September 13, 2007

Three addictive pop-up console utilities

Author: Federico Kereki

I do development work, and I require access to a console to run programs, check output, or monitor transmission packets. Up until now, I've used a terminal program in a different desktop, and use the mouse to change to that terminal. Now I've found a quicker way, by using any of three Quake-style consoles that pop up just by pressing a key.


Yakuake is easy to get and install, because it appears in openSUSE repositories. The stable release is version 2.7.5 (from March 2006) with version 2.8 (May 2007) in beta; I tried them both with no problems.

The first time you run it (you can find it in the main menu, under System/Terminal, or type yakuake in a terminal) Yakuake shows a small popup window informing you that you can call up the console with F12, and allows you to change the key binding. Since F12 can be used by other programs (such as Quanta Plus, which I frequently use), I enabled a previously unused special key on my keyboard. Press it once, and a console pops down from the top of the screen; press it again, and it goes up and hides. Slick!


Yakuake displays three buttons at the bottom right of the console: a plus sign, a down arrow, and a "close" icon. The first button makes Yakuake stay on screen even if it loses focus; that is, if you click elsewhere. The second button lets you configure the program: its size (width and height, as percentages of the screen size), position (left, right, centered), animation speed (I set it to zero, to get an instantaneous console), and looks. As to the latter, since Yakuake is built on KDE's Konsole technology, if you know how to configure that program you won't have any problem here. I like the "transparent, dark background" schema, as in the screenshot, but if you use Yakuake with Xfce, do not pick a transparent schema; results won't be pretty! In addition to its native KDE, Yakuake runs in GNOME.


You have to get Tilda (no, not Tilde with an "e"; that name was already taken!) by using the link on the project's Downloads page. The latest release is 0.9.4 (November 2006) but the page was updated on May 2007, so development apparently goes on.


Installation is easy, but you will need several packages. First, download VTE and libConfuse and install them using the classic ./configure && make && make install sequence. Finally, get the Tilda source files themselves, and run:

tar zxf tilda-0.9.4.tar.gz
cd tilda-0.9.4
./configure --prefix=/usr

Then, as root, run make install and you will be done. To invoke it, just use tilda; the installation process doesn't add the program to a menu. Tilda's default invocation key is F1, which is rather weird since that key is usually reserved for help. The first time you run it you'll see a window full of options. If you want to change options later, right-clicking on the console will allow you to do so. After you change options, you must restart Tilda before the new options go into effect.

I tried Tilda not only in GNOME (its natural desktop environment) but also in KDE and Xfce, and it worked just fine. However, I do not like the fact that the console shows up with no borders at all; it's just a colored rectangle on top of everything else. Nevertheless, Tilda is a solid application that works in many environments.



Yeahconsole comes from the developer responsible for the YeahWM window manager. Download the tarball, then run:

tar zxf yeahconsole-0.3.4.tar.gz
cd yeahconsole-0.3.4

As root, run make install. The final command ends up at /usr/local/bin. The installation process won't include Yeahconsole in your menus; you can either add it by hand, or run the program directly from the command line by typing yeahconsole & -- the & at the end makes it run in the background. If you get tired of it, the command killall yeahconsole will get rid of it. The default activation key combination is Alt-Ctrl-Y, but you can change it.

Configuring Yeahconsole isn't so easy, because it requires you to edit a configuration file. First, in your home directory, you need edit the /usr/X11/Xresources file (so everybody will get the same options) or create a file of your own (say, .Xyeahconsole) and then merge it with the system file by using the xrdb -merge .Xyeahconsole command. In both cases, you can set up some parameters with lines like:

  • yeahconsole*consoleHeight: 40 to make the console 40 lines tall
  • yeahconsole*aniDelay: 10 to make it appear more quickly
  • yeahconsole*toggleKey: None+F12 to pick the activation key. Options can be any combination of "Win," "Alt," "Control," or "None," followed by a "+" sign, ending with the name of a key.

You can find all possible options in the included README file.

Yeahconsole worked just fun under KDE and GNOME, but with Xfce I got an X error, and the program wouldn't run.


All three programs offer similar functionality, but differ in ease of configuration (Yeahconsole being the hardest), looks (I prefer Konsole's looks, so for me Yakuake is tops), and usability in different environments. But using at least one of these utilities has become mandatory for me now; I won't work anymore without one of these consoles available at a keystroke. They do become addictive!


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