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The New Windows Terminal Is Ready; Here’s Why It’s Amazing

The Windows Terminal as depicted in Microsoft's announcement video.
Microsoft

Microsoft’s new Windows Terminal is finally stable. Windows finally has a more modern terminal environment including features like tabs, split panes, multiple session types, and settings that let you configure everything from keyboard shortcuts to animated GIF backgrounds.

Finally, a More Modern Terminal For Windows

At Build 2020 on May 19, 2020, Microsoft announced that the new Windows Terminal was stable and “ready for enterprise use.” Windows Terminal version 1.0 is here. It was originally announced at Build 2019, and Microsoft even prepared a flashy video to sell how awesome it is.

The new Windows Terminal is packed with useful features. Features aside, the core of the console environment has been modernized. Windows 10 has a built-in terminal environment that’s all about backward compatibility, so these changes couldn’t happen to Windows 10’s built-in console environment.

With the new Windows Terminal, Microsoft was able to make changes like a more modern text layout and rendering engine with GPU acceleration and support for Unicode text—you can even use emoji in the Terminal. Copy and Paste “just work” when you press Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. There’s even a new font, named Cascadia Code.

You can download the Windows Terminal from the Microsoft Store. You can even get the source code on GitHub. Yes, the new Windows Terminal is even open-source.

Tabs, Finally!

PowerShell and Command Prompt tabs in Windows Terminal.

Windows finally has a command-line environment with built-in tabs. To open a new tab after launching the Terminal, just click the “+” button on the tab bar or press Ctrl+Shift+T.

You can use familiar keyboard shortcuts to move through the tabs, like Ctrl+Tab to switch to the tab on the right and Ctrl+Shift+Tab to switch to the tab on the left. Ctrl+Shift+W will close the current tab.

You can drag and drop the tabs to reorder them on the tab bar, too.

PowerShell and Linux in the Same Window

New Tab options in the Windows Terminal.

By default, the Terminal will open PowerShell tabs. But it supports many types of shell environments. You can now have multiple types of shell environment in the same window.

If you click the arrow to the right of the New Tab button, you’ll see a list of sessions you can open: Windows PowerShell, Command Prompt, Linux distributions like Ubuntu (if you have them installed with the Windows Subsystem for Linux), and Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Shell.

With Windows 10’s built-in SSH client, you can easily start SSH sessions from the Windows Terminal, too.

Split Panes for Multiple Shells at Once

Using split panes in the Windows Terminal

Tabs are great, but what if you want to see multiple shell environments at once? That’s where the Windows Terminal’s Panes feature comes in.

To create a new pane, press Alt+Shift+D. The Terminal will split the current pane into two and give you a second one. Click a pane to select it. You can click a pane and press Alt+Shift+D to keep splitting it.

These panes are linked to tabs, so you can easily have several multi-pane environments in the same Windows Terminal window and switch between them from the tab bar.

Here are some other keyboard shortcuts for working with panes:

  • Create a new pane, splitting horizontally: Alt+Shift+- (Alt, Shift, and a minus sign)
  • Create a new pane, splitting vertically: Alt+Shift++ (Alt, Shift, and a plus sign)
  • Move pane focus: Alt+Left, Alt+Right, Alt+Down, Alt+Up
  • Resize the focused pane: Alt+Shift+Left, Alt+Shift+Right, Alt+Shift+Down, Alt+Shift+Up
  • Close a pane: Ctrl+Shift+W

These are the default hotkeys, and you can change them if you like.

Better Zooming

Zoomed in text in the Windows Terminal.

That new text-rendering system means smoother, better zooming. To zoom and enlarge or shrink the text in the terminal, hold Ctrl and rotate the mouse wheel.

In Windows 10’s built-in console environment, as seen in the standard PowerShell and Command Prompt windows, this will change the size of the text while also changing the size of the window. In the new Terminal, it changes only the size of the text and leaves the window size alone.

Shiny Background Opacity

Opacity in the Windows Terminal on Windows 10.

The new Windows Terminal offers background opacity, too. Hold Ctrl+Shift and scroll down with the mouse wheel to make the window increasingly translucent. The colors of your desktop background—or whatever is behind the Terminal—will peek through with a Windows “Acrylic” style effect.

This only works when the application is focused—so, when you Alt+Tab away, the Terminal will have a solid background again until you Alt+Tab back.

Practical or not, it’s a feature Linux and Mac users have had for many years. Now, it’s built into the premier Windows terminal application, too.

So Many Settings: Keybindings, Color Schemes, Backgrounds, and More

A light color scheme with a white background in the Windows Terminal.

The Windows Terminal is packed with customization options you can change. To access them, click the down arrow to the right of the New Tab button and select “Settings.”

You’ll see a text-based JSON file full of options. As a developer tool, Windows Terminal currently makes you configure these options by modifying the text file rather than with a graphical interface.

Available options you can change in the Settings.json file include:

  • Configurable key bindings: You can bind keyboard shortcuts to actions or change the default keyboard shortcuts.
  • Color schemes: Change the color scheme (theme) of the terminal environment. Here’s a list of the included color schemes.
  • Profiles: Create different profiles that will appear under the New Tab button. You can customize the command that’s executed when you start the command-line environment and set custom fonts and color schemes for each session.
  • Custom backgrounds: You can set a custom background image for a session. For example, you could change your Ubuntu session so that it had a Ubuntu-themed custom background image.
  • Animated GIF backgrounds: You can even set an animated GIF as your custom background.
  • Default profile selection: Choose the profile you want to launch by default when you launch Windows Terminal or click the New Tab button. For example, you could choose a Linux session instead of PowerShell.

Microsoft has a guide to editing the Windows Terminal JSON settings file as well as a list of all the options you can add to the file. You’ll find many more options we didn’t cover here on that list.

Unlike the standard Command Prompt, PowerShell, and Linux Bash shell environments on Windows 10, the Windows Terminal is finally packed with the options developers want—ones that have been found on other operating systems like Mac and Linux for years.

Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor in Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for nearly a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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