New approaches to terminal emulator applications

Terminal Emulator IconThe terminal emulator is an ancient but essential tool in the arsenal of any advanced computer user. The terminal emulator allows one to access the command line shell interface of the operating system while working in a graphical environment. The existence of the terminal emulator allows one to simultaneously enjoy both the visual appeal and discoverability of graphical desktop applications and the accurate efficiency and expressiveness of a command-line interface.

While the graphical computing environments have been undergoing a user-experience driven revolution in recent years, the terminals emulators have seen little change. There have been some superficial additions such as tabs and split windows, but in essence today’s terminal emulators still closely resemble their hardware counterparts of old.

Recently there have been attempts to bring modern UI concepts to the terminal emulator and give it a modern overhaul.


XikiXiki takes a different approach to the problem by bringing the command line out of the terminal emulator and into the text editor. Instead of letting the user simply type commands and then presenting the results. Xiki allows one to embed commands in text files and then invoke them, interact with the results, change the commands and run them again.

Xiki does not only support shell commands, it also allows one to use commands from various scripting languages such as ruby and python, ans also use SQL.

In essence xiki takes the GUI workbook concept from tools such as IPython Notebook and Matlab and apply them to the wider context of shell and scripting languages. I’m afraid this style of UI lends itself to a certain research and documentation oriented work-flow, that is not suitable for all users.

Final Term

Final TermFinal Term is a new kind of terminal emulator that is enhanced with various kinds of graphical tools and features such as drop-down command completion menus, automatic re-flow of content, graphical progress bars and drill-down links embedded and generated from command output. If that is not enough, the developers intend to include all window management tools that can be found in other terminal emulators such as tabs, split windows and support for dropping down from the top of the screen.

This project seems to me the most likely to bring practical change to the way terminal emulators are used.


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