A better Windows command line experience: Comparing PowerCmd vs. Console2 vs. ConsoleZ vs. ConEmu Vs. Cmder

I previously wrote a post called A better Windows command line experience using Console2 in which I went on and on about the marvelous virtues of Console2 and mentioned that one day I would try ConsoleZ.

Then commented “Wait until you discover either ConEmu or cmder :)“… So why wait? And off I went to discover ConEmu and cmder… :)

I have since downloaded, installed, set-up and used the following Windows command line applications:

and have the following comments on each…

TL;DR (cut to the chase)!

PowerCmd

  • Downloaded from:
    http://www.powercmd.com/
  • Like:
    There are lots of features listed on their site, and some seem good, but as you continue down this list, anything good is going to be surpassed.
  • Dislike:
    It looks so “Windows-like”; Each tab gets a generic name “Cmd”, making you have to remember which is which; Organizes the tabs into panes, which could be good or bad, but I didn’t like it; After a trial period, you need to get a license or you are blocked from the app completely… (And I get that the creators want to get paid, I cannot blame them for that, but when you consider the list below, which are all free, and (in my opinion) so much better, well…)
  • Bottom line:
    It does what I wanted it to do, so I shouldn’t complain, but again, when you see the other options below, you will forget this one.

Console2

  • Downloaded from:
    http://http://sourceforge.net/projects/console/
  • Like:
    You can create as many tabs as you want (or at least as many as I needed); You can give each tab a custom name, so identifying what is running where is really obvious; You can order the pre-created tabs in the Settings panel so they are listed in a specific order; You can also drag the opened tabs to change their order; You can assign a Shell script to each tab, so it will automatically do stuff when you open that tab; You can (somewhat) customize the appearance, like font, colors, size, etc.; You can customize Hotkeys and combinations for keyboard, and mouse, shortcuts.
  • Dislike:
    I could not find a way to open all of my pre-created tabs on start-up, so after opening the application, I have to manually open each tab; If a tab has a Shell script selected, it automatically starts when you open that tab, but if you stop that script (Ctrl+C), it also closes that tab, rather than just returning to a command prompt; For the life of me I cannot figure out how to select something to copy… (Found this, had to change a Mouse Hotkey setting); Configuring the Hotkeys is not intuitive, but easy once you know how (rather than typing or picking the keys, you just use them, as in click inside the box, then press the key on your keyboard, such as Ctrl, then click inside the other box and press C on your keyboard).
  • Bottom line:
    Again, this does everything I wanted it to do and works quite well. It is definitely an improvement over the native command line and PowerCmd, but still has some holes…

ConsoleZ

  • Downloaded from:
    https://github.com/cbucher/console/wiki/Downloads
  • Like:
    As a fork of Console2, the interface is quite familiar, but I was surprised that it even recognized all of my Console2 custom settings! All of my custom tabs, Hotkeys, font selections, etc., were already there and ready for me! :-) But, like any good fork, there was also much, much more: there are many more options in nearly all the Settings panels.
  • Dislike:
    And like most forks, with the good comes the bad: Every Dislike from Console2 is still there.
  • Bottom line:
    If you love Console2, but would like a few more Settings options, definitely check this out! For the rest of us, let’s continue down the list…

ConEmu

  • Downloaded from:
    https://conemu.github.io/
  • Like:
    NOW we’re talking here! Typical interface, but with proper syntax highlighting, comes with pre-configured command lines settings for Shell, Git Bash, and Scripts, and custom settings like Visual Studio can be set-up pretty easily. This video gives a great introduction, so I recommend that you view it to get a sense of the application without actually downloading and installing it yourself. Like the last couple applications, you can pre-configure tabs, give them custom names, give them Shell scripts to run when they open, plus a ton of additional configuration options; nearly everything about ConEmu can be customized. I also like how, even though all my tabs are housed within the single application window on my desktop, they are grouped in the ConEmu icon in my Windows Taskbar, so I can easily pick which specific tab to switch to with a single click. And my biggest frustration above, opening multiple tabs automatically when I open ConEmu, is finally possible, though a little more convoluted than I would like: you create a text file of the tabs you want to open, then specify that from within the Settings panel (Startup > Tasks file) (UPDATE). Okay, not elegant, but at least possible! (There is also the option of Auto saving & re-opening whatever tabs were open when ConEmu was closed, so you could just set-up the tabs you want, and close it, but this runs the risk of some tab being closed when you close ConEmu, then not being re-opened when you re-open ConEmu…) Also, nearly everything in the Settings panel, if hovered over, will give you a nice tooltip-like explanation.
  • Dislike:
    I haven’t found much yet (UPDATE). Ironically, the incredible flexibility and number of customization options might seem a little overwhelming, but that is the price to have so many options. And I already mentioned above about the convoluted setup required for multiple tabs on open. Setting up Shell commands for the tabs to run when they open, is also not very intuitive; Console2 and ConsoleZ are both actually really easy.
  • Bottom line:
    Best so far, by far. Love the various color schemes, love being able to set-up multiple tabs to open, though I wish it were easier to set this up, and easier to set-up the Shell commands to run when each tab opens.

Cmder

  • Downloaded from:
    http://gooseberrycreative.com/cmder/
  • Like:
    Cmder is also a fork, this time of ConEmu, so you will see a lot of similarity here. The tabs and toolbar default to appear at the bottom of the application window, but that can be changed back to the top (Settings > Main > Tabs > Tabs on bottom) if you prefer. In fact, other than that and the Monokai color scheme, I don’t see much difference.
  • Dislike:
    The first line of text on the website says “Portable console emulator for Windows”, yet when I tried to open it after a fresh install, I got an error that said “The program can’t start because api-ms-win-crt-runtime-|1-1-0.dll is missing…” Which apparently requires me to install Visual C++ Redistributable for Visual Studio 2015 RC??? Doesn’t seem very portable to me, and certainly wasn’t a good first impression. It’s a big assumption of the developers to assume that everyone wanting to use this would have VS installed too….
  • Bottom line:
    Since there isn’t much difference (that I can find) between ConEmu and Cmder, the frustration of the install alone would make me say skip this and just go with the original, ConEmu. If, on the other hand, you really need that Monokai color scheme, or the “portability”, then maybe Cmder makes sense.

Summation

For my money (and aside for PowerCmd, these are all free), I think I will stick with ConEmu, at least for now. I don’t like the way you have to create a text file of tabs to auto-open (UPDATE), but at least you can do it; I don’t like the method for creating Shell scripts to run when a tab opens, but I will figure it out. The benefit of being able to create multiple command line tabs, have a preset collection of tabs that automatically open when I open the application, and have each of those tabs automatically run a script for me, is huge. And ConEmu looks so much better than the native Windows command line window (or even the first few alternatives from above!), that those little, initial set-up pains seem worth it.

So, now we can all live happily ever after in our lovely tabbed and customized Windows command line experiences… :-) I hope this was helpful to someone, as always, please feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree, or want to contribute to the conversation below.

Happy command lining in style,
Atg

19 Responses to A better Windows command line experience: Comparing PowerCmd vs. Console2 vs. ConsoleZ vs. ConEmu Vs. Cmder

  1. Cole Chamberlain says:

    Good comparison! I’ve been using ConEmu for some time with zsh / msys2 in a completely portable fashion. I’m not sure what cmder gets you in terms of portability on top of ConEmu? I see cmder get a lot of attention and ConEmu very little but it seems to me that most the work here was done on ConEmu and cmder is just a different default ConEmu.xml file and additional abstraction behind a second executable. My 2 cents.

  2. Gordon says:

    Would you mind posting your startup.txt file (editing out any things not appropriate for such a wide audience, of course). I’ve got consoleZ and am having problems but have a lot of tabs pre-defined that run scripts on startup. I’d like to take a look at ConEmu as a replacement and would like to avoid the same number of hours you wasted trying to figure it out. :-)

    Thanks!

    • Thanks, Jeff! ConEmu link updated. So, what were your thoughts on Console2? Likes/dislikes? And what makes you want to switch to ConEmu now, any special features you are looking for?

      Cheers,
      Atg

  3. James White says:

    One thing I think is unique (really not sure) and super helpful in PowerCmd is Intellisense for the command line. Instead of tabbing through an invisible list of completions (like the normal command line) you get a popup with all the directory names,etc as you begin to type. I’m a fool for context aware guidance especially in an environment like the command line where their are a million paths available and no UI to help you on your way.

    • Roci says:

      You’ve just sold me to at least try PowerCmd. Thanks for the comment b/c the Intellisense is what I am most wanting in a command line replacement tool

  4. Andreas says:

    Thanks for your thorough review.

    I am using ConsoleZ for some years (also its predecessor) mainly as a terminal for Cygwin. For some time I was using rxvt and/or mintty from within Cygwin.

    Recently I was pointed to MobaXterm (http://mobaxterm.mobatek.net) which at a first glance looks handy and clean.

  5. Marcus Johnson says:

    Regarding your comment about about cmder and Visual C++ Redistributable for Visual Studio 2015 RC, It’s just that, a “redistributable” — usually this is packaged in installers already for you. If you look at your installed programs, there’s a chance you’ll notice other Visual Studio redistributables there, and its not that hard to install it.

    I’d still call it a con that the installer doesn’t install that for you.. And another con that it uses the RC version.

  6. Derek Greer says:

    I’m a cygwin guy and used mintty for some time until I started running into issues with certain Windows commands (see https://github.com/bower/bower/issues/802#issuecomment-110899417), so I switched to Console2. I’ve always just used it for bash and never really used the tab feature since I prefer having separate instances for multiple consoles, so I pretty much just used it for resizing, cut-and-paste, and styling features.

    Having been alerted to the fact that Windows 10 introduced an improved console app here, I tried it out and think it has everything I really need. It resizes, supports cut-and-paste by highlighting/middle mouse button, and even supports transparency.

  7. shu says:

    i am cygwin guy:
    i used to Poderosa, which support ssh/Serial Port/Telnet/cygwin
    but i found Cmder /CmdEmu better than Poderosa/console2/consoleZ/powercmd now.
    Poderosa/console2/consoleZ — can’t find
    powercmd — can find ,but can’t display color character (like red color error msg)

    MobaXterm — it is not pure command terminal , need money. but i think mMremoteNG (free) better than this one.

  8. Lanier Hall says:

    You can set up tabs to open in Console2 by adding them to the tabs section in config.xml and then referencing their names in your shortcut “console2.exe -t myTabToOpen”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *