5 User-Friendly Terminal Applications

5 User Friendly Terminal Applications

The Linux terminal can feel daunting to use. There are so many commands and command line arguments, switches and options to learn and master. We’ve all grown used to graphical interfaces, and even the die-hard remote server administrators might find it useful to have a task visualised at times.

But should the terminal be boring? The following five terminal based applications are the proof that the terminal can be intuitive, easy to use and even fun at times, if only you have the right tools. From system administration to playing music, you can do plenty in a terminal environment. Read on to learn how.

1. htop

A simple command brings up a colourful user interface, showing all running processes, CPU and memory use, easy sorting and filtering or running processes, and some basic system administration functionality.



htop terminal application

Htop will show you the CPU usage by core, or CPU number, the total memory and swap usage in a human readable format (whoever can still read and count in bytes is an exception from this) and a general overview of system statistics, such as uptime, load average or number of processes.

The basic functions:

Switch to a tree view by pressing F5

htop tree view

F6 will show different sorting options on a left pane, such as PID, USER, CPU% or MEM%, and F9 will present you with options to kill a process

htop different sorting options

To learn more about htop’s usage, refer to its help menu by pressing F1. (Note: your terminal’s or window manager’s keyboard shortcuts can interfere with how the F* keys work. In that case, you could just use the mouse.)

2. Midnight Commander

A simple yet powerful two-pane file manager for command line, Midnight Commander resembles the (in)famous Norton Commander of DOS days. Midnight Commander offers more functionality than most graphical counterparts.



Midnight Commander terminal application

You can easily access most file- and folder-related commands and functionality from its menus.

Midnight Commander menu

You have full control over how you want to represent your folder views.

Midnight Commander tree view

MC is highly customisable and comes with many built-in tools and capabilities, such as a simple FTP client, file viewer [F3] or editor [F4].

3. Aptitude

Aptitude is apt fronted, much like apt-get, but it also brings a pseudo graphical interface with easy navigation. Searching and managing available or installed packages is easier when visualised.


While aptitude can be used as a command line tool, its main strength is the UI. (Note: you must not run aptitude as root; it will ask for a password when it needs elevated privileges.)

Run the text UI:

Aptitude terminal application

Among the many useful functions, the one that truly stands out is the built-in minesweeper game. It’s available from the “Actions” menu.

Aptitude built in Minesweeper game

To learn more about aptitude and its various real-life uses, refer to the elaborate user manual, accessible from the “Help” menu.

4. cmus

If, after all the serious system administration tasks, you feel like relaxing, there is a full-fledged music player for your terminal. But who would ever use a terminal music player when there are so many nice graphical front-ends? Possibly bored server admins, command-line enthusiasts, or those who like minimalistic systems, besides anyone who is just plain curious.



cmus terminal application

Cmus will start empty; you will first need to add music. It uses vi style commands; you can invoke them by pressing :.

can be used to add music. To add the music library in your home directory, enter

Cmus will scan and add all music files it finds on any given path.

To navigate and control, cmus needs some getting used to. Pressing [1-7] will alter the layout from the default two-tab view [1] through folder, browse and library modes, to the setup screen [7].

Pressing 7 will not only show you all the available keyboard shortcuts, but could also make you realise that cmus is in fact much more customisable than any other music player you have used before.

cmus key bindings

The basic control keys are:

  • space – expand left tab entry (in tabbed mode)
  • tab – Switch tabs (in tabbed mode)
  • enter – Play selection
  • + / - – Volume up/down (10%)
  • x – Play
  • v – Stop
  • c – Pause

5. cmatrix

If you have enjoyed the film “Matrix,” you will love this one (If you have not seen the film, drop everything and watch it now). Cmatrix does little other than simulate the famous matrix-style rolling characters in your terminal. And it does a great job at that.



cmatrix terminal application

The basic output is rather plain, but with a little styling it would become much more matrix-like. The following command enables bold characters and asynchronous roll.

cmatrix basic output

Cmatrix offers some command line options that would alter its output. To read about them all, run:

If you wonder what is the practical use of cmatrix, well, there aren’t many. It is more notable for being just plain fun to use, although you could script it to run as a terminal screensaver if you really wanted to.


Lazy server admins, people running legacy systems on old hardware, or die-hard terminal enthusiasts will find many applications that make the command line probably more intuitive, but definitely more fun to use. While some of them might not be among the most productive, these tools could be a great first starting point towards learning to use (and get used to) the Linux terminal.

Attila Orosz Attila Orosz

Attila is a writer, blogger and author with a background in IT management. Using GNU/Linux systems both personally and professionally, his advice stems from 10+ years of hands on experience. In his free time he also runs the popular Meditation for Beginners blog.


    1. Just guessing that you did not mean the name of Lebanon in Wolok language (of Afrika) nor the Long Island Business Aviation Association (www.libaa.org) :D

      AA-lib and the AA-project are real-time coolness, showing the true power of the terminal, but it is “only” a graphic library. (By “only” I mean its functionality is limited to drawing pretty ASCII art, not sayin’ it degradingly.) aafire and bb are both nice, but are as much useful as the cmatrix I mentioned above. (I.e. not much) :)

      Furtermore, libaa-bin are not “officially” packaged with most Linux distros, and there is a rather limited array of applications that are compatible as of now. (GIMP being a a great surprise!)

      The above terminal applications render their own UI, independent of external graphic libraries (in fact the whole point is not to rely on anything remotely graphic, especially not if it’s a library, or if they have dependencies those come with the package. Also, 4 out of 5 on that list have actual real world uses, like playing Minesweeper, etc. ;)

      That said, thanks for the reminder, I think I will cover the AA-lib project in a later article. (Coupled with twin it could make a great minimalistic system, if only there were more apps supporitnig it!)

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