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.
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.
sudo apt-get install htop
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
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
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.
sudo apt-get install mc
You can easily access most file- and folder-related commands and functionality from its menus.
You have full control over how you want to represent your folder views.
MC is highly customisable and comes with many built-in tools and capabilities, such as a simple FTP client, file viewer [
F3] or editor [
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.
sudo apt-get install aptitude
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:
Among the many useful functions, the one that truly stands out is the built-in minesweeper game. It’s available from the “Actions” menu.
To learn more about aptitude and its various real-life uses, refer to the elaborate user manual, accessible from the “Help” menu.
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.
sudo apt-get install cmus
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 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.
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%)
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.
sudo apt-get install cmatrix
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 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.