How to Get a Quake-style Drop-down Terminal in Linux

A lot of games out there have some form of command prompt, often just for entering cheat codes. You know the type – you hit some function key and a bar drops down from the top of the screen letting you enter commands or codes or whatever else. Well some clever folks have taken that design and applied it to the command prompt in your Linux desktop. You can get a fully featured, skinnable terminal with split-screen views and all at the touch of a button. Yakuake is just such a program. It’s been around for a few years but has remained below the radar for most Linux users.

I had always set a special desktop just for my terminals. Readers of some of my other articles may have noticed that when setting up virtual desktops, I always set Desktop #2 for my terminals. I typically have more than one open, so they have their own desktop workspace. I put it in between my Browser and Text workspaces because I’m frequently copy/pasting to and from those other workspaces so it makes sense to be next to each other. When a friend suggested I try Yakuake (thanks AWOL!) I was a bit reluctant, as my current setup had always worked so well. I installed it anyway, and within a week I was converted.

To see why, let’s get Yakuake installed. On Ubuntu or any other Debian-style distribution, open a regular terminal and type in:

sudo apt-get install yakuake

You could of course use whatever package installation method you prefer.

Once installed, run

yakuake &

from the command line. The “&” at the end is just a bash code to run this program in the background so you can still use your current terminal screen even while Yakuake is running.

Once it loads up you’ll be shown a notice that the program is started. You’ll also be given an option to change which key is used to make the menu appear. By default, it’s set to F12 but you can set it to whatever you’d like. Of course, it’s a good idea to pick a key you don’t normally use in other programs.

Once that’s done, hit F12 or whatever other key you specified to make the terminal appear. It should look something like this:

Basic default Yakuake config

Pretty good, but it could be better. To improve Yakuake’s functionality, there are a few preferences we can set. To open the configuration screen, look in the bottom right corner for the button shown here:


This will open the menu where you can choose “Configure Yakuake”. There are a decent number of config options to choose from.

On the first page, the one titled Window, you can set things like the size of the Yakuake window. If you don’t use the terminal much, then it might be wise to set the width to something smaller than the default 90%. Something like 50% might be more appropriate. If, like me, you tend to use the terminal often, I’d suggest leaving the window nice and wide because (as we’ll cover in a moment) the Yakuake window can be split into panes, so you can fit 2, 4, however many terminals you like into the single Yakuake window.

Default first config page

The next configuration page is the Behavior config. On here, I’d suggest unchecking “Keep window open when it loses focus”. Having this unchecked will make Yakuake disappear as soon as you click away onto another program. I also tend to remove the option for “Show startup notification popup”. Otherwise you’ll get a little notice in the corner every time the program loads. Personally, I don’t see a point in that.

Yakuake's Behavior config section

The final config page is the Appearance section. Everything on there is pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into much detail on that, except to say that you can enable translucency to get a nice semi-transparent look to your Yakuake window. It requires you to be running X with compositing enabled (which should be the default on most modern setups).

The last feature I’d like to cover is one I mentioned earlier in this article, the ability to split the Yakuake window into multiple terminal sessions. That’s easily done by right-clicking the “+” icon in the bottom-left corner of the Yakuake window. You can choose how to arrange those terminals inside the window if you have a preference between, say, a horizontal split or a vertical split.

Example of how to split the terminal

You can also left-click the “+” button to have multiple terminals in tabs instead of split screen if you want the full window space for one terminal.

Have you used Yakuake or something similar in the past? How has it worked out for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Joshua Price

Josh Price is a senior MakeTechEasier writer and owner of Rain Dog Software

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox