I switched to Linux around 2003, and eventually wound up on Gentoo with an XFCE desktop. That gave me just about all the latitude one could hope for in customizability, and so I installed a little script that used daytime and nighttime satellite images of the earth to synthesize a map, showing city lights in the places where it’s currently night, etc. It was actually almost useful, when communicating across time zones. The script would also download the latest cloud images from NASA every day, so I could watch hurricanes and fronts roll across the map. Fun stuff.
Eventually I discovered that NASA publishes aurora maps, and I hacked the script to download daily aurora images and overlay them too.
That was maybe 2007.
I just got a new phone, and one of the default backdrops available is a world map exactly like the one I found in 2005, but rendered as a globe. It even has the updated cloud map. In a way this feels like a microcosm of the story that’s played out recently with quadcopters and 3d printing, where hobbyists have been about ten years ahead of the mainstream.
No aurora though.