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Apple’s Terminal app on the Mac is a great tool for diving into the command line, but it isn’t the only option available. The Mac Observer rounded up several alternatives to Terminal you can use to flex your macOS command line muscles.

Most people can use their Macs without ever needing to dive under macOS’s graphic interface. If you need to, or just want to, get some command line action going on the first place to go is Apple’s own Terminal app. It’s hiding in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder on your Mac.

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If the Terminal app doesn’t get you all excited, check out these alternatives:


iTerm2 lets you slice up a single window into multiple panes, each with its own independent session. It also sports a robust search tool, auto-complete for commands, multiple profile support, and more. iTerm2 is a free download, and the developers accept donations.


Hyper is a terminal app that also supports JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. The developers are always working on new features and you can create your own plug-ins, too. Hyper is a free download.


Upterm calls itself “A terminal emulator for the 21st century.” It’s both a terminal app and an IDE, or integrated development environment. In other words, you can bang out terminal commands and code in the same app. Upterm used to be called Black Screen. It’s a free download.


Terminator lets you group together multiple terminal windows in a grid. In fact, you can make some ridiculously complicated layouts if you want. It also supports tabs, and you can even type in multiple terminal instances at the same time. Terminator is a free download.

PowerShell Core

PowerShell Core lets you work with Microsoft’s PowerShell automation framework and work with the command line at the same time. The idea was to make a tool IT teams can use to automate routine tasks and configure systems, but it’s useful outside of that scope, too. PowerShell Core is a free download.


Alacritty is a terminal app that gets a boost from your Mac’s GPU for better performance. It isn’t overloaded with features, but doesn’t cut out what you most likely need. The developers say its OpenGL support makes it the fastest terminal app around. Alacritty is a free download.


ZOC is a terminal app and SSH client. It emulates Emulations: xterm, VT220, TN3270, TN5250, Wyse, and QNX, plus supports communication SSH, Telnet, Rlogin, Modem, and Serial Cable. You can try out ZOC free for 30 days, and it’s priced at US$79.99.

Download Cathode For Mac


MacTerm is billed as “a better Terminal” thanks to its tabbed window interface, 24-bit color support, powerful search support, macro support, session management, and more. MacTerm is free to download.


Cathode is a full-featured terminal app that looks decidedly old school with its retro CRT-like interface. You can customize how your terminal window looks and work in full-screen mode—a great way to really confuse people who like to look over your shoulder at coffee shops. The app is also a text editor, so it’s handy for people who don’t need to get at their Mac’s command line. Cathode is priced at $4.99 and is available for download at Apple’s Mac App Store.

Getting Started with the Mac Command Line

Even if you’re content with controlling your Mac from the graphic interface playing with the command line can still be fun, or at least educational. If you want to learn more about Terminal and getting started with the command line check out TMO’s list of the five best Terminal commands.

For a seasoned Terminal veteran, the various text editors like vi, emacs, and nano, may offer all the tools needed for getting the job done, but for those less familiar, managing these tools can be cumbersome. @0xC0000022L: for someone fairly new to using the command line, “in the terminal and not in some text editor” could easily mean “in some utility within the terminal, not in some text editor that opens in a separate window”.

[robg adds: While I could make this script work for files on a one-at-a-time basis, I could not get the Change All solution to work -- regardless of how I specified the app, or set the file's extension, Change All had no effect. Only the selected file was modified to open with vi; a commenter on the queue review site had the same experience. If you know how to resolve that issue, please comment...]

This is because the applet doesn't have a unique bundle identifier or bundle signature ('creator code') by default; when Script Editor saves an Application Bundle (or a PPC-only Application), it uses the dplt (or aplt, for applets that don't handle on open) bundle signature (and does not specify a bundle identifier at all). dplt and aplt are shared with every other applet/droplet on your Mac—not useful for trying to set a default binding to a specific app….

First, make sure you're saving the script as an 'Application Bundle' in Script Editor, not an 'Application', because you can't fix this problem with an old-school 'Application' (and because Applications are PPC-only; who wants to start Rosetta to launch vi on an Intel Mac?!).

The easiest way to fix this is to change the bundle signature in your applet's Info.plist and PkgInfo files to something unique; I used dpVI when verifying this. 'Show Package Contents' on your app and open both of those files in a text editor (vi, even!) and find dplt in each file, replace it with dpVI, and save. Finally, move the out of the Applications folder to the Desktop, and then back in to Applications (to get LaunchServices to pick up your Info.plist changes). The drawback to this change is that every time you open the app in Script Editor to make further changes, you have to dismiss an alert about the app not being scriptable.

You could also (or in addition) add a CFBundleIdentifier key to the Info.plist, something like:

Simply add that with your favorite text editor (or Property List Editor) among the other CFBundle* keys in your Info.plist, save, and repeat the 'move the app from the Applications folder' dance to get LaunchServices on board. If it still doesn't work, be sure to launch the app once manually (by double-clicking) to clear the 'you've never run this app before' roadblock, but that roadblock shouldn't be hit by apps built on your own Mac.

Do you spend half your life inside the OS X Terminal4 Cool Things You Can Do With The Mac Terminal4 Cool Things You Can Do With The Mac TerminalThe Terminal is the Mac OS X analogue of the Windows command prompt, or CMD. It's a tool, as you probably already know, that allows you to control your computer using text commands, as opposed...Read More? Is a plain text editor your second home? Do you need to SSH into a server on a regular basis? Perhaps you’re always found editing your hosts file with nanoHow To Edit The Mac OS X Hosts File (And Why You Might Want To)How To Edit The Mac OS X Hosts File (And Why You Might Want To)The hosts file is used by your computer to map hostnames to IP addresses. By adding or removing lines to your hosts file you can change where certain domains will point when you access them...Read More, or maybe you’re like me and do most of your online writing offline first.

Whatever you do with Terminal or TextEdit there’s no denying they’re each a bit boring and basic, and certainly not retro enough for my liking. Cathode ($10) and Blinky ($5) are two very stylish replacements that bring a touch of old-school jitter and grime to your pristine OS X desktop.

If you’re a sucker for classic computers, blinking green command prompts and magnetic interference you’ve just hit the jackpot.

Cathode, Replacement For Terminal

First, let’s make one thing very clear. Cathode doesn’t really add much functionality to your Mac beyond what it can already do. There are refinements, but the Terminal app in OS X is already full-featured enough for most non power-users. Cathode merely adds a degree of style to command-line based computing.

It features unique and accurate emulation of some classic command lines of the past alongside additions like a dynamic scrollback buffer, unicode support, 256 colours and a smattering of retro fonts. In terms of added refinements users can drag and drop files, customise keyboard shortcuts, use the mouse to copy and paste and open URLs with a cmd+click. These features alone probably won’t have to reaching for a crisp $10, but the aesthetics might.

Cathode will appeal to those of you who miss degaussing your monitor and the analog warmth that can only be provided by a cathode ray tube. If you long for the days of big visible pixels, image retention and instant-on command line interfaces, Cathode will make you smile. It might even make the hours you spend feeding text into a blinking prompt “fun”!

The app costs $10 but there’s a free trial version, which last indefinitely. The limitations of the trial version is that the quality of the command line will degrade beyond a usable point until you quit and re-launch the program. You can see the extent of this degradation over the course of about 30 minutes in the screenshot below (the “clean” image is above).

Blinky, A Text Editor

Blinky uses the exact same concept as Cathode except it’s a replacement for TextEdit, the default OS X text editor. The program feels like Cathode’s younger sibling and has now become my go-to text editor for writing articles. In fact, I’m typing this straight into it. One immediately noticeable trait is that, unlike TextEditor, Blinky does not do rich text formatting. This means it’s most suited to coders or programmers and bloggers who don’t mind a few HTML tags here and there. You might not want to format your CV using it, but it’s great for writing blog posts locally or editing CSS.

Adding transparency to the window using the slider in Preferences will provide what I have found to be Blinky’s only useful effect. Similarly, opening an image file (using drag and drop) converts it into ASCII art, which you can then screenshot using the File menu. These are probably the only “features” that Blinky has over TextEdit, but that’s not to say I haven’t had way more fun using Blinky. As someone who seems to spend half their life inside of a text editor, I absolutely love it.

Unlike Cathode, Blinky has no trial mode and instead must be purchased straight-up for $4.99 from the Mac App Store. If you’re only interested in Blinky but want to demo it first then you might as well download the Cathode trial, as the two are virtually identical in appearance (though not in functionality, obviously).

If there’s one thing I would like to see added to Blinky it’s iCloud support for saving documents to the cloud. TextEdit has this, and other apps can now use Apple’s cloud storage system provided they’re using the Mac App Store. Some of my colleagues swear by smart editors like SublimeTextTry Out Sublime Text 2 For Your Cross-Platform Code Editing NeedsTry Out Sublime Text 2 For Your Cross-Platform Code Editing NeedsSublime Text 2 is a cross-platform code editor I only recently heard about, and I have to say I'm really impressed despite the beta label. You can download the full app without paying a penny...Read More and TextWranglerTextWrangler Just Might Be The Best Free Text Editor [Mac]TextWrangler Just Might Be The Best Free Text Editor [Mac]Use an advanced text editor on your Mac, free of charge. TextWrangler comes complete with code highlighting for most major languages and a whole lot more – and it's free. If you even occasionally edit...Read More, but for all their extensions, macros and time-saving functions I’d rather stick with Blinky. Neither it nor Cathode are the most useful apps of their kind, but there’s little denying they’re probably the best-looking replacements for Terminal and TextEdit out there.

Massively Customisable

Cathode splits its style options into two clear sections – the console and the monitor. Both are different, so you can mix and match any style that suits you. Blinky uses the same array of monitors but provides separate settings for fonts, rather than defined themes. You can also throw caution to the wind and create your own profiles and themes for each.

Text Editor For Mac Terminal Commands

These vary massively between simple monochrome old DOS-like prompts to the Commodore-inspired “C86” and iconic green-on-black “Pomme”. Fonts and text size vary between each, though its easy to customise using the sliders provided (the settings panels pictured refer specifically to Cathode).

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The Monitor settings panel offers the biggest range of customisation options, and as well as choosing from 14 presets, dragging the sliders around and clicking Save As… allows you to create your own monitor presets too. There are some really cool models here – from borderline-detuned TV setting “1986 TV” to the transparent, mildly curved “Teddy Boy”.

The picture can be distorted as you see fit using yet more sliders, with options for “overbright” and “burn-in” among others. Long ago many would have longed to see the back of jittery, de-synced monitors but now you can artificially induce your own monitor failure!

There are also sounds to accompany your visual distortions. On launching both Cathode and Blinky you’ll hear a decidedly old-school fanfare noise and on the Sound preferences tab you can change or enable even more audio accompaniments. In Blinky the sound that accompanies each keystroke could get annoying, but I personally don’t do enough with the command line to find the bleeps worth turning off in Cathode.

Attention to Detail

You’ll probably already be forming an idea of whether you think Cathode and Blinky are “worth it” merely for some aesthetic choices that some might consider a hindrance to their productivity. Not so, says I and If this vintage effect also appeals to you, you will adore the overall polish and attention to detail.

Both apps include the ability to shoot a picture of your office using your webcam and display it as if it were a reflection in your 1980s monitor. You can also decrease the speed at which the terminal returns information to a minimum of 110 bps, on a par with early dial-up modems – for seriously slow computing.

The immersive nature provided by Cathode and Blinky allows you to escape to a past you may or may not remember. This is software for those who feel a pang of sadness when they see an old 386 by the side of the road. It’s for people who use command lines and plain text often, and to whom $15 all-in is fair price for sprucing up the office. They’re a bit of fun, in an otherwise stark and utilitarian software market – and worth every penny.

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Download:Cathode for Mac OS X ($10, free to try)

Download:Blinky for Mac OS X ($4.99)

Text Editor In Command Prompt

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Have you used Cathode? Does a vintage console emulator appeal to you? Let us know what you think in the comments, below.

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Edit File In Terminal

  1. I became nostalgic when I saw the pictures but I think I can leave that time without missing it ;)

  2. You can change the font and display colors of your regular terminal on OS X and on Linux or any other Posix-core OS.

    There are a good number of terminal style fonts available, with nice block-formed edges.

    However, bit-fade is an additional effect. There is no way to apply it without seriously modifying either the display handler or the terminal program.