"What's the story behind the name "X11"?" showed up in the sidebar while I was browsing stackoverflow earlier and I noticed the question getting some high-signal answers, so I added a comment asking how to get X10 working, something I've been wanting to do for some time. I was recommended to open a new question, so here it is.

Many years ago while browsing xwinman.org I spied "xwm" at the bottom of the full list of window managers. It's listed as

Possibly the first... this dates back to 1985, before X11 itself. The version in the archive is from X10R4.

Naturally, there are no screenshots anywhere. It probably looks really primitive, but I'm curious to fire it up nonetheless and play with it for fun.

So, my question is, how can I get X10R4 running on an arbitrary modern machine running Linux (or Windows)?

Naïvely speaking, I suspect emulation would likely play a key role.

However, I'm not aware of any practically-usable Solaris/SPARC emulators, and I understand that X10 was a SunOS/Solaris-era thing - the history section in Wikipedia's actually-decent article on X shows that X hit version 11 in 1987, 4 years before Linux was announced (here :P).

X10R4 is noted as being from December 1986 - maybe there's (haha) an EGA UNIX for PCs from that era? (I'm woefully ignorant of UNIX history.) Or maybe... there's a PC-compatible VMS?

xwinman seems to have a bit of a permission glitch, but the xwm/ directory happily resides at the Web Archive (spoiler: it's a bare Apache index with a lone xwm-X10R4.tar.gz.)

I had a cursory look online to see if xwm was hiding in any browsable source repositories - and I found one! http://www.retro11.de/ouxr/43bsd/usr/src/new/X/xwm/ (Try not to DoS it)

  • 6
    Are you trying to get an X10 window manager like xwm working on a modern X11 server, or you really looking for a complete X10 server and client environment? The program xwm is just one, optional, component of a complete X10 environment. If you just want an X10 window manger you might want to look at uwm which was the only X10 WM ported to X11. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultrix_Window_Manager
    – user722
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 17:51
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    There isn't a PC-compatible VMS yet but a port is underway (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenVMS). However, it will be the latest VMS, which is a fair bit different from the mid-eighties versions. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:45
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    QEMU emulates well 32bits SPARCs and SparcStations. You can try old OSes as SunOS
    – Grabul
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 19:09
  • There was a X10 server for LispM's apparently -- ml.cddddr.org/slug/msg01083.html Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 19:06
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    I worked back arond 1990 on a 680x0 based en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_NEWS which had an option for either installing X11 og X10. You need to go way back. Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


Because of the fact that it is well-documented, widely-supported on modern systems, and emulates hardware that was an early adopter of the X Window System in the mid-1980s, I would suggest that a suitable software stack would use the MAME/MESS emulator for the Apollo DN workstations.

  • MESS emulator
  • Domain/OS
  • xwm

There are instructions on the MESS Wiki for setting up and using Domain/OS on an emulated Apollo DN workstation here, which seem to include everything you would need. Then, you'd just need to build 'xwm' and run it as an early alternative to VUE.

  • I don't think this will work. I don't think VUE ran on X10, while xwm was never ported to X11.
    – user722
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 18:08

As I recall, X10 was mostly done as part of the MIT 'Athena' project with a lot of contribution from DEC WSL. MIT is were we got our source tape from. At that time, we would have been running VAXStation IIs running a somewhat locally modified BSD 4.2/4.3 and Sun-3 running SunOS 3.5. So you'd be looking at a pre-POSIX BSD build environment (pcc or SunCC based) and the Athena source. There are emulators for VAX (simh) and Sun-3 (simh or TME), the OSes can be found on TUTS, and you should still be able to find the Athena sources someplace.

That said:

  1. The mention of Apollo DN running X10 rings a bell. I never saw it, though.
  2. I know that Bell Technologies sold an Intel i82786 based ISA bus video card that shipped with X10 running under Interactive SVR3 Unix on i386. They did not, to my knowledge, ever disclose their source.

According to the Wikipedia article, in 1985, X6 was released and DEC showed interest for its Ultrix workstations. In 1986, X10 was release, and in 1987, they switched to X11.

Other sources (lost the Google results, sorry) put the switch to X11 in 1986.

Be that as it may, there's a number of Ultrix tapes of various versions on Bitsavers. Version 3.0 already used X11. I tried to date the 2.X versions from the contents, but there seem to be contradictions: 2.3 mentions the year 1987, which seems to be after 3.0

In any case, there are distributions files for X on the "supported" tapes for the 2.X versions. They mention neither X10 nor X11, just X, and I'm fairly sure that 2.0 is not X11, though it may be earlier than X10.

So I'd try to install one or all of the 2.X versions on a simulated VAX using SIMH, so you can at least take a good look at the files. There seem to be some source files.

I'm not sure about the state of graphics device support under SIMH, possibly that needs to be added (which may not be trivial).


X10 was the default window system on the Sun-3/50s in the WEB (Workstations in Evans Basement) at Berkeley, circa 1986-1990. So I know it was available for 68020 machines running SunOS 3.x (mostly 4.2BSD/4.3BSD with some extras.) I found this post as I was looking for a screenshot of xwm, as I remember it being rather elegant. The architect was able to transform a dark, windowless basement into a space that was rather pleasant, and won an AIA award in 1985; in one of the photos linked above, you can see the (diskless) Sun-3/50s running X10.


I have 4.3BSD Quasijarus with X10R4 ready to run on a VAXstation 3900: https://github.com/larsbrinkhoff/prebuilt-emulator-images-with-interesting-software-installed/

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