Use Quake-like Terminals

The state of the modern Linux desktop nowadays is getting to be less and less dependent from terminals. Doing all the regular things one would normally do on a desktop through the use of DEs (desktop environment) such as KDE or Gnome, one can skip using terminals. .. but not entirely. There are still a few things where a terminal is the only way to do it. There are programs that are better left running on a terminal.

Once you enter the world of Linux, whatever your distribution may be – Ubuntu included – one way or another a user will have to experience using a terminal at some point. Usually, you’ll only need to use it to fix a few things or to follow a tutorial about customizing something on your desktop. It is not that hard. Just follow the instructions.

However, if you plan to learn more about using the power of Linux through the shell (a.k.a. terminal, console), I’d advise you to get one that is easily accessible without being annoying or obtrusive to your desktop.

If you’re familiar with the FPS game Quake, you may already know about its terminal. It slides down from the top like a curtain when you press the ~ key (if I recall correctly). Press the same key again and it hides itself.

There are two Quake-like terminals I know of that are available on Ubuntu. These are: Guake and Terminator.

The common things about these terminals are:

  • It can be toggled from view, making it appear or go away at the press of a key. The default is F12. You can change this to another key if you want.
  • They don’t have to occupy a slot on your task bar or on the Unity Launcher when opened. This makes for lesser crowding on the desktop.





While each of these Quake-like terminals have almost the same general features, it has its own strengths and weaknesses as well.

Guake, for instance, was made as a drop in replacement for Yakuake, where If I’m not mistaken, was the original Quake-like terminal but needs the QT/KDE backend to run. It was built from the start to be like a Quake-like terminal. Terminator on the other hand focuses its strength on being able to split into multiple terminals in one window.  It wasn’t meant to be a Quake-like terminal but originally looks like a conventional Linux terminal. However, it has features that, with a few changes in its preferences menu, will make it drop down from the top a la Quake. When you first run Terminator, it will appear like Gnome-Terminal.

While I’ve been using Guake since Lucid Lynx, there is one minor annoyance that I have with it on Natty Narwhal. The shift to the Unity desktop made it so that when you have the Launcher set to never hide, Guake does not readjust its window width. The effect? The right-most portion of Guake – a few pixels as wide as the Launcher – is moved outside of the screen. Restarting Guake does not seem to fix it. The window width cannot be resized like Yakuake, which is available in the preferences. It can however be resized manually. Click-drag the bottom-right of Guake to resize. The funny thing is once it is hidden again, it goes back to its original width which is the entire screen.

My beef with Terminator is that it does not get the focus immediately. This means when you start typing a command, nothing happens because the focus is not on Terminator’s window but on the previous active window, although pressing F12 invokes Terminator to become visible. I have to press F12 twice to get the window focus. Another thing, when the desktop is being loaded right after login, you can catch it for a split-second as it proceeds to hide in the background. Not as smooth as Guake because you never see something like that. Guake is hidden by default.

All-in-all both terminals are very good, with many features available such as multiple tabs, keyboard shortcuts, and multiple profiles to name a few. Try both. Then choose your pick. Currently I’m using Terminator.

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Notice: This article was published on July 30, 2011 and the content above may be out of date.