Bonus: The framebuffer is your friend

I waited until the F section to talk about the framebuffer mostly because it’s been assumed that you know what it is, and that what you need it for.

I said “need,” and in some cases, it might just be that you need it. Without being pedantic, a working, viable framebuffer might be what determines if you keep a machine or send it away.

On old machines, in my meager experience, framebuffer access depends on hardware and software. Trident-based video cards from the late 1990s and early 2000s were hideous, but with specific kernels or distros, they behaved themselves.

Other cards were worse, or better. Some just refused to play altogether. Of course, you could coax it into working, either through luck, custom kernels or just manhandling it.

Getting proper dimensions would be the next step, and for that I still (after years, I tell you, years) recommend Ali Gunduz’s framebuffer tutorial as a good start. Granted, a lot has changed since he wrote that, but most of it is still good advice.

And why is any of this important? You shouldn’t need to ask that. 😉

Now … some framebuffer tools and toys:

  • fbgrab and/or fbcat: Either one, depending on your distro, takes snapshots of the framebuffer and stores them as image files. That’s how you see the lovely images that adorn this humble web site, for the most part. fbgrab, by the way, is the source of my favorite error message: “Not enough memory or data.” Well, which is it?!
  • fbida: The fbida package includes a lot of small tools, including fbi (image viewer), fbgs (ps/pdf viewer), ida (image viewer for X, actually), exiftran (jpeg transformation) and one or two more. It’s good to have on hand, if you’re serious about working at the framebuffer.
  • fbpdf: A newcomer, this is (as you might have guessed) a PDF viewer for the framebuffer. I can’t vouch for it just yet, but I’m willing to try it out.
  • fbterm: This is where the magic happens. Set this up correctly, and your whole X-less world suddenly becomes a giant geek paradise. See for yourself.
  • fim: I mention fim knowing full well that it hasn’t worked for me in years. It was a great project and ran a lot lighter than some other framebuffer image viewers, but after one or two scrambled updates, I moved on.
  • jfbview: Another newcomer, this apparently merges PDF and image viewers into one. That might be an appealing feature for you. The comments on that page suggest errors, but from my experience that’s probably an improper framebuffer setup.
  • links: The granddaddy of framebuffer applications, a no-nonsense web browser. This might be what makes the whole picture fall together for you. links has been around forever (I remember it from my Ubuntu days). If this, along with maybe something like elinks, can keep you satisfied, you might have all the toys you need for framebuffer bliss.

This is a fairly short list, and doesn’t include the endless list of applications that don’t need the framebuffer, but are more usable for it. Dig around and see what you find.

14 thoughts on “Bonus: The framebuffer is your friend

  1. Ben Holroyd

    how about this
    haven’t checked or used it, I just discovered it after filling in an online job application form, on a check box list of web
    web browsers I know how to use (because they’re all so different ?!) the list included mozaic and netscape and a few
    others I hadn’t heard of, think it needs updating :-/.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I remember that from long ago. I thought it was DOS-only, but that’s probably because I think it was bundled with FreeDOS. I’ll have to check and see how it works. Thanks!

  2. niski

    Speaking of fbterm, there’s also fbpad which seems to be more actively developed by the author of fbpdf (last commit was few days ago). It has some quirks, mainly necessity of converting otf/ttf fonts to its own format, but it works.

    Also, he has site with few more framebuffer apps he created:

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