I’m a fan of the command line. For many things there’s just no faster way to get things done on my computer. I previously looked at Console, a terminal emulator for Windows that makes the command line experience better by adding tabs among other extensions.
Shortly after that article was published I became aware of another terminal emulator called ConEmu. After using both I’ve largely moved to ConEmu. Why? Let’s look at ConEmu and why it’s become my new favorite.
What is ConEmu?
ComEmu is a console emulator with tabs that runs in Windows 2000 or later. The program was initially created to be a companion to the FAR shell replacement. It’s evolved into a full featured terminal emulator which can be used with any shell, console application, and many tools such as PuTTY. The program is in active and rapid development and new features are being added regularly.
In spite of being a command line tool, it integrates well with the Windows environment. It supports Jump Lists in Windows 7 letting you start a new terminal attached to whatever list you want from the Windows 7 taskbar. Amazingly it can also detect ongoing operations in many programs such as 7-zip and chkdsk and display a progress bar in the taskbar for the operation.
This simple indicator can let you know the status of a long running operation without the need to flip back to it to check in. ConEmu lets you easily update Windows Explorer to add options to open the program to the context menu. This integration let’s you open either a Cmd or Powershell shell from any directory by right clicking and selecting the option.
ConEmu lets you open multiple terminals into separate tabs. Each terminal can connect to a different shell or multiple terminals can connect to the same shell. A nice feature is that you can capture already open shells and bring them into ConEmu. It’s also easy to launch a terminal as a user other than yourself. Need a command prompt running as administrator? Simply check a box on the dialog when you start a new shell and you have one. A nice touch is that a small administrator icon shows up on the tab to make it easier to find the terminal running in this mode.
A nice feature is that you can capture already open shells and bring them into ConEmu.
You can also not only select text in the window and copy it to the clipboard, but also use box selection. Box selection lets you select text in a rectangular shape instead of continuous lines of text. This allows you to easily select a single column out of displayed text in column format. It’s a feature that I don’t need often, but when I do it saves a lot of time compared to multiple copy/paste operations.
ConEmu feels like a terminal designed for those who really use the command line often.
ConEmu feels like a terminal designed for those who really use the command line often. The status bar provides an a lot of information about your session at a glance. You can customize the information you wish to appear and change what shows at any time from a popup menu shown by clicking on the status bar.
And these items aren’t just for display. The CAPS icons not only lets you know if Caps Lock is pressed, but clicking the icon will toggle it. A very useful feature when scrolling through long listings or text is the display of the current screen in comparison to the full buffer.
Options and Features
ConEmu is very customizable. In fact, it seems that everything in the program form the key to press when you want to select text to the color of the status bar can be changed. The cusomization is targeted at the power user to produce an environment exactly the way you want, but it can feel a bit daunting to look at hundred of settings at one time.
I still find new features and options every time I go into the settings window.
Your first glance at the settings dialog will leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. I still find new features and options every time I go into the settings window. It would be nice to see the settings laid out in a more organized fashion to reduce the overload. I would also like to see some of the more common and useful setting made to stand out or be easier to find.
Outside of the complex settings dialog, the program has plenty of small touches. There is an option to automatically update the program and you can choose to only update to stable versions or to download any updates including developer versions. You can set the window transparent and customize the font and colors for the terminal. It also has a handy setting to keep the console window always on top. This feature works very nicely when you set the window transparency.
It’s similar to Console, but passes it in features and customization options. Everything I liked and used in Console is here, but more those options can be extended. Tools that target the command line really are meant for the power user in today’s computing environment. ConEmu feels built by the power user for other power users. It’s a tool for those who not only want to spend time in the command line, but enjoys doing so.
The small things often add up in programs and ConEmu is that program. There are so many small features that save time or let you do things faster and easier that it takes time to find them all. It feels like the extension of what Console begun, a better command line wrapper for those who spend time there. While the options can seem overwhelming, the ability to customize the program will appeal to any power user. If you spend time at the command line, try ConEmu and you’ll likely enjoy that time more.