The Command Prompt window included with Windows is outdated. The command line itself isn’t outdated – the Command Prompt just lacks modern features like tabs, transparency, support for other shells, easy selection of text, and other modern Windows features.
If you spend any time at all with the Command Prompt, you’ll want to check out one of these two open-source Command Prompt replacements that improves on the original Command Prompt.
ConEmu, also known as ConEmu-Maximus5, is the latest entry in the battle of the Windows consoles. It’s packed with options and is extremely customizable.
The default screen shows a status bar packed with information and a tab bar. You can also enable transparency for some eye candy.
If you prefer not to use real transparency, you can set a custom background image (sort of like a wallpaper) for your console. ConEmu also has the ability to function as a Quake-style console that slides down from the top of your screen when activated.
From the Tasks pane in ConEmu’s settings, you can create jump-list entries for the Windows 7 or 8 taskbar that allow you to easily launch frequently used commands and alternative shells, such as PowerShell. You can also embed some simple GUI applications in a ConEmu tab. For example, you can have a PuTTY SSH console run in a ConEmu tab. Just use the putty.exe -new_console argument.
ConEmu even shows a progress bar on its taskbar entry when possible, such as when using the chkdsk command.
Whatever option you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it in ConEmu’s extensive settings. For example, you can specify different settings based on what application is running in the ConEmu window.
ConEmu also integrates with Far Manager, a text-based file manager similar to Norton Commander. You can even drag and drop files within the text-mode file manager.
Console2 is less configurable than ConEmu, but still manages to pack in important features such as tabs and the ability to run a different shell in each tab. For example, with either program, you could have a standard Command Prompt shell, an elevated console, and a PowerShell console open – all at the same time in the same window. You can easily create new tabs of any type from within the program itself without having to dig through your start menu.
Note that this feature isn’t configured by default and you’ll have to add other entries, such as PowerShell, yourself.
Console2’s settings window is much less extensive than ConEmu’s, but Console2 is still a significant improvement over the Command Prompt.
As with ConEmu, you can set a custom background or use real window transparency. Each type of console tab can have its own unique background image or you can just use your desktop wallpaper with a custom tint. Tabs themselves can be renamed and otherwise customized.
These applications both soundly beat out the default command prompt. If you use the command line on Windows, the ability to have tabs, multiple different shells in the same window, and other features can improve your productivity. These applications aren’t just eye candy – although they offer eye candy, too.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 11/29/12