why unix | RBL service | netrs | please | ripcalc | linescroll
hosted services

hosted services

Over the years I've used many terminals. Originally I would use xterm. After using xterm for some time I preferred aterm, for reasons I no longer remember. Later I found that urxvt did more of what I wanted and had very good scroll back and transparency (I liked that at the time). So I used urxvt for a few years.

After some time I found that urxvt would just hog memory and I didn't like transparency anymore so my obsession with gnome-terminal started. I only call it an obsession since I required it. With enough time and effort one could configure gnome-terminal to be useful and the way that I wanted it. By configure, I mean, running gnome-terminal in way that my desktop always looks the same with six terminals spread across two monitors in the same place each and every time I log in. This is normally possible via geometry strings specified on the command line.

Of late, I've noticed that this behaviour has changed for me when invoking gnome-terminal on Ubuntu. For some reason, no matter how I try and configure gnome-terminal it starts with a menu bar and will be 80x23. I think this could be due to a smaller screen and something is taking over to try and make what it believes is better use of my screen. It's not how I want it though!

This frustration of chasing the config setting sent me into a spin with the only exit being the venerable xterm. Using xterm is not a thing that I believe I shall be complaining about any time soon.

For simplicity we're going to make a dd script:


sudo bash -c "dd if=/dev/sda bs=1M count=1"

We're now going to run this through each terminal.

Gnome-terminal $ time gnome-terminal -e /tmp/script

real    0m2.518s
user    0m1.116s
sys     0m0.212s


$ time xterm -e /tmp/script

real    0m1.426s
user    0m0.448s
sys     0m0.124s

That's quite a world of difference right there. This is a very short test, but imagine if you're using the terminal all day and your browser occupies most of the system memory and resources already. The difference here may all look sub-second yet 1.43:2.52 is 56.7%, quite a bit, almost half the CPU. Generally speaking, I'd say avoid gnome-terminal if you're in a position where you may need the terminal all day.

xterm isn't always the right choice of term for all situations. For my on-call work I use ratpoison. This is a great desktop to use since it means there are no bells or whistles getting in the way, each term will by default fill the screen (this is of great advantage when I am not quite awake at 0400 and the eyes need extra time to decipher the words on the screen) so I can use a really big font that makes a 80x24 term occupy most of the screen area. The sad thing is that I need about four-six terms to do my job, cycling between them can become confusing at that hour. The compromise is to use gnome-terminal with labelled tabs, sadly, until I find another solution.


Many terminals can do UTF, some can't (aterm, I'm looking at you). To test out, simple copy the below string and paste it into an input field in your favourite term.



xterm allows for extensive configuration, one of the really useful parts of the configuration makes use of xrdb, the X server resource database.

You can configure the font using X logical Font Description (XLFD) names like so:

XTerm*font:                             -misc-fixed-medium-r-*-*-13-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Using a nice legible font like this has advantages over anti-aliased, not only from a performance point of view but also the characters are nicely spaced apart and letters such as WM and FP are all very distinguishable.

Once you've written your .Xresources file to your liking rebuild it using:

[ -f $HOME/.Xresources ] && xrdb $HOME/.Xresources

and start a new xterm to compare the changes.