Debian Motif MWM Default.png
Stable release
2.3.8 / December 5, 2017; 4 years ago (2017-12-05)
Written inC
TypeWidget toolkit
LicenseLGPL-2.1-or-later (2.3.4 on)
Proprietary (before 2.3.4)

In computing, Motif refers to both a graphical user interface (GUI) specification and the widget toolkit for building applications that follow that specification under the X Window System on Unix and Unix-like operating systems. The Motif look and feel is distinguished by its use of rudimentary square and chiseled three-dimensional effects for its various user interface elements.

Motif is the toolkit for the Common Desktop Environment and IRIX Interactive Desktop, thus it was the standard widget toolkit for Unix. Closely related to Motif is the Motif Window Manager (MWM).

After many years as proprietary software, Motif was released in 2012, as free software under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL-2.1-or-later).[1]


Screenshot of plan, an application that uses the Motif toolkit. The "chiseled" look of Motif is clearly visible
Screenshot of plan, an application that uses the Motif toolkit. The "chiseled" look of Motif is clearly visible

Motif was created by the Open Software Foundation (OSF) to be a standard graphical user interface for Unix platforms.[2] Rather than create a new interface from scratch, OSF opened a Request For Technology (RFT) in 1988 to solicit existing technologies from third parties. OSF intended to either adopt an existing interface wholesale, or create one using technologies from multiple existing products. Forty products were submitted, from which OSF selected twenty-three finalists.[3] Among the finalists were Adobe Inc.'s Display Postscript, Sun Microsystems' OPEN LOOK, Digital Research's GEM, IXI Limited's X.desktop, Apollo Computer's Open Dialogue, Carnegie Mellon University's Andrew User Interface System, Digital Equipment Corporation's XUI, and Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft's CXI and PM/X. Ultimately, OSF selected HP and Microsoft's CXI and DEC's XUI, using the look and feel, window manager and Common User Access compliance from CXI, along with the widget toolkit API and User Interface Language (UIL) from XUI.[4][5] Motif was first shipped by OSF in 1989.[2]


The Common Desktop Environment is built on top of Motif
The Common Desktop Environment is built on top of Motif

Motif is the basic building block of the Common Desktop Environment, which was the standard desktop for commercial Unix.

The IEEE 1295 standard (now withdrawn[6]) defines the "Motif API".[7] As of version 2.1, Motif supports Unicode, which made it widely used in several multilingual environments.


X Window System graphics stack: Motif is a library with graphical control elements.
X Window System graphics stack: Motif is a library with graphical control elements.


Motif was originally made available under a license requiring royalty payments.

Open Motif

A version called Open Motif (substantially the same codebase under a different license)[8] was released on May 15, 2000, under a license which allowed royalty-free distribution of Open Motif if the platform upon which it is used was open source[9] – but was not an open source license itself. The name was criticized by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation for likelihood to mislead people into thinking it was proper open source or free software, particularly for the Open Group's statement that they had "released the source code of Motif to the Open Source community".[10] The initial release of Open Motif was version 2.1.30 in May 2000; Open Motif 2.3 was released in June 2007, followed by a 2.3.1 bug fix release in September 2008 and a 2.3.2 bug fix release in March 2009.

During the time when Motif was closed source software, the LessTif project was created with the aim of creating a free software implementation, under the LGPL.


In October 2012, Motif was released as a source code distribution under the GNU LGPL-2.1-or-later.[11] Motif's source code is available on SourceForge.

See also


  1. ^ "News". MotifZone. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "User Interface Hybrids - Integrating User Environments with Motif". The Open Group. Archived from the original on January 15, 2018.
  3. ^ Martin Marshall; Ed Scannell (October 10, 1988). "OSF Narrows Its Search For User Interface to 23". InfoWorld. p. 45. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  4. ^ Janet Dobbs (August 1989). "Strategies for Writing Graphical UNIX Applications Productively and Portably" (PDF). AUUG Newsletter. 10 (4): 50. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  5. ^ Axel O. Deininger; Charles V. Fernandez (June 1990). "Making Interface Behavior Consistent: The HP OSF/Motif Graphical User Interface" (PDF). Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  6. ^ "1295-1993 - IEEE Standard for Information Technology--X Window System--Modular Toolkit Environment (MTE)". IEEE Computer Society. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  7. ^ "Open Group Desktop Technologies -- Motif". The Open Group.
  8. ^ Open Motif Frequently Asked Questions "For the current stable 2.1.30 release, aside from some different copyright and license statements, both Motif and Open Motif share the same functionality and source code. The primary difference between Open Motif and the commercial product is the software license".
  10. ^ Mark Hatch (May 15, 2000). "Announce: Motif release to Open Source Community leads to Open Motif Everywhere". Usenet: Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  11. ^ "ICS MotifZone". October 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2016.