Running aterm (or any other X app) rootless, without a DOS console on Cygwin

by vivin

This guide is outdated. Please check out the updated version of this guide here.

On any system that I plan to use for an extended period of time, I will always install Cygwin. This is mainly because I like have UNIX tools on Windows, and also so that I can use the console to do things that DOS is not able to do. I started using Cygwin in 2000, and I’ve continued using it since. One of the cool things you can do with Cygwin is run X, which means that you can have X applications running on the Windows desktop. When I was interning at Motorola, I used to run eXceed, with fvwm. This was where I first ran into aterm. What I liked most about aterm is the eye-candy. You can have transparent windows with shading effects and all sorts of other cool stuff. I tried to get aterm running on my machine at home by compiling it from source under Cygwin. I was eventually able to do this (install libjpeg, libpng, libAfterImage, zlib, and the X includes and libraries first), but what I didn’t like was the fact that you had to start up a Cygwin console to open up X, and then aterm. I wanted aterm to start up and run directly without that ugly DOS/Cygwin console window. Of course, you can’t simply run the aterm executable because it needs X and Cygwin to be running. I eventually figured it out (actually a few months before leaving on my “extended vacation”) by starting out with X running with a rootless window. Oh, and run.exe proved to be very helpful. Anyway, here is how you do it:

First you need to add C:\cygwin\bin to your PATH Environment Variable. You can do this from My Computer > Properties > Advanced > Environment Variables. You might also have to add C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin to PATH.

Then you need to create two batch files. The first one is to start X, and the second one is to start aterm (or whatever X app you want to start). The example I’m going to show includes starting up X with a wallpaper (using xv), and then running aterm. I run aterm with a transparent background, using the X wallpaper. However, you can also load aterm with a background image of your choice.

The batch file to start X, which I call xwin.bat looks like this:

C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\xwin.exe -multiwindow -clipboard -silent-dup-error
C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\usr\local\bin\xv.exe -display :0 -root -quit -be -maxpect /cygdrive/c/Wallpapers/upper_limit_wp_dark_1600.jpg

This will start up X in a rootless window with upper_limit_wp_dark_1600.jpg as your X wallpaper. Next, you write a batch file (aterm.bat) that will load aterm:

C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\bin\bash.exe --login -i -c "aterm -sh 50 -tr -trsb -fade 20 -tint gray -bl -sb -st -sr -sl 1000 -tn xterm"

This batch file will load aterm with the background image at 50% brightness, transparent background, transparent scrollbar, 20% fading on losing focus, gray tint, borderless window (sometimes works), scrollbar, trough-less scrollbar, scrollbar on the right, 1000 scrollback lines, and with xterm terminal emulation. One issue I have had with this, is that aterm may load up with the default (checkered) X background. This is because the xv did not properly execute in xwin.bat. I have no idea why this happens, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you can modify aterm.bat:

C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\bin\bash.exe --login -i -c "xv -display :0 -root -quit -be -max /cygdrive/c/Wallpapers/upper_limit_wp_dark_1600.jpg && aterm -sh 50 -tr -trsb -fade 20 -tint gray -bl -sb -st -sr -sl 1000 -tn xterm"

This batch file will load xv every time you start aterm, so there is a slight performance hit on startup. However, it’s not that big of a deal because the xv instance quits right after it sets up the wallpaper, and so you’re not loading a new instance of xv into the memory every time.

Well, there you have it. I hope it was helpful!

X with XP
Screenshot of my XP desktop, with aterm, xcalc, xclock, xeyes, and xterm running