What terminal emulators I use when

March 7, 2011

Recently I mentioned in passing that I use several different X Windows terminal emulators, depending on the circumstances. A commentator sensibly asked what the circumstances were. I routinely use three different terminal emulators; xterm, 9term (which is more of a non-terminal emulator), and gnome-terminal.

Gnome-terminal gets used when I need something that is completely set up for UTF-8 or modern character graphics. I don't like it as much as the other two alternatives (and the Gnome people keep making questionable user interface choices), but sometimes it's what I need, warts and all. One common need for modern character graphics is apt-get's periodic dialog boxes for questions, and another is various menu-based serial console management interfaces for things like switches.

9term is normally my first choice for many things, basically any time I don't need either actual terminal emulation (for, eg, vi or su) or easy copy and paste support. Unfortunately I haven't been using it as much lately due to a Linux kernel issue.

Xterm is my true default terminal emulator, the one that I start if I don't want to think about which terminal emulator I want. There are just too many seductive little attractions to it, and besides I've been using xterm for decades so I am completely acclimatized to how it behaves.

(If I start 9term I have to be certain that I'm not going to want to run vi or something else that needs cursor addressing. If I start gnome-terminal, I have to go to extra work and then I have to put up with it, including how it is different from xterm. So xterm is the easy choice.)

Finally, if I'm being honest I have to admit that there have always been a number of little irritations and bits of extra work with using 9term instead of xterm, even in situations where 9term is usable. This has not infrequently made xterm my lazy choice even when I could use 9term. This sort of makes me unhappy, because intellectually I like 9term better.

(9term versus xterm is thus sort of like the BSDs versus Linux. It feels a little sleazy and lazy to use xterm instead of 9term, but I do it anyways because it's so convenient. In theory I should like the purity and vision of 9term; in practice, well, xterm again.)

Written on 07 March 2011.
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Last modified: Mon Mar 7 00:40:14 2011
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