate-handling unit in my browser with one that warns me when the certificate changes.

  • I’d like vim (not “something vaguely vim-like”) in every text input field, including the search box of my media player.

  • I’d like a proximity-based mouse cursor, with clicks always going to the nearest button.

  • I’d like to take an HTML renderer and send the output through an edge-detection filter and down-scale the resulting image. On a machine without a display. Why? Well, why not?

  • I’d like to quickly hack one-off shell-scripts with a GUI. And combine them to bigger programs, and into a bigger GUI.

What that really means is that I want the convenience and flexibility that unix provides for text-only programming – only that I want it for GUI programs.

That also means that:

  • Everything has to be completely language-agnostic. Not a framework, nor a library. X11 is already like that, in a way – but it’s too complicated to use.
  • Everything should be dead-simple. You should be able to write shell one-liners for simple GUI programs, just as easy as working with text(-files) is on unix today (and was 30 years ago, for that matter…). Printing to a window should not be harder than echo(1)ing something to a file.

It’s getting a bit late now, so let’s open another forever project: write a blog post about the forever project. 😉

I do have a bit of code already “done”, and I think I have solutions to some of the problems that come up. I’ll be talking about that in the next post. Which, I hope, will not be as abstract/boring as this one…

Happy Hacking Forever!

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