Subsistence Living in Terminal Land (Part I)
Lately, prompted by some negative experiences with graphics cards and graphics card drivers, I have exploring this question: how much of my daily necessary computing could I get done if I had access to nothing but a terminal interface?
What is a terminal interface?
From the outset, there is the difficult question of what do I mean by terminal interface. Some possible answers:
1) Dumb terminal. No cursor or color control. That means no Emacs or ncurses applications. Scratch this one off the list.
2) Linux virtual console.
3) Terminal emulator running inside a graphical desktop environment (e.g., Gnome Terminal)
Linux Virtual Console
The Linux kernel comes with its own built-in console (terminal) which simulates multiple terminals (virtual consoles) using text buffers. CTRL-ALT-1, CTRL-ALT-2, etc. On x86(-64) architectures, the console is first started in an 80x24 text mode. In this mode, there are no bitmap graphics available, but cursor control is available, so you can run Emacs and the like.
Usually bootup code soon switches these consoles over to framebuffer mode, where you have access to a primitive form of graphics. In this mode, you can run any application that has framebuffer output support, which wonderfully happens to include VLC for viewing photos and videos. A virtual console in framebuffer mode is perhaps cheating, but it seemed like a fun and practical environment to target, anyway.
I ran into a big snag quickly, however: poor Unicode support. I study Biblical Hebrew, so I need to be able to display not only the hebrew letters, but the (vowel) points which combine with them. For example, the Hebrew word for God is...
In the console, you can print out the Hebrew letters (in monospace) but the combining characters get replaced by a generic monospace placeholder. That is no good. There are some different console fonts to explore using "setfont" utility, namely the fonts in the (root)/share/consolefonts directory, but as far as I can tell, even the fonts which claim good Hebrew support have the same problem. Something I explored as well was framebuffer terminals, such as YAFT, but I didn't find a resolution to this specific problem.
So for now I'm back in Gnome Terminal.
(To be continued...)