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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desktop archeology: Sun Project Looking Glass. Doesn't it look like Mac OS/X Leopard?

If you have a look at Apple's Cocoa API you'll notice that many functions and data structures start with the NS prefix. If you're wondering, that prefix comes from the NeXT/Sun Microsystems partnership during the development of OPENSTEP.

What struck me most this morning, since I'm not such an Apple follower, was how deep is the resemblance between Sun Project Looking Glass desktop and the Aqua improvements introduced by Apple in the Leopard (10.5) release of its Mac OS/X.

Back on 2003, I still was an Analyst at Accenture, developing a B2B application on the J2EE platform, when I stumbled upon an article describing Sun Microsystems' Project Looking Glass. I was a Solaris 9 user, then, still used to the CDE desktop. Sun was beginning to distribute a customized GNOME desktop for Solaris, what would become the Java Desktop System, but then it was the exception, not the norm. I remember commenting about Looking Glass with my colleagues, in particular with Luca Raggi. It seemed them such a bad idea: why would somebody want such thing on Solaris? At the end, that phrase probably sums up what happened: nobody used it. There was development hype but we all know what came next: the Sun Java Desktop System and as far as it concerns 3D effects, Compiz. That is, a GNOME distribution tailored for Solaris.

Probably it was the best thing it could happen: Solaris distributing GNOME instead of a proprietary desktop environment is just better for us, the users. Would you have thought about running so complete a GNOME desktop on Solaris, back then? I wouldn't and I'm glad it happened. (Well, I'd rather run KDE, given the choice, but that's another story).

Years have passed and I had forgotten about Looking Glass until yesterday, when I started to look at Apple's API. Cocoa history came back into my mind and I felt like I had to search for Looking Glass screenshot. I'd got a CD, but who knows where it is. So here they are:

Doesn't it remind you something? Maybe this:

There are 3 years in between and you notice the effects of them all. But the concept is there.

We Solaris users ran the risk of having such a desktop years earlier, but probably we had not the strength to shout it out loud to Sun. Which, on the other hand, wasn't able to decide with its Solaris x86 project and almost died of hesitation.

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