Ofront on Raspberry Pi OS
By R. S. Doiel, 2021-04-25
This post is about getting Ofront1 up and running on
Raspberry Pi OS2. Ofront provides a Oberon-2 to C
transpiler as well as a Oberon V43 development environment.
There are additional clever tools like
ocat that are
helpful working with the differences in text file formats between Oberon
System 3, V4 and POSIX. The V4 implementation sits nicely on top of
POSIX with minimal compromises that distract from the Oberon
An Initial Impression
I first heard of running Ofront/V4 via the ETH Oberon Mail list4. What caught my eye is the reference to running on Raspberry Pi. Prof. Templ provides two flavors of Ofront. One targets the Raspberry Pi OS on ARM hardware the second Linux on i386. The Raspberry Pi OS for Intel is an i386 variant. I downloaded the tar file, unpacked it and immediately ran the “oberon.bash” script provided eager to see a V4 environment. It renders but the fonts rendered terribly slowly. I should have read the documentation first! Prof. Templ provides man pages for the tools that come with Ofront including the oberon application. Reading the man page for oberon quickly addresses the point of slow font rendering. It also discusses how to convert Oberon fonts to X Windows bitmap fonts. If you use the X Window fonts the V4 environment is very snappy. It does require that X Windows knows where to find the fonts used in V4. That is done by appending the V4 converted fonts to the X Window font map. I had installed the Ofront system in my home directory so the command was
xset +fp $HOME/ofront_1.4/fonts
Running “oberon.bash” after that immediately improved things. Since I
didn’t need the Oberon fonts outside of V4 I added the
command to the “oberon.bash” script just before it invokes the
Goals in my setup
I had three goals in wanting to play with Ofront and running the V4 Oberon.
- I wanted to work in an Oberon System environment
- I need a system meets my vision requirements (e.g. larger font size)
- I wanted to understand the Linz/V4 variation in Oberon’s evolution
Ofront address all three once you get the X Window side setup correctly.
Setting up Ofront and V4
First we need to boot up a Raspberry Pi OS device (or an i386 Linux with X11). We need to retrieve the software from Joseph Templ’s software-templ.com. Two 1.4 versions are available precompiled. The first is for ARM running Raspberry Pi OS and the second is for generic Linux i386 with X11. I initially tested this on an old laptop where running the i386 version of Raspberry Pi OS.
What we need
The following software is usually already installed on your Raspberry Pi OS.
- curl to download the files5
- gunzip to uncompressed the archive file
- tar to unpack the archive file
What we do
- Download the appropriate tar file
- ARM: http://www.software-templ.com/shareware/ofront-1.4_raspbian-Pi3.tar.gz
- Intel i386: http://www.software-templ.com/shareware/ofront-1.4_linux-386-3.2.tar.gz
- Make sure we can read the compressed archive file
- Gunzip and untar the file
Here’s the commands I used for the Raspberry Pi hardware.
curl -O http://www.software-templ.com/shareware/ofront-1.4_raspbian-Pi3.tar.gz tar ztvf ofront-1.4_raspbian-Pi3.tar.gz tar zxvf ofront-1.4_raspbian-Pi3.tar.gz
Here’s the commands I used for Raspberry Pi OS on Intel
curl -O http://www.software-templ.com/shareware/ofront-1.4_linux-386-3.2.tar.gz tar ztvf ofront-1.4_linux-386-3.2.tar.gz tar zxvf ofront-1.4_linux-386-3.2.tar.gz
At this point there should be an
where you gunziped and untared the archive file. At this point you can
test to make sure everything runs by doing the following (remember the
font rendering with be very slow).
cd ofront_1.4 ./oberon.bash
You can exit the V4 environment by closing the window or typing
System.Quit ~ in an Oberon viewer and middle clicking with
The reason the system is so slow is that X is having to write bitmaps a pixel at a time in the window holding our Oberon System. What we want X to do is render an X Window font. Joseph as provided us with the Oberon fonts already converted for X! We just need to let the X Window system know where to look.
What we need
- an editor for editing
What we’ll do
- Exit the running Oberon System using
System.Quit ~or just close the window
oberon.bashto speed up font rendering
oberon.bashagain and see the speed bump
With your favorite editor add the
xset line before the
oberon command is invoked. My “oberon.bash” looks like
#!/bin/bash if [ -z "$OFRONT_HOME" ]; then export OFRONT_HOME=. echo "OFRONT_HOME set to ." fi export OBERON=.:$OFRONT_HOME/V4_ofront:$OFRONT_HOME/V4:$OFRONT_HOME/fonts export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=.:$OFRONT_HOME/lib export PATH=.:$OFRONT_HOME/bin:$PATH xset +fp $HOME/ofront_1.4/fonts $OFRONT_HOME/bin/oberon -f ./V4/Big.Map -u 8000 -c $* &
xset command adds the provided X fonts to X Window.
This results in a huge speedup of rendering. I also add the options for
using the largest font sizes via a font map file, “V4/Big.Map” and set
the display units to 8000. Your vision or monitor may not need this so
you want to only add the line to include the X fonts needed by
Now re-launch Oberon using the updated “oberon.bash” and see the improvement.
vi oberon.bash ./oberon.bash
You now have a functioning V4 Oberon System to play with and explore.
There are some additional POSIX environment setup you can add to improve the integration with your Linux setup. These are covered in the man pages for the tools that come with Ofront. Additional information is also provided in the Oberon Texts and Tools files in the V4 environment. All are worth reading.
What does this setup provide?
At the point we have V4 available we have a rich development and text environment. One which I feel is conducive to both writing in general and programming specifically. You are running under an adapted Oberon System so there are somethings to consider.
The Oberon V4 file system does support punctuation characters aside from periods and slashes. So when I tried to edit a file with hyphens in the name Oberon assumed the filename stopped at the first hyphens. The Oberon file systems are typically case sensitive so this can be worked around with letter case. Of course I could modify the V4 system to allow for more letters too. That’s the nice thing about having the source code.
The second issue if file format. In Oberon we can embed fonts and
coloring and that is treated as normal text. End of line characters are
represented as a carriage return. In POSIX environments we have “plain
text” without specific font directives and we use a line feed to
terminate lines. Fortunately Prof. Templ provided a program called
ocat7 that makes short work of converting
an Oberon text into a POSIX friendly format. On the Oberon side of
things it’s also easy because Oberon will treat an ASCII file as a text
we only need to convert the line endings and in the Ofront
implementation of V4 it handles the differences in line endings behind
If you create or store a file in the Oberon environment it’ll become
Oberon text. If you need to have a plain text version use
ocat. If you only read POSIX files in the Oberon
environment then they remain plain text files but V4 takes care of
translating the POSIX line ending to ones that are displayed nicely in
What to explore next?
Now that we have a fast running V4 system we have some choices for
development. Joseph Templ has adapted the display for X and also the
file system so the files are visible from the Unix shell. This is a
powerful arrangement. This supports both Oberon development and the use
of Oberon language for the development of POSIX friendly programs. The
Ofront collection provides the
ofront an Oberon-2 to C
ocl is a tool that will combine
ofront with your C compiler and linker to produce programs
and libraries for Linux. There is also
ocat for converting
Oberon texts to POSIX plain text and
showdef for showing
module definitions. Finally Ofront provides the
command so we have an Oberon System available as a development
One thing I recommend exploring is Jospeh Templ’s GitHub repository.
The makefile provided with the GitHub version assuming an existing
installation of ofront. Since we have one we can compile our own copy
from scratch. If you’re running i386 you’ll want to look at
V4_ofront/linix386 for Pi hardware take a look at
Here’s how I generated a new version on my Pi hardware.
git clone https://github.com/jtempl/ofront cd ofront/V4_ofront/raspbian make ./oberon.bash
There is a note in the README of that directory about finding
libX11.so but I did not need the symbolic link suggested.
Since the font path was previously adjusted for the original version I
downloaded from Templ’s website I didn’t need to add the fonts again. If
I fork Templ’s version or GitHub I will probably update the
“oberon.bash” file included to check to see if the X fonts are available
and if not add them via
xset. That’s on a someday maybe
list, for now I am content exploring the system as is.
Things that come to mind after initial exploration include–
- Figure out how to make Atkinson-Hyperlegible8 available to V4
- Replace the X11 integration with SDL 2 integration and run under macOS or Windows
- Exploring porting V4 to run natively Raspberry Pi via Clang cross compilers
Not sure I’ll get the time or have the energy to do these things but they are certainly seem feasible with Ofront as it stands now.
Ofront was developed by Joseph Templ, see http://www.software-templ.com/↩︎
see https://www.raspberrypi.org/software/ (a 32 bit Debian based Linux for both i386 and ARM)↩︎
See Hans Klaver’s message: http://lists.inf.ethz.ch/pipermail/oberon/2021/015514.html↩︎
If not try
sudo apt install curlfrom the command line↩︎
Oberon Systems expect a three button mouse, with a two button mouse you hold the alt key and press the left button. Note that command in Oberon are case sensitive.↩︎
man man1/ocat.1to find out more↩︎