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A.P. Lawrence-SCO Unix Graphical Unix Interface

© April 1998 Tony Lawrence

I resisted graphical user interfaces for years. On SCO versions that installed them by default, one of the very first commands I would issue was "scologin disable" I still do that, just because I don't always want the GUI to start up, but now I very often use "startx" to get a GUI environment on demand.

The reason for the change in my attitude is speed. Modern desktop systems have become powerful enough that using a GUI has become quick enough that I actually find it useful for most (but not all) of the things I do. While the GUI always offered some advantages in ease of use, it has only been recently that those advantages have not been offset by sluggish performance. The sluggish performance is still there- most things still take longer than they would from the command line, but longer is, of course, a relative term: present day hardware runs the GUI's quickly enough not to generally annoy me.

Not that there are no annoyances associated with the SCO GUI. On the contrary, there are a multitude of annoying and confusing issues that the new user has to struggle through. That's the purpose of this article; to help you over the rough spots.

It doesn't work at all!

This is perhaps the most difficult problem new SCO users can get trapped in. The machine is set to start the GUI automatically, but it either fails completely, or it works partially but they can't login, or they can login but the mouse doesn't work (and they can't figure out how to get out of it without a mouse). As most neophyte users have not yet learned about the magic of alternate screens which lets you switch away from the graphic screen that doesn't work, , they are stuck, and horribly frustrated.

By default, most SCO systems get configured to assume IBM VGA graphics. That's a pretty safe bet, and will almost always give an at least marginally usable 640 by 480 GUI. If it does not, then you need to run "mkdev graphics" (from a character based login, of course) to correct the problem. Here, you'll select a video driver that works with your system. Note it's not necessary to reboot to test your changes: simply login on an alternate screen (ALT-F3, for example) and type "startx".

Really Stuck

It is possible for you to get stuck in a really bad GUI, stuck so badly that CTRL-ALT and F1 will not switch you to a text screen. However, appearances can be deceiving: it's usually the case that it has switched you, but the screen is just confused by the incorrect graphics configuration. To fix this requires logging in "blind":

Hold CTRL and ALT, and press F1 (or any other function key if F1 is where you started). Release those keys, and press CTRL-U and then CTRL-J. Login, taking it on faith that the "Password" prompt displayed even though you can't see it. It wouldn't hurt to count to three after typing "root" just to give it time to come up. Press enter a few times, and then carefully type


If that doesn't work, try

/etc/clean_screen -g 

If you were already logged in on tty01, then just a couple of Enters followed by "/etc/clean_screen" should do it.

Linux has a similar command, but it requires some forethought on your part: you need to have run "savetextmode" BEFORE you have a problem. Therefore, the obvious thing to do is to put it in one of the startup scripts. Then, if you need it, you'd run "textmode" (again, surrounded by CTRL-J's) to restore your screen.

What graphics driver?

How do you know what graphics card you have? On 3.2v5.x, the "hw" command can give you at least the beginnings of a clue. If not, inspection of the motherboard (or add-on video card) might give you information. If there isn't a driver for the specific graphics device you have, a driver for a card with the same chipset might work.

Once you know that, you need to pick a driver. Grepping through /usr/lib/grafinfo for what you do know can sometimes help:

grep 758 /usr/lib/grafinfo/* | more

If you don't find it there, you will want to check SCO's ftp site for the latest Advanced Hardware Supplement , and also under pub/drivers for new graphics drivers. In particular, if you have a newer machine (this article was written in April of 1998), and can't find the specific driver you need, you might try the "vesa" drivers. This is a generic driver that will work with almost everything, though not as quickly as a "real" driver might. It's perfectly fine for ordinary work, though.

What mouse?

The command to configure a mouse is "mkdev mouse". In most modern machines, you have a "High Resolution Keyboard Mouse".

Finally Working!

If you can get by those issues, you can now either login through "scologin" or use "startx" at a shell prompt to launch right into a GUI session. Your problems may not be quite over yet, though.

If the "SCO Logon" graphical screen appears, but things get screwy after you login, try this: after entering your password, press F1 instead of ENTER. This "failsafe" login will startup one Xterm and no other clients. You can start other clients from there (for instance, type "netscape & ") and examine the /usr/lib/X11/scologin/Xerrors log file to perhaps figure out what is going wrong. To exit, just CTRL-D or "exit" the Xterm.

Now Why is Netscape messed up?

Probably because you haven't configured a high enough resolution. Netscape expects 1024 by 768 at a minimum. Anything less leaves part of it "off screen". You can use the panner to work with it that way, but that's pretty painful. Run "mkdev graphics" and increase the resolution.

I can't tell when Netscape is starting up

Isn't that annoying? Most programs change their icon when they have been activated, so that you know your click took effect. Not Netscape, at least not through 5.0.4. Worse, Netscape can take a while to launch, so it would really be nice to know that it is working. You can fix this:

Open up the Controls folder, and then drag the Netscape icon onto the Object Builder icon. Be sure that you load both Pictures and Actions when asked. Note that there is nothing shown for the Activated and Small Activated pictures. That's why nothing changes when you launch Netscape.

Choose Install Picture, and select an icon to use for the Activated state. If you want, choose one of the standards, or you could even make a version of the Netscape icon by dragging it to the Paint program, changing it, and saving it under a new name.

You also need to change the text under the Trigger Action Activate pane. Right now it just says "/usr/bin/X11/netscape". Change it so it reads:

mark_used $static_arg
mark_unused $static_arg

Type the above carefully. If it doesn't change back ( after restarting the Desktop), you screwed up the last line.

When it's all done, it looks like this (your picture, of course, will vary)

set trigger action

Save it, and finally, choose Restart Desktop from the File menu, and now you'll know when your click really worked.

Why is Netscape so old?

You can get something newer:

How do I print from Netscape?

Buy a Postscript printer, or use Ghostscript (available from SCO's Skunkware Page to get some functionality. Ghostscript is slow and has had a few problems now and then, but you might find that you can live with it (newr versions are much much better).

You can install ghostscript from the Skunkware CD; don't forget that you also need the Glib (Graphics Library) package.

To see the printers that ghostscript supports, type

gs -?

You may have to experiment a bit to find out what works best with your printer; for example I found that "ljet4" was good for my LaserJet 6L. I suggest that you create a simple Postscript file for testing:

echo "testing" | text2post > /tmp/test.ps

Then run that through Ghostscript. With a large page, you may get page after page of junk on your printer- best to use something small like this first.

Here's the script I use:

/usr/local/bin/gs -q -sDEVICE=ljet4 -r600 -sPAPERSIZE=letter -dNOPAUSE -dSAFER -sOutputFile="-" - | lp -dlaser -o raw

How do I capture program screens to a file?

To capture text output, use "script". By default, the file will be called "typescript", but "script myfile" will use that name instead. Press CTRL-D when you are finished recording.

To capture X screens, the "xwd" program is simple to use. Open an xterm, type "xwd > file" and (after pressing ENTER), just click on the window you want to capture. The resulting file can be printed using "xpr" or manipulated by graphic programs like "Gimp" and others if you need to save it as .gif or some other format.

Why does it keep asking me this?

Everytime you startup a GUI session, you get asked whether you want to continue your old session or start a new one. You can eliminate that annoyance by running

scosession -configure

or by choosing the Preferences Editor from the options menu and clicking on tne "session" icon.


"scologin disable" prevents the GUI from starting up automatically on tty02.

"scologin stop" stops the scosession from running, but leaves it set for automatic startup on next reboot.


You can run a graphical session at any time by logging in and typing "startx".


SCO provides up to 12 login sessions on the main console. You can switch between these logins by holding down the ALT key and then pressing a function key. Each key is related to a specific tty port: F1 is tty01, F2 is tty02 and so on.

When you are using a GUI screen, however, you need to hold CTRL and ALT, and then press a function key. So, if the automatic SCO login is on tty02 (which it is by default), you can switch to a character based login on tty01 by holding CTRL and ALT, and then pressing F1.

Amazingly enough, this behaviour can be changed using "xswkey". This program allows you to specify that a different sequence of keys will be used to switch screens. The default, however, is CTRL and ALT.

The pmwm Window manager

Down in the left corner of your SCO GUI is a set of boxes marked "SCO Panner". Good luck trying to find a man page on this, and it won't help you a bit to know that /usr/bin/X11/pmwm is the binary, or that SCO calls this "SCO Panorama"

Still, it's a neat little gizmo that lets you switch between multiple GUI sessions as though you had a giant GUI screen. To see how this works, just open up anything on your screen, it doesn't matter what. Now click one of the other windows in the panner. Notice that the look of the panner icon has changed: it shows you what you have open in each window.

Also notice that you can get more windows by resizing the panner: grab it by the corner and stretch it upward. This is one way to deal with something that is too large for your current screen resolution.

There is a manual page in the graphical help section; it's Chapter 8 on 5.0.4. Access this by pulling down Help from the Desktop menu bar.

No mouse

Stuck in the GUI without a mouse? Hold SHIFT-ALT-F2, release, and then ALT-F will give you the File menu.

A way to just plain get out is to hold ALT and SYS-REQ, release and press ENTER.

See also SCO X11 & GUI FAQ

(c)April 1998 A.P. Lawrence. All rights reserved

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