For a long time Windows 10 hasn’t had a great command line interface. As a result, developers and system admins have installed third-party options to emulate Unix style and other kinds of consoles. And while it’s possible to get a bash shell inside Windows 10 now, many users still prefer a more configurable terminal emulator. Check out the best terminal emulators for Windows 10 below.
1. ZOC Terminal
One of the best tools for people needing to access data on Unix accounts from Windows, ZOC Terminal, may not be free ($79.99), but it’s still a great value for more advanced users.
One of its key perks are tabs, so you can have several Terminal sessions going on at once across SSH, telnet, QNX, and other terminals. It’s brimming with commands and is highly customizable to suit your personal terminal-tinkering style.
Its emulations are robust and complete, offering features like mouse and keyboard support, print-through and line graphics. And it’s a cinch to search for specific bits of text in your work, then highlight them.
cmder is a well-known portable terminal emulator for Windows 10 that was built from the “pure frustration” caused by the lack of a good alternative in Windows. It’s built on top of another well-known console emulator, ConEmu, and enhanced with Clink. Clink extends the power of ConEmu, adding shell features like bash-style completion. It’s broadly compatible, working with msysgit, PowerShell, cygwin and mintty, bringing Unix capabilities to Windows.
Since it’s completely portable, you can run cmder off a USB drive that you use on various machines without installing files on local hard drives, making it a support specialist’s best friend. As a bonus, it ships with the much-loved Monokai color scheme to coordinate your hacking with Sublime Text.
ConEmu is a Windows console emulator with tabs, multiple windows and a variety of customization options. Its lineage reaches way back in history: ConEmu was initially created as a companion to Far Manager, a file and archive manager released for Windows in 1996. But despite its age, the software is continuously developed.
The emulator provides a deep menu of settings to tweak and hotkeys to assign, drawing in keyboard warriors from Vim and Emacs. ConEmu in compatible with many of the same popular shells as cmder, like cmd.exe, PowerShell, cygwin, PuTTY and others. If you install a DOS emulator like DosBox, you can run DOS applications in a 64-bit environment. But because ConEmu isn’t a shell, it doesn’t include helpful shell features like remote connections and tab completion. While it retains many die-hard fans, ConEmu might not be the best console emulator for new users.
Console is a terminal emulator and console enhancement for Windows 10 that focuses on direct use and simple interaction. It provides full command-line capabilities, and its straight-forward design hides a significant degree of power and customization. It integrates with all the major shells and lets you customize window styles, transparency, fonts and text colors. But Console isn’t as all-spanning as ConEmu, so very advanced users might find themselves limited by the software.
Babun comes with bash and zsh out of the box, providing tools that both beginner and advanced users can use immediately. It’s built on top of Cygwin, porting a Unix-style interface to Windows 10. You can use oh-my-zsh to configure zsh’s wide variety of options, giving you greater control over your shell’s functionality that you’ll get in other applications. It also includes the pact package manager and HTTP proxying out the box.
If you only use Cygwin for your Windows shell, then Mintty is an excellent console emulator. In fact, Mintty is installed as the default terminal emulator. Like the other options on this list, Mintty provides a collection of additional features like drag-and-drop, full screen, copy and paste and theme support. And it also works with MSYS and Msys2.
Cmder is probably the best bet for users looking for a capable but manageable terminal emulator. Users seeking a more powerful experience can get their fix with CmdEmu or splash out a bit more for ZOC Terminal.
This article was first published in August 2017 and was updated in March 2018.