Moving Forward with Linux

Now and Then: What happened to 3 promising open source Linux terminal emulators?

Many small utilities start when an individual senses the need for a project. That person announces their brainchild, working on an initial code base, and releases an early version. The individual together with a small number of contributors further develop the program until its reached a certain level of maturity. If the key developer decides to abandon the project, it can simply wither away. Or it can be forked by an interested party and development continues.

Way back in the mists of time (OK it was early 2015), we wrote an article highlighting 3 open source terminal emulators that were in an early stage of development. Definitely not stable, feature complete or remotely ready for a production environment. But they all were very promising for different reasons.

The three terminal emulators in question are Terminology, Cool-Retro-Term, and Final Term. How have these 3 terminals fared over the last 5 years? Did they reach production quality, are they best-of-breed in their field, or only remembered like fingerprints on an abandoned handrail?

Terminology

Terminology
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This terminal emulator is designed for the Enlightenment desktop environment and aims to emulate Xterm as closely as possible. The program is based on the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries.

Terminology has seen regular releases since 2015, with improvements in theming, tab support, and a ton of bug fixes, although improvements have been at a fairly modest pace. The main developer of Terminology, Boris Faure, has significantly increased his number of commits to the project in the last couple of years.

Terminator is included in the official stable repositories for Arch Linux (under extra).

Free Terminal Emulators
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In our recent survey of terminal emulators we awarded Terminology a rating of 6.8 out of 10, a credible score but lagging behind many of its competition. To be fair, that competition is pretty fierce.

Our top rated terminal emulators are Alacritty, Terminus, Hyper and urxvt. Alacritty, Terminus and Hyper didn’t even exist in 2015. Alacritty saw its first public release in September 2018. Terminus’s development commenced in 2017 and Hyper’s first release was back in July 2016. The rapid progress of these 3 programs has far outpaced Terminology’s development.

Out of the top 4 emulators, only urxvt (rxvt-unicode) is a long-standing project with its first official release way back in 2003. It’s a fork of the famous terminal emulator rxvt, a project that started in the previous century.

Cool-Retro-Term

A screen grab of Cool-Retro-Term really cannot do it justice, so here’s a very short video (1 minute) showing the program in action. As you can see, this terminal emulator mimics the look and feel of old cathode tube screens.

Cool-Retro-Term saw it’s 1.0.0 release in 2015 which offered a shed load of performance improvements. Since then, development has been fairly modest with the last release back in January 2019.

Cool-Retro-Term remains a bit of a curio, and it didn’t quite make our recent terminal emulator roundup. However, we appear at odds with the Linux community, as the project is very well received attracting over 13,000 GitHub stars.

Cool-Retro-Term is included in the official stable repositories for Arch Linux (under Community). This means the package has been adopted by a Trusted User from the Arch User Repository. Like Terminology, it’s also available in repositories for other popular Linux distributions.

Final Term

Final Term was billed as a new breed of terminal emulator. Written in Vala, it took an object oriented approach with a clean model–view–controller separation.

Final Term started in 2013 and was developed off and on for 2 years. It didn’t see any significant development in that second year. In May 2015, the project’s developer publicly declared his project was abandoned. This was partly for personal reasons due to time constraints and also because the project was deeply linked to Mx, a widget toolkit using Clutter that provided a set of standard interface elements, including buttons, progress bars, scroll bars and others. Mx saw its last release in 2012.

With no development of a central toolkit, this meant Final Term, as standing, was not viable. Of course, it’s possible to rewrite a project to use an alternative toolkit, but that can represent significant work. In fact, another developer did take on the project porting Final Term to GTK+ 3.0, but that port was abandoned too.

Summary

With 2 of the 3 terminal emulators still going strong with a well established and mature code base, that’s a pretty good outcome. While new entrants have definitely surpassed them, we still retain a fond spot for Terminator.


All the articles in this series:

Now and Then - See How Promising Open Source Software Has Fared
Programming LanguagesGo, Rust, Dart, Julia, Clojure, Elixir and more
File ManagersSpaceFM, gentoo, Marlin, Eagle Mode, and Beesoft Commander
DistributionsThe fate of 15 distributions
Lean Desktop EnvironmentsXfce, ROX Desktop, LXDE, FVWM-Crystal, EDE, and √Čtoil√©
IDEsBrackets, Light Table, Julia Studio, Dart Editor, and Aptana Studio
Music Playersqomp, Lollypop, Yarock, Pragha, and Volumio
Web Browserseww, Liri, Vivaldi, Ubuntu Internet Browser, Fifth, Dooscape, and Breach
Terminal EmulatorsTerminology, Cool-Retro-Term, and Final Term
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