An update to running aterm (or any other X app) rootless, without a DOS console on Cygwin

by vivin

A while ago, I wrote up a quick guide about running X/Windows applications (specifically, aterm) without root windows on Windows, using Cygwin. Recently I tried to set it up again and I realized that some of the information is slightly out of date. I’m also endeavoring to write a better guide. I’m assuming that you have, at the very least, a decent understanding of building things from source. The process under Cygwin is pretty much the same as under any other *nix, but there are a few quirks. On the whole, it’s a whole lot easier than it used to be. This guide is primarily geared towards running aterm with a transparent background on a windows machine so that you can have a decent client for the Cygwin commandline, instead of the crappy Windows one.

I’m assuming that you already have Cygwin installed. If you don’t, you can get it from here. In addition to whatever other packages you have selected to customize your install, you also need development packages (gcc and friends), Xorg packages (headers, includes, and libraries), and a few graphics libraries (for aterm):

  • Devel
    • gcc-core
    • gcc-g++
    • libXaw3d-devel (for xv)
    • libjpeg-devel (for aterm)
    • libpng12-devel (for aterm)
  • Libs
    • jpeg (for aterm)
    • libXaw3d-devel
    • libXaw3d-7
    • libfreetype6
    • libjpeg-devel
    • libjpeg62 (for aterm)
    • libjpeg6b (for aterm)
    • libpng12 (for aterm)
    • libpng12-devel (for aterm)
    • libtiff5 (for aterm, xv)
    • zlib-devel (for aterm)
    • zlib0 (for aterm)
  • Utils
    • bzip2 (to handle .bz2 files)
  • X11
    • libX11-devel
    • xinit
    • xsetroot (if xv doesn’t work for you)

After Cygwin finishes installing those packages, grab the sources for libAfterImage, aterm, and xv. Unpack the sources perform the requisite steps to build and install from source (./configure, make, and make install should work if all goes well).


If you get “parse error before XErrorEvent” errors while building libAfterImage, make sure that you didn’t forget to select the X11 development package.


gcc on Cygwin expects –rdynamic and not -rdynamic. If you’re seeing these errors, edit the Makefiles under src and src/graphics within the aterm source directory. Change the “-rdynamic” to “–rdynamic”. The changes should be on line 54 for both files.


Under the tiff directory within the xv sources, there is a file called RANLIB.csh. Edit this file and make sure that you ONLY have the following line in there:

ranlib $1 >& /dev/null

Otherwise the build process will fail. Additionally, you need to edit xv.h. This file lives right at the root of your xv source directory. If you do not perform the following change, you’ll get errors from gcc complaining that “sys_errlist has previously been defined”. Change line 119 of xv.h to:

/*extern char *sys_errlist[]; */    /* this too... */

What you’re doing is commenting out the definition for sys_errlist so that it doesn’t conflict with what has already been defined in the Cygwin header files. These changes should be the only ones you need to get xv compiling and running.

Now you need to set up two batch files. One to start up X rootlessly, and another to start up aterm. Before you do that, make sure you add C:\cygwin\usr\bin and C:\cygwin\X11R6\usr\bin to your PATH variable. You can do this by going to My Computer > Properties > Advanced > Environment Variables. If you don’t do this, you’ll get “cygwin1.dll not found” errors while trying to run these batch files. The X windows binaries used to live in C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin, but have since been moved to C:\cygwin\usr\bin. Therefore, the start-up batch-file now looks like this:


C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\usr\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 -max /cygdrive/c/Documents\ and\ Settings/vivin/My\ Documents/My\ Pictures/Wallpapers/01707_spectrumofthesky_1920x1200.jpg

The first line starts up the X windowing system. The second line sets the wallpaper using aterm. You now need another batch file to run aterm, and that looks like this:


C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\bin\bash.exe --login -i -c "aterm -sh 80 -tr -trsb -fade 20 -tint gray -sb -st -sr -sl 1000 -tn xterm"

This file starts aterm with the background image at 50% brightness, transparent background, transparent scrollbar, 20% fading on losing focus, gray tint, scrollbar, trough-less scrollbar, scrollbar on the right, 1000 scrollback lines, and with xterm terminal emulation. Like I mentioned in my original guide. xv will sometimes fail to start with xwin. If that is the case, you can modify aterm.bat to look like this:


C:\cygwin\usr\X11R6\bin\run.exe C:\cygwin\bin\bash.exe --login -i -c "xv -display :0 -root -quit -be -max /cygdrive/c/Documents\ and\ Settings/vivin/My\ Documents/My\ Pictures/Wallpapers/01707_spectrumofthesky_1920x1200.jpg && aterm -sh 80 -tr -trsb -fade 20 -tint gray -sb -st -sr -sl 1000 -tn xterm"

Slightly inefficient, but it works. Now if you have a dual-monitor display, you’ll notice that the background image is stretched across both screens when you run aterm. This is probably not what you want. To fix this problem you need to change a few invocation options for xv. For this to work properly (meaning, not look crappy) both screens should be running at the same resolution:

xv -display :0 -root -quit -be -maxpect -rmode 1 /cygdrive/c/Documents\ and\ Settings/vivin/My\ Documents/My\ Pictures/Wallpapers/01707_spectrumofthesky_1920x1200.jpg

Notice the -maxpect and -rmode 1 options. -maxpect expands the image to fill the screen while maintaining the aspect ratio, while -rmode 1 sets the display mode on xv to tiled. So you should now have your wallpaper displaying on both screens now (under X) without being distorted.

Here’s what it looks like on my machine:

aterm running on XP under X with a dual-monitor setup

This is on a dual-monitor setup with both screens running at 1920×1200 resolution. I’ve set X’s background to be the same as my windows Wallpaper so that it looks cooler. Notice how the background image (inside aterm) is not stretched, but tiled across the two screens. That’s all there is to it. Seems like a bit of work, but I think it’s worth it. My main reason for going through all this trouble was to get a decent terminal running in windows. I guess I could have just used xterm, but aterm looks so much nicer, doesn’t it?