iTerm Back on Track

by Chris Stone

Terminal is a great application for the occasional user of the Mac's command line; it's clean, fast, and always there. But many system administrators, developers, and others who work with the command line daily find that Terminal isn't really what they're used to, mainly because it's missing features commonly found in Linux terminal emulators, like tabbed session windows and advanced profile support. IT pros looking for these timesaving features on the Mac, then, have come to rely on iTerm, the open source (GPL) terminal emulator that has recently received several much-anticipated updates

In fact, there was some concern about the state of the iTerm project as updates were slow in coming over the last couple of years. Still technically in beta, iTerm has had its share of bugs and stability issues. The thought that these might not be fixed concerned many loyal users, some of whom are able to use the Mac to do their work only because of iTerm. However, the days of sporadic releases appear to be over. In the last two months alone, iTerm's hardworking developers released three updates (the latest being version 0.9.3), each with significant feature additions, bug fixes, and UI improvements.

For example, one common complaint of iTerm has been its text redraw speed, especially when compared to Terminal. The new releases address this, providing a "Display Refreshing Rate" slider that allows fine tuning of redraw speed against CPU usage. With this set at its default speed (in the middle), iTerm appears just as fast as Terminal at paging through a document in vi, for example, and consumes roughly the same amount of CPU. With this setting cranked up, iTerm zooms through the pages, and handily beats Terminal. And even at the "fastest" setting, the CPU hit has not been much of a problem for me, rarely surpassing 30% on my Core Duo MacBook Pro (iTerm is Universal Binary).

Other recent enhancements to iTerm include terminfo support, an Execute field in the toolbar, macro support in profile connection strings, and Growl support. Check the version history for full details, but it looks like iTerm is back, and it's better than ever.


2006-11-19 19:21:27
Thanks for pointing this out, I was using a few versions back. Digging that new brushed metal interface.

2006-11-19 21:09:58
Hype alert:

"some of whom are able to use the Mac to do their work only because of iTerm"

come on, that's absurd. You haven't heard of command-` ??

2006-11-20 00:06:53
I really want to like iTerm, but the font rendering just isn't up to par for me when compared to Terminal. Until then I can trade tabs for screen.
Luc Heinrich
2006-11-20 01:49:13
I second Don's comment, iTerm's font rendering is simply horrendous which for a terminal application is a show-stopper.
2006-11-20 04:21:30
Mmm, I've compaired the output of iTerm and terminal and I can't see if difference. I wonder if both don and Luc have anti-aliasing enabled. This is the default and yes it dose seem silly to be have have this as the default, but you can change this using edit profiles from preferences (it's in the display tab)
2006-11-20 04:32:12
Okay I should have installed the latest version before posting my last comment!
The edit profile dialog is now unde bookmarks manage profiles.

One thing that bugs me with the new version is there dosn't seem to be a way to set the opening of new windows instead of a new tab. I use tabs, but only when the contents of the tabs are realated. For me that dosen't happen that offtern, so most of the time I want a new window (yes I know I can hold down option, but...)

2006-11-20 05:56:21
For tabs, I just use Terminal along with GNU screen. Works for me. :)
Chris Stone
2006-11-20 07:59:33
Anonymous, it really isn't hype at all. I know of people who've been doing developmnt in Linux for years and are so used to the features of terminal emulators there, that they would literally switch back to Linux if they had only Terminal to do their work with on the Mac. When 90% of your work day is spent in a terminal window, tabs are more than just a convenience.


Chris Stone
2006-11-20 08:11:22
Those of you having problems with iTerm's font rendering might want to try tweaking some of the settings shown here, if you haven't already.
2006-11-20 08:39:03
One thing I'm missing from iterm is the ability to stop scrolling. In terminal, you can scroll up a few lines, and whenever there is new output, eg from a tail / log process, the terminal doesn't scroll until you manually scroll to the bottom or press a key.
Luc Heinrich
2006-11-22 01:21:10
Yes, markk, the major rendering difference is with antialiasing enabled, on both, that's what I use. And with antialiasing enabled, just obliterates iTerm in readability. And no, I won't turn off antialiasing just because iTerm sucks :)
Luc Heinrich
2006-11-22 01:23:05
Oh yes, Chris, I've tinkered with the StrokeWidth and BoldStrokeWidth defaults for hours, antialiased font rendering in iTerm is still vastly inferior to
2006-11-25 09:31:06
I don't understand the need for iTerm.

I can easily bop back and forth through a half dozen or more terminal sessions via Cmd+~ or Cmd+[1-9] and I even have at least 4 predefined different window settings of terminal sitting in my dock.

But the anti-aliasing is the real difference maker - aesthetically, there's no contest, though I confess I haven't used iTerm since way back, but Terminal keeps improving, as my biggest beef with it was it wasn't as snappy as it should be, but that seems to be remedied with Tiger + new Macbook Pro.

2006-12-05 11:57:51
The iTerm devs seem to have listened - 0.9.4 has improved the font rendering in a significant way... I'm going to have to do some more experimenting before I go so far as to make the jump, but this last update looks impressive thus far.
2006-12-12 08:04:36
There is really an anoying Problem with tail. This makes iTerm almost unusable for me as I do a lot of log watching.

2007-01-15 05:30:55
screen ftw!