Even the most cynical anti-cloud Linux users will admit that virtual machines (VMs) have changed how we use computers. In the cloud, VMs can provide unlimited scale and flexibility, at a cost, while locally they let us isolate environments, run more than one distribution, and build for different architectures. But they can still be tricky and less than intuitive. VirtualBox has a functional GUI, but it requires you to download an appropriate image, define its configuration, and run through the installation. The libvirt library has its own GUI, Virtual Machine Manager, with a similar set of configuration panels to navigate. Docker, Multipass, and LXC perhaps offer the best options, because they're backed by their own images that install and prepare themselves transparently, but they still require you to navigate the their tools and know how to access the operating systems you've deployed.

Quickemu, another possible solution, is really nothing more than a clever script (for now!), but it's a script that makes a lot of sense when all the underlying technologies are already present in our Linux systems, with most of us simply lacking the time and skill to marshal their capabilities into a predictable environment. In the background, it's downloading images and configuring Qemu, SPICE, VirGL, USB and smartcard passthrough, SSH port-forwarding; full-duplex audio, and TPM emulation without requiring any user input. Quickemu promises to "Quickly create and run highly optimized desktop virtual machines for Linux, macOS and Windows; with just two commands." And it delivers, even with the last operating system on that list, Windows 11, which is perhaps just as well considering Linux might be the safest place to install it. The two commands are quickget and quickemu. The first will download the operating system of your choice, such as ubuntu focal, macos catalina, or windows 11, with plenty of options for variations and flavors, and all the images are legally sourced. But most importantly, it just works – two commands and you have your chosen virtual environment.

Project Website

There are already a couple of GUIs for Quickemu, including this one by Mark Johnson, friend of Quickemu's creator, Martin Wimpress.

A tmux fork for graphics


There can be little doubt that one of the best command-line utilities of all time is tmux. Like screen before it, tmux transforms your humble command line into a fully fledged productivity portal, allowing you to split the terminal, create new background sessions, install plugins, and easily detach and reattach to concurrently running sessions. If you spend a lot of time on the command line, tmux quickly becomes the equivalent of your desktop environment, and you typically find yourself wanting to context switch to your graphical environment less and less. This in turn leads you to wanting to perform more and more of those desktop tasks on the command line. There are lots of great tools that can be used as substitutes to those desktop tasks, but there's one element of the desktop that has been difficult to re-engineer on the command line, and that's graphics.

The idea for the terminal predates modern graphical capabilities, which is why terminals so often resort to ASCII. Ancient terminals could only display these ASCII characters because single pixels couldn't be directly referenced. Of course, modern screens aren't like this, but our terminal emulators stay true to those early limitations to ensure the broadest possible compatibility. In theory, they should be able to do so much more. Which is why this fork of tmux is so interesting. It's called sixel-tmux because the sixel part is referring to a bitmap graphics format supported by a more advanced terminal. It's still not desktop-good, but it does add 64 possible patterns to a six-pixel-high and one-pixel-wide special "character" that can do a far better approximation of a cat photo than ^._.^. This might not make a huge difference if images aren't important to you, but it will help anyone else who needs to see pictures while they're on the command line, whether that's generating charts or processing photos. Sixel-tmux helps you see the output instantly and without any context shifting.

Project Website

Before sixel-tmux will work, you need to carefully configure the colors in your terminal.

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