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Supercharge your Windows command line experience with ConEmu

03 October 2012, Mike Williams

Windows 8 brings fundamental change to many parts of the operating system, but the command line isn’t one of them. It’s just as annoying a place to work as it ever was.

If you’re tired of the console’s many deficiencies, then, we’d recommend you don’t waste any further time waiting for Microsoft to fix them. Just install the open source ConEmu, instead: it’s a powerful console emulator which comes packed with options to make your command line life easier.

The tabbed interface is one key addition. Creating another command line session only takes a moment (press Win+W > Enter). But the program is also very configurable, so while ConEmu will launch cmd.exe by default, you can actually launch any shell you like (or even simple gui apps, like Notepad). And you can set the startup directory for each tab, as well as running it as a specific user, with administrative rights, and more.

Background images, fonts, colours, transparency - ConEmu consoles are ultra-configurable

The individual console interface also has many changes. You can properly resize the window and your command line output will adapt accordingly; there’s a great deal of control over the look of the window (background image, fonts, colours, transparency, more); and CAPS, NUM and SCRL icons display the current status of each key (and can even actively set them, so for instance clicking CAPS will toggle your Caps Lock status).

ConEmu also allows you to build a library of common console tasks, which you can then use to customise the Windows 7 Jump List for the program.

Another useful integration option sees ConEmu able to detect the progress of many common operations – chkdsk, say – and display suitable indicators both in the window title and on the taskbar (the Wiki explains more).

And browsing the menu and various settings dialogs just reveals so much more here. Powerful keyboard macros, Explorer integration, lots of text selection options, a highly configurable status bar, a built-in screenshot tool, an “always on top” option, and the list goes on. And on. And on.

Don’t be intimidated by any of this, though, because you’re not buried in complexity immediately. You’ll benefit from many of ConEmu’s advantages in your very first session with the program, and you can explore the rest of the feature set at your own pace, learning and applying new functionality as you need it.

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