Windows' built-in command line programs aren't that great on their own. To make them better, we like to use third-party terminal programs, our favourite being the customisable and free Console.
Note: For this App Directory entry, we're talking about separate terminal programs, not shells. Windows' Command Prompt, PowerShell and Cygwin are all different shells that come with their own programs. The programs we're talking about today are separate programs that use shells already on your system, which is why you won't find PowerShell and Cygwin among the competitors.
- Provides a fully functional command line interface (CLI) that can run any existing shell on Windows — like PowerShell, Cygwin, or even PuTTY
- Open multiple tabs using any shell you want
- Text editor-like text selection
- Multiple window styles
- Configurable fonts, colours and transparency
- Lots of customisable hotkeys for opening new tabs, switching between tabs, and scrolling
Console is simple and easy to use while at the same time being much more configurable than any single-shelled program, while holding the ability to run any of those shells in a new tab — whether it be the UNIX-like Cygwin, Windows' very useful PowerShell, SSH king PuTTY, or the standard Windows Command Prompt. You can configure what the window looks like, open multiple tabs, and even run a number of different shells at once in the same window. It also has quite a few options for tweaking the behaviour of the app, like how it selects text, which hotkeys and mouse buttons do what, and so on. If you ever do any work in a terminal on Windows, this program will make your life a little bit easier.
If you're a very heavy or very advanced terminal user, you may want something even more powerful than Console. Console isn't the most feature-filled terminal on the block, but that's a good thing — most other terminal programs are way more powerful, cluttered, and expensive than most users need. So, if you're looking for something with built-in search or line numbers, you may want to check out the competition section below.
The competition for apps like this is pretty thin on Windows. If you don't like Console, you'll probably want to check out PowerCmd as your next option. It's a bit pricier at $US30, but it contains a few extra features like the ability to search your consoles, view multiple sessions in one big window, line numbering, and add bookmarks on certain lines. It's definitely not an app that most terminal users will need, and it's a bit slower than something like Console, but advanced users will probably prefer it.
If you're a really advanced user that requires a powerful terminal every day, you might want to try out Take Command. It's very expensive ($US99), but also insanely powerful, adding more than 140 new commands and 460 internal functions and variables to the standard Windows command prompt (not to mention a built-in file manager and debugger). It's definitely geared more toward developers than end users, but it's worth a mention for its sheer power alone.
Lastly, if the only shells you use are Cygwin or MSYS/MinGW, you might prefer Mintty over Console. Cygwin's default program isn't very great, and Mintty gives you a few extra options over Console, but doesn't let you run other shells (like the Command Prompt or PowerShell), so it isn't quite as useful. Mintty is also free.
Do you have a favourite terminal program we didn't mention? Be sure to let us know about it in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.