I use framebuffer-driven systems on a daily basis, but it’s rare for me to look beyond image viewers, screen grabbers or the occasional terminal font in terms of software written to take advantage of the framebuffer.
Personally I’ve never seen that mythical desktop built entirely around the framebuffer. I have been told it exists and I’ve seen some ancient screenshots, and it seems that some things, like Firefox 2 or a couple other programs, can be adjust to rely on it instead of the traditional X suite. I’d love to try it, but I’d love to try a lot of things, and I just don’t ever seem to have the time or resources.
But there are some obvious standbys: mplayer, for example, with the fbdev option for video out. Or links2 in it’s graphical form, which is a great way to surf without requiring a massive load of dependencies and still keep a visual element. zgv is often mentioned as an image viewer with framebuffer support.
Qingy is another good example. I used qingy on some Arch systems a long time ago, and what I remember was very promising. As it is though, I don’t usually need a login manager. I do that at the terminal prompt, and move on from there.
As far as framebuffer image grabbers, there are quite a few. I regularly use fbgrab on my Pentium, but I have seen fbshot, fbdump and fb2png in action as well. Which one you prefer will depend on your own tastes, coupled with your tolerance for the dependencies they draw; a couple of those have rather far-reaching demands.
The converse of those programs, the framebuffer image viewer, is likewise fairly prevalent. You probably have heard about the fbida suite, which has applications for image and PDF display. fbv is another, but for some reason it has never shown me anything but scrambled output. fim is one of my favorites, but in its latest incarnations I’ve had trouble building it. It’s still very much a work in progress.
For specific framebuffer tty work, look into fbset, fbgetty and fbterm. fbterm can be kind of fun; with the Debian version I was able to rotate the framebuffer 90 degrees and run the console at an angle. Why would you want to do that? I have no idea, but it was cool for a little while.
Three other small tools that you might find useful: Ali Gholami Rudi‘s fbff, fbpad and fbpdf. Ali mentioned these a long time ago and I dutifully tried them out and took notes. fbpdf, as you might imagine, displays PDF images, while fbpad is a framebuffer virtual terminal. fbff hooks audio and media playback through the ffmpeg libraries, which means you might get video playback on the framebuffer without relying on an enormous media player or a personalized rebuild. Judging by the updates on those git pages, Ali is actively working on those little applications too.
I think that’s about it for now. This is only a quick skim past what Debian-Ubuntu and Arch list among framebuffer-centered software, and I can vouch for just about everything that’s here. It’s by no means complete though. And if anybody out there is working from that mythical desktop rooted to the framebuffer, please let us know how you got there.