Terminal bake-off

by Jane on June 10, 2011

Linux and OS X users:  what terminal do you use, and why? Choices include (but are not limited to) xterm, iterm2, & Terminal.

I suspect that many of use the defaults because they’re the default. I’m one of them. Please tell me what I’m missing.

Update—Kelle took the liberty of adding a poll:

Which terminal app (or apps) do you use?

View Results

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John June 10, 2011 at 8:16 am

rxvt-unicode on Linux because… I have for years. I think I switched from rxvt, but I forget why. It works. It’s lightweight. I don’t like terminals which complicate things with tabs, toolbars, menubars, antialiased fonts, etc.

Terminal.app on OS X. It’s “good enough” — iTerm2 is neat, but so far not enough to convince me to change my muscle memory to launch that instead. Maybe this thread will change my mind…


2 Victor June 10, 2011 at 10:03 am

I second rxvt-unicode. Its fast and doesn’t get in the way. If you use it with the urxvtd daemon, all terminals will depend on a single process and launch faster.

3 Christopher June 10, 2011 at 8:35 am

Just switched to ITerm2 on mac after reading about it here, love it!


4 Michael Knap June 10, 2011 at 8:38 am

I use a terminal called Guake ( http://guake.org/ ).

Why? Instant access to the CL ! With one stroke of the customizable hot key (F12), I have a terminal in front of me. Another stroke, and the terminal hides, but doesn’t close. I have setup similar functionality with other apps and combinations of apps, however my experience is that they have never been quite as robust as Guake. Also, you don’t have to “construct” functionality with Guake, it is already purposed for such functionality; you simply install it and run it upon startup.

Note: Guake is written with the GTK toolkit. There is a similar app written for KDE; I think it is called kuake, or yakuake. I prefer the gnome and gtk environments.


5 Joseph Booker June 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

Yakuake here, formerly used guake under Gnome (and before that, yakuake under fluxbox).

I use F12 for terminal and F11 to make it fullscreen, and the transparency in both these programs has come in handy.

6 Chris June 10, 2011 at 9:27 am

I use gnome-terminal and guake


7 Tiago June 10, 2011 at 9:37 am

I use Terminal.app with Visor. It is just like guake but for Mac. I just love it! Is puts all terminals on tabs, save space on your desktop while provides access to the terminals on all desktops (if you use spaces on mac to extend your desktop). Everyone should try it… 🙂


8 Marshall June 10, 2011 at 10:33 am

mrxvt. It’s a variant of the rxvt terminal that’s already been recommended, but adds tabs. This is a godsend for me given the huge fleet of terminals I usually have open. The keyboard navigation between them is great.

So, why not apple’s Terminal, given that it has tabs too? Mostly because I want my terminal program to actually be a true X11 app so it’s better integrated with the rest of my X11 tasks for things like app switching. And I find that command-shift-{ is an uncomfortable keyboard shortcut for something I do as frequently as tab switching. Lastly, the memory usage of one mrxvt session is about 2 MB while Terminal is 14 MB (checked in Activity Monitor just now). This may not make such a difference on modern machines, but it mattered a bit more back in the early 2000s when I first started using rxvt.


9 Ben Maughan June 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

I recently switched to iterm2 on the mac, and it has one killer “feature” for me – it has much better word delimitters for highlighting in the terminal. For example, if I double click the word “test-file.txt” in terminal.app, I can only highlight “test” or “file.txt” as it splits the highlighting with the “-“. Similarly for file paths, the highlighting is split on “/”. This always used to drive me nuts and I could never work out how to configure it. Happily iterm2 breaks the highlighting on whitespace, which is perfect.


10 Adam Ginsburg June 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I’m with Ben – I use iterm for small features like highlighting, auto-copy-to-clipboard-when-highlighting (Terminal has a limited version of this; it doesn’t copy to the real clipboard), and other features like null-key-when idle. I think Terminal is always improving towards iTerm, but the really small things – such as highlight-to-copy – are the most important to me since I use them the most often.


11 KT June 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm



12 David Palmer June 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm

ITerm2 which I read about here.

Also DTerm, which lets me bring up a terminal in any window on any App (e.g. go to a finder window, hit the magic keys, and I have a Bash shell which is cd’d to that directory, so I can rm *.o or whatever I want to do).

Having a terminal without having to switch windows to a terminal program is useful because I used this trick to make command line aliases of every Application. The fastest way to run, e.g. Disk Utility is to hit the DTerm keys, type Di and select Disk__Utility from the offered completions.


13 Jeremy Sanders June 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

Konsole is kool


14 Tõnis Eenmäe June 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

For everyday work I prefer also Konsole, specially the one from KDE 3.5. For IRAF – of course xgterm 🙂

When perfomance is the issue, I’ll use pterm (Putty terminal). It can spit out the text extremely quickly (compared to most terminals under X).

Of course, usinc cat to get an overview of huge ascii files is not the most productive way… fast terminals are probably needed mainly for entertainment purposes (multi users etc…).

15 Alan Stockton June 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm

If I am working in X11, I use either xterm or xgterm. But much of the time, I use the handy drop-down terminal window in CocoaTech’s Pathfinder, which I believe is based in iTerm. I seldom use the tabs, but they are there if I need them. One feature that I like is that, by doing a ^D in the terminal window, then closing and reopening, the terminal window opens in whatever directory the main PathFinder window is currently pointed to.


16 Jane Rigby July 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

Thanks for this great discussion everyone! I tried iterm2 on your suggestions. I love its features, but can’t get used to the extra keystrokes to copy text from an xemacs window and paste into iterm2. (I want to simply highlight with left click, and paste with middle click; but I have to add an Apple-C to copy. Yes that’s 2 keystrokes, but done 30x/day it adds up!) Any advice?

Also trying to figure out the focus-follows issues. (I want to switch from a native X11 window (say, ds9), to iterm2 without clicking on either window. Advice appreciated.


17 kirk July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I used to use Terminal.app, but after upgrading to Lion, Terminal.app is horrendously slow, even after switching from the new default xterm-256color terminal emulation back to xterm-color. iterm2 is much more responsive, and uses 50% less memory.


18 John July 26, 2011 at 7:48 am

Terminal.app in Lion has serious problems: every time I try to split a window, it throws an exception and dies.

That’s given me the motivation I needed to try out iTerm2, and, modulo a few annoying font rendering bugs, it’s working well.

19 John T. July 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I use good ‘ol Xterm on linux, with a dark background ’cause it’s easier on the eyes. A few customizations:
– in /etc there’s a file called DIR_COLORS, which you can edit to re-do the colors used by the “ls” command. I make directories yellow, executables green, pictures magenta, and so on.
– in vim (I edit in vim not because it is better than emacs, but because after 25 years , the vi commands have worn deep, deep grooves in my brain), I have a .vimrc file that starts with “colorscheme evening”. This does a really nice job of coloring in TeX and source code files.


20 Ben Maughan July 28, 2011 at 2:43 am

On the subject of colourschemes, another very nice dark background colour scheme is zenburn

I have my emacs and iterm follow this scheme

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