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Exciting New Terminal Emulators

by Frazer Kline

A terminal emulator is computer software which emulates a dumb video terminal within some other display architecture.

A terminal emulator allows the user to access a console and all its applications such as command line interfaces (CLI) and text user interface software. Even with modern desktop environments, it remains the case that accessing the command-line interface lets users perform tasks that would be very difficult, or too repetitive to undertake from a graphical environment. Using the command-line is often the quickest and most convenient way to perform many tasks.

Desktop environments come supplied with a number of terminal emulators. GNOME and KDE provide terminal emulators. For GNOME the default terminal emulator is GNOME Terminal. Its counterpart in KDE is Konsole. Whatever desktop environment I am using, I spend most of my time using alternative terminal emulators, particularly Terminator. It offers all of the features I love.

Even though Terminator meets all my needs, I am always on the look out for new terminal emulators that might offer a different way of working. In this article, I explore three new terminal emulators. Each of these open source applications are a long way from the finished article. The software featured here are not stable, not feature complete, and should not be used in a production environment. But they have real potential.

They are all released under an open source license. If you like experimenting with new software and use the terminal, give these three a whirl!


Terminology in action

Terminology is a fast, lean and visually enhanced open source terminal emulator.

Terminology is the terminal emulator from the Enlightenment desktop environment. It was designed to use EFL (Enlightenment Foundation Libraries) and push the boundaries of what a modern terminal emulator should be. Terminology has the main functionality of any terminal emulator including support for backgrounds, themes for layout and design, multiple tabs, block text selection, link handling, preview icons for files, support for X11 and Wayland etc.

Terminology is the default terminal emulator in the Bodhi Linux distribution. However, it can be used in other distributions, although I had problems getting the latest version to compile under Ubuntu 14.04.

The project is still in early development so do not expect a mature application. Its first day of creation was 12 June 2012.

Features include:

  • Tab support with live thumbnail content
  • Themes for layout and design
  • Custom background support. Backgrounds can be bitmap, scalable vector graphics, animated gif, or even a video (!)
  • Bitmap fonts support
  • Command mode commands
  • URL, file path and email address detection and link-handling
  • Text reflow
  • Audio keyboard
  • 256-colors support
  • Cool visual bell
  • Inline display of link content
  • Fraktur support
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Works in X11, Wayland and in the Linux framebuffer


Sylpheed in action

Final Term is billed as a new breed of terminal emulator.

Final Term is an open source terminal emulator written solely in Vala, an object-oriented programming language with a self-hosting compiler that generates C code. Final Term's source code is precision engineered with a thoroughly object oriented approach and a clean model—view—controller separation, maximizing maintainability and extensibility.

Features include:

  • Hardware-accelerated user interfaces
  • Semantic text menus
  • Smart command completion
  • GUI terminal controls
  • Omnipotent key bindings
  • Support for 24-bit RGB terminal colours
  • Text Reflow
  • Drop Down
  • Multiple terminals in one window - split terminal horizontally and/or vertically. Split terminals allow a flexible arrangement of terminals by recursively splitting existing ones either horizontally or vertically.
  • Combine split terminals with tabs. Any arrangement of tabs and split views that you can draw on paper can be realized with a few mouse clicks.
  • Emulates zsh's precmd and preexec functions, directly extracting the executed command from bash's history
  • Collapse buttons - they also double as visual indicators of the associated command's exit status
  • Script in any language simply through escape sequences
  • Terminal commands - shell commands that are executed by Final Term
  • Color schemes
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Translations
  • Website:
  • Developer: Philipp Emanuel Weidmann
  • License: GNU GPL v3
  • Version Number: 3.4.2

Final Term is being ported to Mac OS X.


Cool Old Term in action

cool-old-term is an open source terminal emulator that is in a very early stage of development. It tries to mimic the look and feel of the old cathode tube screens. The developer has not forgotten to include some eye-candy. The terminal emulator is both customizable, reasonably frugal on system resources, and looks very authentic.

I have included cool-old-term in this article not because it challenges any of the best terminal emulators. It is currently not particularly stable on my Ubuntu system. However, it makes me reminisce of my (mostly) misspent youth crouched over a blinking green monitor learning how computers worked. Happy days!

The application is written using QtQuick 5.2 and uses as its engine the Konsole QML port made by Canonical. The plugin is self-contained and there are no dependencies with KDE or GNOME.

Features include:

  • Profiles: Default Amber, Default Green, Default Pixelated, Apple ][, Vintage, IBM DOS, IBM 3278, Transparent Green
  • Configurable brightness, contrast, and opacity
  • Disable reflections option
  • Texture quality
  • Effects: Bloom, Motion Blur, Noise, Jitter, Glow, Screen Distortion, Ambient Light, Brightness flickering, Horizontal flickering
  • Full screen
  • Zoom in/out

Last Updated Sunday, July 26 2015 @ 12:37 PM EDT

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