Low-overhead GUI toolkit for Linux w/o X11?

Discussion in 'Python' started by Grant Edwards, Nov 3, 2007.

  1. I'm looking for GUI toolkits that work with directly with the
    Linux frambuffer (no X11). It's an embedded device with
    limited resources, and getting X out of the picture would be a
    big plus.

    The toolkit needs to be free and open-source.

    So far, I've found two options that will work without X11:

    1) QTopia (nee QT/Embedded). I assume that I can probably get
    PyQT to work with the embedded version of QT?

    2) PySDL or PyGame. I'm not really sure what the differences
    are between those two. The latter seems to be a little
    more active. Are there any traditional GUI "widgets"
    available for these two?

    I've heard good things about PyFLTK, but it appears to depend
    on X11 on the Linux platform.

    Google found me this thread from a few years ago:


    Which mentions the same two choices and confirms that PyQt at
    worked at one time with Qt/E (which would lead one to believe
    it could be made to work with QTopia).

    That thread also mentions Pico-GUI and Nano-X. Has anybody had
    any experience using those with Python? Both of those seem to
    have stalled. Neither has released anything since 2003.
    Grant Edwards, Nov 3, 2007
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  2. Grant Edwards

    David Bolen Guest

    Sounds like a reasonably modern "embedded" system since traditionally
    neither X (nor Python) would likely have even been plausible in such
    environments. Depending on the higher level GUI functionality you
    require and how tight the resources really are, you might want to
    consider investigating pure drawing libraries and then implement any
    missing GUI elements (widgets and mouse handling) you need yourself.

    When I was looking for an embedded graphics library for a prior
    platform (ELAN 486, 2MB flash, 6MB RAM) under DOS, we took a look at

    * GRX (http://grx.gnu.de/index.html)
    * Allegro (http://alleg.sourceforge.net/)

    We ended up using GRX, primarily because it was the simplest to
    develop a custom video driver for to match our platform, along with
    having a simpler core. We were under DOS but also used it with a
    later generation of the platform under Linux. Both libraries support
    operation over the framebuffer in Linux. Our app was in C++ (Python
    wasn't an option), and we implemented our own buttons and text
    widgets (in our case we never needed any scrolling widgets).

    There aren't any Python wrappers for GRX, but the library is straight
    C which should be easy to wrap (manually or with something like SWIG).
    No built-in widget support at all (some sample button processing code
    in a demo module), but easy enough to implement your own if your needs
    are modest.

    Although we didn't end up using it, Allegro is more fully featured
    (actually with some non-GUI cruft too since it targets games), and
    also appears to have two work-in-progress Python bindings. Some basic
    widget support in dialog processing routines.

    -- David
    David Bolen, Nov 3, 2007
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  3. Grant Edwards

    David Bolen Guest

    I had forgotten, since we didn't use it, but there is an external mGui
    library (http://web.tiscalinet.it/morello/MGui/index.html) that can
    layer on top of GRX to provide higher level functionality. Of course,
    it would also have to be wrapped for use from Python.

    -- David
    David Bolen, Nov 3, 2007
  4. Yes, it's "modern" enough to run Linux/X11 -- horsepower-wise
    it's sort of in the PDA class of devices. wxWidgets has been
    tried, but it's pretty sluggish. Hence the search for something
    a littler lighter weight. Using Python is probably going to be
    a little bit of a stretch, but using open-source libraries and
    something like Python for the application langauge seems to be
    an important part of the business model.
    That's still a bit up in the air. Routines to render text
    would be nice, as would sprite graphics. I don't think text
    entry or much in the way of windowing is required.
    There is no mouse. I'm not sure how many "widgets" are
    required. Probably not very many.
    Thanks for the pointers.
    Grant Edwards, Nov 3, 2007
  5. Erm, wxWidgets is implemented in C++ and wxPython is just a wrapper.
    I don't think the "sluggishness" comes from wxWidgets. PyQt and
    PySDL are AFAIK not much "less weight".


    Bjoern Schliessmann, Nov 4, 2007
  6. Are you saying C++ software can't be large and slow?
    Yes, I know. If we though Python was the problem, I wouldn't
    be asking about other toolkits that had Python bindings.
    wxWidgets and GTK+ are both pretty large, and X11 is huge.
    They don't use X11. That's a _lot_ "less weight".

    Grant Edwards, Nov 4, 2007
  7. Grant Edwards

    Paul Rubin Guest

    Back in the old days there were some lightweight toolkits for doing
    text mode GUI's using ANSI graphic characters for MS-DOS. I did a few
    of them. You could do quite usable and attractive gui's that way, as
    long as you didn't require too much bling.
    Paul Rubin, Nov 4, 2007
  8. No, but wxWidgets is quite mature and my experience is that it's
    faster than Qt (partly, I think, because it always uses the native
    Ah, you know more than you wrote? If you've done measurements, I'd
    find them quite interesting to see.


    Bjoern Schliessmann, Nov 4, 2007
  9. I do require graphics.
    Grant Edwards, Nov 4, 2007
  10. We know that wxWidgets is slow. That's why we're looking for
    Grant Edwards, Nov 4, 2007
  11. We did a similar project recently. We ended up using pygame and
    writing our own GUI. For an embedded device you don't really want a
    general purpose GUI which needs a mouse, you want something specific
    which knows how many buttons the device has, what resolution the
    screen is etc. It is not too difficult to make your own GUI in pygame
    to do exactly what you want for your embedded device.
    Pygame is the way I've always done SDL stuff in python - never even
    heard of PySDL!
    Nick Craig-Wood, Nov 4, 2007
  12. Thanks for the pointer. I'm starting to like pygame for this
    project. One of the application features needs to support some
    simple animated graphics, and pygame's sprite support looks
    like it might be a decent fit. I've been looking at the
    different libraries listed on the pygame web site, and it looks
    like there might be several that could make good starting GUI
    PySDL doesn't seem to be nearly as active or high-profile as
    Grant Edwards, Nov 4, 2007
  13. Grant Edwards

    Chris Mellon Guest

    There's a DFB port of wx, although I'm not sure how much attention
    it's received lately. I know it's been actually used for at least one
    application. Gtk can also run directly on a framebuffer - that's what
    openmoko does, for example.
    Sounds like a full scale widget toolkit is quite a bit heavier than
    you need, though.
    Chris Mellon, Nov 5, 2007
  14. One where wx draws it's own widgets? I hadn't found that. I'll
    have to take a look at that as well.
    Yup, I just found the GtkFB project yesterday. That might be
    an option as well. Persumably one could run wxWidgets on top
    of that -- I'm not sure if the sluggishness of the wxWidgets
    based stuff was due to wx/gtk or X11 (or a combination of
    Probably. The only UI input device is a set a half-dozen hard
    buttons next to the display, so a lot of the mouse/keyboard
    dependant features in GUI toolkits won't be of any benefit.
    Grant Edwards, Nov 5, 2007
  15. Grant Edwards

    Damjan Guest

    PyQt and PySDL are AFAIK not much "less weight".
    Do you mean the X11 server or the libraries? The kdrive server should be
    fairly small (depending on features). I think it builds from the main xorg
    source today?? Isn't that what maemo uses.

    I don't know about the X11 libraries, but the xcb libraries are pretty much
    small too (126kb on i386 here) - there are additional libraries depending
    on which features you want: render, shape, screensaver, shm, randr, dri
    etc.. Shame the toolkits still don't use it directly.
    Damjan, Nov 6, 2007
  16. Both.
    Grant Edwards, Nov 6, 2007
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