Mac OS X includes a great terminal editor, but among the handful of alternatives is one that easily rises above them all. iTerm2 is our pick for the best terminal emulator for Mac OS X thanks to its vast number of time-saving features and high level of customisability.
- Provides a fully functional command line interface (CLI) for Mac OS X
- Hot key activation, creating a drop-down "visor" terminal window on command
- Split-pane view for dual terminal sessions
- Search for text in any session
- Mouse-less text selection and copying
- Paste history
- Instant Replay allows you to go back in time to review previous activity in your terminal session
- Full screen mode
- Map any key to a function
- Visual style is highly configurable
- Mouse can be used to position the cursor, highlight text and perform other functions
- Growl support
- Tabs show up as separate windows in Éxpose/Mission Control
- Create specific profiles for separate terminal sessions
- Works in many different languages
iTerm2 is a modern fork of the great but late iTerm. They are separate apps but operate on the same code base. iTerm2 is just a little more up-to-date. For the most part it'll feel a lot like the Terminal app that comes with Mac OS X, but there are plenty of additional features that make it a better option. The flashiest of these features definitely has to be Instant Replay, which allows you to rewind your terminal session and see what you just did. Autocomplete is also extremely helpful. It's not only good at figuring out what command you might be typing, but it knows what directory you're in and will fill in the names of files as well (if it detects you might be typing one, that is). But iTerm2 is particularly great because of the little things it does. Being able to select and copy text using your keyboard (as opposed to requiring the mouse), map functions to specific keys, and call up a drop-down "visor" terminal window with a hotkey are all little things that make iTerm2 the best of the bunch.
There really isn't much to complain about with iTerm2. Personally, I prefer that way the Mac OS X Terminal app handles its visual settings because they're so easy to configure and save, but that's a small gripe. Overall iTerm2 is a pleasure to use.
One obvious runner-up is the built-in Mac OS X Terminal app. On the whole it's pretty great, offering pretty fast operation, plenty of visual customisation options (with themes), a tabbed interface, window grouping, and a lot more. It's definitely a strong option and almost the best.
One feature some feel is missing from the OS X Terminal app is what Visor (Free) provides, and that's a drop-down terminal accessible via hot key. You just press the hot key and the Terminal will appear underneath your menubar, ready for commands. This is very useful for command line enthusiasts and heavy users.
Cathode ($US10) may not be a terminal emulator you want to buy, but you definitely need to download it and try it. It emulates an old machine, complete with sound effects and the look of an old CRT monitor. It may not be the most practical option, but it's definitely the coolest. Playing with it for a few minutes will definitely put a nostalgic smile on your face.
Terminator (Free) is just a simple terminal emulator. It's has nice features like automatic logging, drag-and-drop paths and a find function. It's also pretty speedy. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's just not as strong of an option. It'll get the job done but won't offer you much beyond its simplicity.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.