256 Color Mode

Revision as of 06:37, 4 February 2024 by Alex Henrie (talk | contribs) (rewrote to be more clear, point users towards workarounds that work, and drop outdated or minimally useful information)
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256-color displays that used 8 bits per pixel were commonplace in the 1990's. Each of the 256 colors was defined as a 24-bit value, so the operating system could choose an arbitrary palette of 256 colors from a selection of 16,777,216 colors. Nowadays, practically everything uses 24 bits per pixel, the video hardware has no palette, and each pixel is free to be any of the possible 16,777,216 colors. Nevertheless, some applications insist upon running in 256-color mode and refuse to run unless you reduce your display settings from 24bpp to 8bpp, which is rarely possible on modern hardware and software. If your application says that it needs 8bpp or 256 colors even though you have millions of colors available, you may be able to get it working with one of the workarounds below.


DxWnd is a remarkable tool for making old games work on new versions of Windows, and it works on Wine too! To get started, click Edit, then Add, and put the location of the misbehaving application's EXE file in the Path textbox. Depending on the application, some or all of the following settings may be helpful for forcing 256-color mode:

  • Video > Initial virtual color setting > 8 BPP
  • Video > Initial virtual color setting > Lock
  • GDI > Synchronize GDI to ddraw palette
  • Hook > Do hook update

X in X

It's possible to run an X11 server on top of an X11 server, for example running an 8bpp server for the misbehaving application on top of the 24bpp server you use for everything else. This solves the color mode problem, but your application still might not start because 3D acceleration won't be available in the nested server.

When using this approach, bear in mind:

  • You must use a window manager, and the window manager must be one that supports color palettes (e.g. Openbox).
  • Wherever :1 is written you may use :n instead, where n is an unused display number. The default display is usually :0.
  • If your shell doesn't accept the DISPLAY=:1 wine explorer syntax, you may need to use something like env DISPLAY=:1 wine explorer instead.


Once you have installed Xephyr (Ubuntu: package xserver-xephyr, in universe), you should be able to run something like the following:

Xephyr :1 -ac -screen 800x600x8 &
DISPLAY=:1 openbox &
DISPLAY=:1 wine explorer

This will create a 800x600 display, in a window, with 8-bit color, and display a Wine file explorer in it.

In some cases, you may get better results by starting Xephyr with the parameter -cc 2 to use the default Xorg palette (StaticColor) instead of the default Windows palette (PseudoColor).


Once you have installed Xnest (Ubuntu: package xnest, in main), you should be able to run the following:

Xnest :1 -depth 8 &
DISPLAY=:1 openbox &
DISPLAY=:1 wine explorer

This will create a display in a window, with 8-bit color, and display a Wine file explorer in it. Xnest depends on the parent X11 server for various things; in some cases Xnest won't work (-depth 8 fails on many systems).

Native X

Of course you can use just plain ol' X, but that will only work if your video card and driver still support palettized 8bpp displays.


xinit /usr/bin/xterm -- :1 -ac -depth 8

Then in xterm:

openbox &
wine explorer

You can switch between several running X servers and consoles by using the Ctrl+Alt+F1 ... Ctrl+Alt+F10 keyboard shortcuts. On Ubuntu, the initial X server is on tty7 (Ctrl+Alt+F7), and the new X server will be on tty9 (Ctrl+Alt+F9).

Note: You may get a "user not authorized to run the X server, aborting" error message (this happens on Debian and Ubuntu). To work around this, either run xinit as root (or with sudo), or change the allowed_users=console line in /etc/X11/Xwrapper.config to read allowed_users=anybody. If you run xinit as root, a root shell will be running in the xterm, so you need to start another xterm as your normal user (switch back to your main X server, and run DISPLAY=:1 xterm in a non-root shell). Remember: Don't run Wine as root!

Mac OS X

The X server that ships with MacOS X has a preferences setting for the color depth, simply set it where you want it and restart the X server. Done.

This page was last edited on 4 February 2024, at 06:37.