Playing with the Terminal

tiny Terminal Perhaps ironically, one of the great technological advances of OS X over previous versions is the availability of a command line. Someday we won’t need this, but today it turns out that the pure point-n-click GUI was something of a premature optimization, and that in fact certain types of users find they work faster and better when typing commands.

While its simplicity is part of its charm, terminal applications invite tweaking. One of the earliest celebrated novelties of OS X was’s option for translucent windows. I initially thought this was useless, but have come to really appreciate it. With the right opacity setting, you hardly notice the background, yet when you refocus your attention you can see it easily. It’s like having on-demand X-ray vision!

The image above shows another seemingly useless trick that I find helpful occasionally: if you resize the font down to unreadable levels, you can still see activity – so that, for example you can see when a long build is done.

There are third-party alternatives like GLterm and iTerm which have their followers (I used iTerm’s nice embedabble framework to tack a terminal drawer onto the editing window of the ill-fated Saskatoon editor project). There’s also exterminal, which lets the terminal take over the entire display (example).

For the full retro trip, though, try glterminal, which (assuming it runs on your machine) offers adjustable flicker, distortion, and lag, just like in the old days. Except that in the old days, it wasn’t adjustable.