The battle of windows command line interfaces.

Choosing a shells console or terminals  on an OS can get pretty tricky. Everyone has there hand of habits and choices. The sheer number of options can make it difficult to choose the best option for you. I’ve been through several iterations of several terminals and think I’ve finally found the one that fits my needs the most. On windows the choices are slightly different to OSX since for most people the standard terminal is quite adequate. I can’t say the same on windows. Though the good news is you have plenty of options.

Just to give an idea of the options on windows here is a list terminals that have crossed my path while some are much more than just a terminal I’ve used them all as a terminal access at some point:

  • Powershell
  • Cmd
  • Putty
  • Cygwin
  • secureCRT
  • Console2
  • Puttytray

I know what you’re thinking it’s not fair to call all these just a console, obviously cygwin is much more than that. It’s actually a Linux environment in windows with most of the Linux system commands and libraries compiled for windows. Similarly powershell offers a whole different set of shell commands that can make you rethink shell scripting.

I’ll try to go over the basics of them.

I’ll start with cmd since it’s the command line we’ve all had to use at some point in our lives. With a bit of work through installing linux tools on windows and configuring of the openssh you can start to get a bit done with this though the terminal emulation falls apart when we SSH into other machines. Thus simply  re-adjusting the screen size of the console while SSH’d can cause massive headaches.

CYGWIN is probably the most wholesome answer out there but it’s quite a commitment with respect to disk space and the install process takes a bit of time, though we’re talking about a full blown bash env here with actual package management.

If you’re generally just looking to SSH somewhere else you’ve probably already played with Putty. The largely unchanged ssh tools that just works. Even though this is great I’ve found it lacking some features like auto reconnecting when the server connection drops.

Also adjusting the colors on Putty can be a bit of a nightmare but thanks to Ilya Grigorik you can download some pre made shell color templates on his website. I have to say that these make a huge difference. So hats off to Ilya.

Side by side comparison of color schemes:

Color scheme comparison

Color scheme comparison

Also putty tray is an incremental add on Putty which supports links within the terminal and also things like auto reconnecting. These are just really big nice to haves when working in a CLI. So the upgrade is very incremental and definitely makes life much more pleasant. (Oh and you can also change the taskbar icon …. I know!)

SecureCRT has always been a favorite of many of my peers allowing you to do SCP and SSH in multiple tabas quite nicely. My biggest problem has always been that it’s not free. Else also a great option.

Recently I stumbled upon (no puns intended) Console2. I had very high hopes on Console2 as a cmd replacement. It’s much more configurable than cmd.exe and offers better terminal emulation support. Though there are just a few things about it that I couldn’t really get used to.  Like the extensive functions around resizing windows. This shouldn’t be that difficult to simply resize a console. It feels like they took the goods and bads of the windows command line on this one.

I think I’ll leave it at that for now. Let me know if you think this is helpful.



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