Customise Terminal to Make Everyday UNIX Hacking Special

Most of us don’t hit the terminal window too often to make hands on changes to the UNIX system underlying OS X. But when you do, you really notice how boring the interface is. Obviously it’s merely functional, and there’s reasons for that.

In most of the movies, hacking the command line looks very cool, and that’s partly because it seems every hacker you see onscreen is using what looks like a hand0built custom-designed operating system.

In this article we will learn how easy it is to customise your terminal window to make it more readable and also more fun to use. We’ll cover editing and storing multiple looks for the Terminal and show you specific recipes of how to make Terminal look like the Commodore 64 or the MU-TH-UR 6000 computer from the original 1979 Alien movie.

Terminal default look in Mac OS X.

You may not actually have noticed before that Terminal even had preferences, it being something you don’t examine too closely and get in and out of as quickly as possible. But it does have preferences right there in the program menu.

Once you have Preferences up, look at the tabs and select “Profiles.” This is not as you might assume for some kinds of user preferences, but it’s actually full control over the look and feel of the terminal window.

Terminal preferences.

The default is something called “Basic,” and that’s the look we know, tiny black text on a white background. The first surprise on your first visit here is that there are a lot of preset looks already in the preferences. Just click on the presets down the left-hand side of the pane to edit or use them.

But just selecting them here won’t change an active Terminal. To change the settings on every new Terminal window, you have to do two things.

First, having designed a new look or chosen one of the presets, click the “Default” button at the bottom of the preset pane. This makes the new look the default style.

Click 'default' to make the new look the default style.

But having done that, you‘ll still find that new windows (either from the menus or with “Command + N”) won’t be in the new style but will come up in the Basic style.

To fix this, you have to go back a tab to the “General” tab and select your new look from the “On startup open new window with profile” drop-down. Once that’s done, all new windows will be in the new style.

Select your new look from the 'On startup open new window with profile' dropdown.

So how about a totally new look based on a retro computer or one from a movie? It’s all about the fonts and colours.

First, let’s try a Commodore 64 lookalike. Download this retro C64 font. Install it by double-clicking on the .ttf file and clicking the “Install Font” button once inside Font Book.

Run the Terminal app and select “Preferences” from the program menu. Click the “Profiles” tab. Make a new profile by clicking the “+” symbol at the bottom of the profiles pane. Name your new look profile.

Make a new profile by clicking the + symbol; name it.

Select the font by clicking the “Change…” button. Find the “C64 Pro” or “C64 Pro Mono” font, and choose a slightly larger size, like s 12 pt. 8-bit style font that looks better in bigger sizes. Close the chooser.

On the Text tab, ensure that “Antialias text,” “blinking text” and “display ANSI text” are checked.

Terminal C64 settings.

Next set the “Text” and “Bold” text colours to the following values:

Red 129
Green 113
Blue 167

Switch to C64 colors in Terminal.

Set the Selection and Cursor colours to:

Red 196
Green 172
Blue 255

And finally change to the Window tab and change the Background Colour and Effects to:

Red 76
Green 54
Blue 167

Now we have a fantastic new C64 flavoured Terminal.

A fantastic new C64 flavoured Terminal.

You can make your terminal look like any historic computer; it’s all about the font and the colours. Simply find a TrueType or OpenType version of the screen font, make a screenshot from an emulator so you can figure out the exact screen colours in a paint program, then set an appropriate size for the type.

You may recall in the movie Alien (1979) that the computer on the Nostromo was called “Mother” or “MU-TH-UR,” and this computer had a very distinctive interface.

The font for this look is a little harder to find. The original font used (according to this) was something very similar to Berthold City Light or a slightly widened version of it. The problem is this is an expensive paid font, around £170.

Admittedly you can buy a similar font called Square Slab Serif Light for £25, but there is also a somewhat similar free font called Chatype.

Select the font by clicking the “Change…” button. Find the Berthold or Chatype font, and choose a slightly larger size, like 18 pt. This font is quite small and is unreadable at lower sizes. Close the chooser.

On the Text tab, ensure that “Antialias text,” “blinking text” and “display ANSI text” are checked. Also in this case, check the Use Bold fonts box as well to thicken the text a little.

Next set the Text and Bold text colours to the following values:

Red 0
Green 166
Blue 0

Change to MU-TH-UR colors.

Set the Selection and Cursor colours to:

Red 0
Green 86
Blue 0
Red 0
Green 217
Blue 0

respectively.

And finally change to the Window tab and change the Background Colour and Effects to:

Red 0
Green 0
Blue 0

It’s not perfect, but it definitely has the true flavour of the original.

A fantastic new MU-TH-UR flavoured Terminal.

What great designs are you using for your Terminal window? Tell us about it in the comments below.