Enabling antialiasing

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One of the most requested feature in aMSN for Linux is font antialiasing. Its benefits are smoother fonts and clearer readability. In this article we'll explain how to obtain this feature and how the situation is going to evolve in the near future in Linux distributions.


Introduction and historical notes

aMSN is written with the Tcl programming language and the Tk widget toolkit. Font antialiasing is not an aMSN feature; it depends on graphical toolkit capabilities. Tk 8.4 for Linux didn't support antialiasing, now Tk 8.5 supports it and enables it by default. This means that nothing could be done inside aMSN to turn on this feature: to have antialiased fonts you should have Tk 8.5 with this option enabled at compile time (or better, as we'll see after, at configure time).

The most part of aMSNs found in distributions are compiled in front of Tk 8.4 so there is no way to enable antialiasing other than compiling Tcl/Tk 8.5 from sources. This is because Tcl/Tk 8.5 has been relased as stable only in December 2007. In the near future more and more distribution will begin to ship aMSN with antialiasing by default (or, to say it properly, compiled in front of Tcl/Tk 8.5). As you can see aMSN in Debian Lenny (which is the testing version of the next stable release) is already compiled against Tcl/Tk 8.5 and so will do a lot of other distros.

So possible solutions to the problem are:

  • wait a couple of months for the newest release of the distribution of your choice;
  • install a backport;
  • compile properly Tcl/Tk 8.5 and aMSN 0.97 from sources using the following guide or the official Compiling_aMSN guide.

Releases that will include Tcl/Tk 8.5

If you want to know exactly how long you should wait see the table of upcoming releases on Distrowatch.com (note that the list is weekly updated, if you want to read the latest go to the Distrowatch weekly and open the latest issue);

Here you are a list of the most important distributions that will include Tcl/Tk 8.5 in their repositories as default:

  • Ubuntu 8.04;
  • Fedora 9;
  • Mandriva 2008.1;
  • openSuse 11;
  • Debian 5.0;
  • many others.

Installing backports

Ubuntu 7.10 - Gutsy Gibbon: both Tcl/Tk 8.5 and aMSN 0.97 have been backported to Gutsy so you just need to enable the backports repository and install the new aMSN. A good guide about backports can be found here.

Debian 4.0 Etch: people who run Debian stable can install aMSN from Debian Lenny following this official guide about apt-pinning or this unofficial guide to apt-pinning. Just remember that, as of now, stable=etch and testing=lenny but apt-pin accepts only the stable/testing/unstable/experimental terminology (e.g. contrary to /etc/apt/sources.list the configuration file /etc/apt/preferences doesn't accept etch or lenny as a parameter for "release").

Installing needed libraries

To compile a package from sources several things are needed: we need a compiler, some libraries and some headers. In this case we need gcc, some Dev_Packages to build Tcl/Tk 8.5 and libxft-dev to get antialiased fonts.

Luckily all major distributions provide some tools to easily obtain development packages to build some specific applications or libraries.

Debian, Ubuntu and distributions with apt-get

If you have a Debian based distribution that doesn't have Tcl/Tk 8.5 in its repositories (like Debian 4.0 "etch" or Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon") you'll need to install some packages.

NOTE: use sudo only if it's properly configured (like in Ubuntu), otherwise login as root with su - and then type the following lines without sudo at the beginning.

This will download building dependencies for Tcl/Tk (they are the same for 8.4 and for 8.5, the one we need):

 sudo apt-get build-dep tcl tk

Then you'll need developement package for libxft:

 sudo apt-get install libxft-dev

If you plan to download sources from Tcl/Tk from cvs (not recommended) you'll also need to install it:

 sudo apt-get install cvs

RHEL, Fedora and yum based

Red Hat based distributions use the yum package manager. A tool similar to apt-get build-dep is included in the package yum-utils and is called yum-builddep. So, after becoming root with su - you should install yum-utils:

 yum install yum-utils

install the building dependencies:

 yum-builddep tcl tk

install libXft-devel (needed by Tk antialiasing), libpng-devel and libjpeg-devel (both needed by aMSN):

 yum install libXft-devel libpng-devel libjpeg-devel

NOTE: please be sure to check that X is written in capital letters.

And, if you need it, cvs:

 yum install cvs

Downloading Tcl and Tk 8.5

As of now Tcl/Tk 8.5 libraries are released as stable so it is wise to download the sources directly from the official website. In the download page the latest bugfix release can be found; both the Tcl and the Tk sources should be downloaded.

When the download is complete just unpack the archive with your favorite tool. To do it from command line:

 tar xzf tcl8.5.x-src.tar.gz
 tar xzf tk8.5.x-src.tar.gz

where x obviously stands for the bugfix version you downloaded.

Compiling and installing Tcl/Tk8.5

Note: this may take several minutes. While waiting you can enjoy some tuxracer or minesweeper :D The following instructions will put tcl/tk8.5 in /usr/local

 cd tcl/unix
 ./configure --prefix=/usr/local --includedir=/usr/local/include/tcl8.5 --enable-shared --enable-threads --enable-64bit \
  --mandir=/usr/local/share/man --enable-man-symlinks --enable-man-compression=gzip && make CFLAGS="-g -O2 -D_REENTRANT"
 sudo make install
Note: this way you're enabling threads. This may cause hangs under kernel of the 2.6 series. If you experience such a problem, please recompile Tcl/Tk without threads (just remove --enable-threads from the command line).
Some users (such as NoWhereMan) complain they've never had any problem compiling this way. They were deported and nobody knows anymore anything about them. Someone thinks they're still around, and they keep on posting on the forum or writing articles such as this on the wiki.

 cd ../../tk/unix
 ./configure --prefix=/usr/local --includedir=/usr/local/include/tcl8.5 --with-tcl=/usr/local/lib --enable-shared --enable-threads \
  --enable-64bit --enable-man-symlinks --enable-man-compression=gzip --enable-xft && make CFLAGS="-g -O2 -D_REENTRANT"
 sudo make install
Note: if you haven't enabled threads above, you'll probably have to disable them here, too.

Compiling aMSN to use antialiasing

Follow the instructions found here (Installing_SVN) but use this line when you do ./configure.

 ./configure --with-tcl=/usr/local/lib --with-tk=/usr/local/lib

Updating symbolic links

If you try launching aMSN right now, all you'll get is a segmentation fault. Why? Well, indeed you installed the new Tcl/Tk version, but the old one is still there and, worse, is still the one that is called when you type such as wish and tclsh, which are the Tcl/Tk binaries.

So you have to tell your system that when you type wish, it is supposed to run wish8.5 instead of the old wish8.4. Do you have any idea how? Well, go to /usr/local/bin (or wherever these stuff are installed) and do:

 ls -l tclsh* wish*

You'll probably see something like this:

 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    8 Nov 17 00:17 tclsh -> tclsh8.4
 -rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 6192 Jul 20 16:28 tclsh8.4
 -rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 7689 Nov 17 00:14 tclsh8.5
 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root    7 Nov 17 00:16 wish -> wish8.4
 -rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 6968 Jul 20 17:08 wish8.4
 -rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 8572 Nov 17 00:24 wish8.5

As you can see, both wish and tclsh are pointing to the 8.4 tools. To fix this and use the new version by default, do the following (in the directory Tcl/Tk binaries were installed):

  • If your distribution is based on Debian (that includes Ubuntu), try this:
    sudo update-alternatives --config tclsh && sudo update-alternatives --config wish
    If no choice is provided, then add it:
    sudo update-alternatives --install $(which tclsh) tclsh /usr/local/bin/tclsh8.5 900;
    sudo update-alternatives --install $(which wish) wish /usr/local/bin/wish8.5 900;
    and then retry the configuration.
  • If your distribution is not based on Debian, link it manually:
    sudo ln -sf tclsh8.5 tclsh
    sudo ln -sf wish8.5 wish

Now the system uses by default the newer set of Tcl/Tk tools. The usual amsn command should work fine!

Enjoy your brand-new fresh-looking smooth-fronted aMSN!

Keeping the old Tcl/Tk versions as default

If you want to use aMSN with the newly-compiled antialiased Tcl/Tk, but still want to keep the old installation as default, just don't update the symbolic links as mentioned above. You will, though, have to run aMSN with the command

 wish8.5 /path/to/amsn

instead of simply doing


because the latter will use wish8.4. So creating an alias, script or desktop item in this case might be a good idea.

Installing Tcl/Tk in your home directory

PRELIMINARY NOTE: other useful informations can be found in this thread and in the Enabling_antialiasing#Related_links section.

We now assume that you have already downloaded the needed libraries and sources (included aMSN).

To make the whole procedure more generic we'll set an environment variable to define were we'll install Tcl/Tk. To create this variable type the following command:


a good example is:


remember this should be relative to your home directory so that the following command:


should output something like this:


Ok, so now we are ready to compile! Enter in the directory you extracted the downloaded sources. We should respect this order:

  • Tcl;
  • Tk;
  • aMSN.

Configure, compile and install Tcl

Now that you are in the directory of Tcl sources enter the unix subdirectory:

 cd unix

now you can list the configure options by typing:

 ./configure --help

Choose the options you prefer. I experienced problems with the --enable-threads option so i decided to keep it off (as default). On the contrary --enable-shared is enabled by default so it's not necessary to add it to the configure line.

 ./configure --prefix=$HOME$INST_PATH --includedir=$HOME$INST_PATH/include/tcl8.5 --mandir=$HOME$INST_PATH/share/man --enable-man-compression=gzip

If something has failed check for errors or missing libraries, if you experience difficulties report them in the forums. If all went well you can now compile using make:


If also compiling finished successfully you can then install Tcl in your home directory:

 make install

Configure, compile and install Tk

The same things should be done with Tk sources, so enter Tk sources directory, enter "unix" subdirectory:

cd unix

review configure options:

 ./configure --help

As you can see --enable-xft, which are the libraries that enable font antialiasing, is on by default (but be sure so have libxft-dev installed) so run:

 ./configure --prefix=$HOME$INST_PATH --includedir=$HOME$INST_PATH/include/tcl8.5 --with-tcl=$HOME$INST_PATH/lib --enable-man-compression=gzip

and then compile:

 make CFLAGS="-g -O2 -D_REENTRANT"

and install:

 make install


If all went well typing:


should list the following directories:

 bin  include  lib  man share

If you want you can create a symlink (symbolic link) to the new Tcl/Tk executables in this way:

 ln -s * ~/bin

This will make it possible for you to use the Tcl/Tk 8.5 installed in your home directory by just using the commands tclsh8.5 and wish8.5.

NOTE: $HOME/bin should be in your PATH environment variable. To check you PATH variable type:

 env | grep PATH

If you want to learn how to set environment variables you can read this guide.

Configure, compile and install aMSN

Now it's time to get aMSN working. With the usual procedure do:

 ./configure --with-tcl=$HOME$INST_PATH/lib --with-tk=$HOME$INST_PATH/lib

Note: Only running "./configure" will use the old Tcl/Tk version and cause a tkcximage error when starting amsn.

If you've compiled it before be sure to run also:

 make clean

and then:


This will rebuild the aMSN with the new Tcl/Tk 8.5.

Now doing

 wish8.5 ~/personal_aMSN/amsn-0.xx/amsn

will start amsn with beautiful fonts.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Anti-aliasing only works with TrueType fonts. Make sure when you start aMSN that you are using the a suitable font by going to Account -> Properties -> Interface -> Change Fonts and then select a TrueType font.

A simple way to start it is creating a desktop shortcut or a script like:

 wish8.5 $HOME/personal_aMSN/amsn-0.xx/amsn

Save that as amsn in your ~/bin directory and add executable permissions:

 chmod u+x amsn

After that, the only thing to do to start it is running the command amsn. You can create an icon shortcut, or simply press Alt+F2 and type:


That's it! :)

Related links

This article has a Spanish version

Here you are some related links to further investigate the subject. Some of them are outdated but could however be useful for troubleshooting.

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