Three Terrific Terminals Tipps

Ok. This post is definitely a bit geeky. I'll present you three (and a half) tips for working with the command line on Mac OS X.

I love Mac OS X for two things. At first it has an easy to use interface that's overstuffed with useless eye-candy. Secondly – contrary to Windows – it features an underlaying mature FreeBSD-like kernel and all the standard tools like ssh, grep and Perl.

But let me start with a little remark: Mac OS X contains a nifty little tool named Automator. Oddly enough it's barely used, although typical command line tasks can easily be accomplished using this simple point&click tool. For example it's really easy to rename a big bunch of those DSC04223.JPG from your digicam to something more meaningful. You can even mass email your holiday pics to everyone in your address book with just a few clicks. Give it a try.

1. Tip: Get yourself a “linux distribution for Mac OS”

Though you can do many things with the command line tools shipped with OS X there will come a time when you need some special tools like psutils, TeX and such. That's where a distribution with convenient packet management comes handy. I personally use fink which is essentially a debian distribution for OS X.

user $ apt-get install tetex

And you're done.

It installs itself beside the normal operating system (in /sw/ by default) to prevent hiccups through operating system upgrades etc.

2. Tip: Visor – a terminal window at your fingertips.

It's quite common that you need a shell window just for some little one-line task like issuing a whois-query, recompiling a TeX document or a svn commit. That's where Visor comes handy, a small but timesaving extension for the standard Terminal.app.

On a user definable hotkey (ALT+Space is mine) a full-width, half-hight terminal window shoots down from your menu bar. Punch in your commands and hit your hotkey again and your terminal window will slide out again. This is way faster than Exposéing or Comand+Tabbing to your regular Terminal windows.

Visor even supports some unnecessary eye-candy through translucent Quartz compositions as a backdrop image/animation.

However, as Visor is just an extension to Terminal.App, Terminal has to stay open all the time (you don't have to have any open windows – the application itself is enough).

Sadly Visor has a little bug that increases the window height by one on each startup. So from time to time you'll have to reset it's config file. You may use this little script.

#!/bin/bash
defaults write com.apple.Terminal VisorTerminal -dict-add Rows 24
killall Terminal

3. Tip: GLTerminal – back to the roots

The first computer I “worked” on (I was into digital media publishing back then :) was an Alphatronic P2 from 1979. It featured unbelievable 48kBytes of RAM and an 8 bit processor with screaming 3 MHz.

The distorted, 80 by 24, black and green monitor was flickering like hell. And that's what my third tip is all about: GLterminal.

Screenshot GLTerm

GLterminal is an terminal application that simulates the state-of-the-art technology from the very very early days of personal computing. In classic mode you can freely choose your virtual monitors second color (white on black,, green on black or amber on black) and it's flickering rate.

Every time your terminal scrolls up a bit you'll notice the afterglow effect of early monitors as the old characters need some time to fade away.

Additionally you configure the distortion of your screen and it's brightness. Of course these two factors are interconnected and pumping in more brightness affects the background color too and leads to a smaller and more distorted screen.

But the best thing is the baud rate simulation which limits screen updates and user inputs to some bytes per second. So think twice before catting the whole logfile.

It's really fun to use this once in a year . Of course you wont use it for real work or longer that 15 minutes, otherwise you'll get a serious headache. :)