Arguably one of the most important aspects of Linux is the terminal emulator. Especially on a minimal system, the terminal emulator is going to easily be one of your most used pieces of software.

Over the course of my computing life with linux, I have used many different terminal emulators. I started off with gnome terminal, the default terminal in my installation. When I started using a standalone window manager instead of a full fledged desktop environment, I moved to alacritty due to the fact that it was GPU accelerated, meaning it would be faster. I then moved to kitty, specifically to test out the kittens feature for a while.

Right now, the terminal emulator I use is Uxterm. I will explain why in a second. First, let me tell you some of the criteria that are important for a terminal emulator. Keep in mind that this is my personal preference and it may differ from what you think/want/need.

Typing latency is the biggest factor for me when using a terminal. By typing latency, I mean the delay between when the key is pressed to when it shows up on the screen. I would prefer a terminal with a lower tying latency over more features, because the main thing I will be doing in the terminal is typing. Extra features can be a great plus, but I would rather have a terminal that is tailored for what it is supposed to do, that is, process my tying and send it to the kernel. I use vim to write most of my documents (including this one), so it is important for me to have a terminal which is good in this aspect.

Uxterm has one of the lowest typing latencies out of the many terminals out there (for some formal tests, check here). For those of you that think a couple milliseconds of typing latency doesn’t really matter, check out this study. If your still not convinced, open up a resource-heavy word processing software (eg: libreoffice) and type something. Switch to a tty or xterm and type again. Notice a significant difference? Typing in a terminal with minimal typing latency will enable you to achieve greater speeds as well as better accuracy.

Since Uxterm is just xterm with support for unicode characters, I will just refer to it as xterm from now on for the sake of simplicity.

After typing latency, I look for the ability to customize features to my liking. Although xterm is not the best looking terminal out of the box, it can be customized extensively via the ~/.Xresources file. You can change the colours, font, and many behavioural aspects of the terminal from the file. Xterm may be old software, but it still has quite advanced features not found in many other terminals. So for those who want to show off your geek skills to non-UNIX users, this terminal won’t hold you back.

Now for the downsides:

The only feature that xterm is really missing in terms of looks is native background transparency, although I have seen it hacked into the terminal via things like transset-df. It is possible to use a compositor like picom and make the entire xterm window transparent, but that means the text will also be transparent. If you would like native background transparency but would still like a low resource usage terminal, check out URxvt.

The colour support in xterm is also not as good as some other terminals, but I don’t need to do fancy colour stuff (at least not with my terminal) and I find the xterm colours to be more than usable enough for text.

Xterm also doesn’t have tabs, which may be a deal breaker for some, but since I don’t use tabs that much in a terminal emulator, and I use tmux, it wasn’t a big downside for me. If you need tabs, again, you might want to check out URxvt.

Xterm is widely touted to be mainly a fallback, emergency terminal, but I think it is still usable for daily use. A good alternative if you want more modern features like tabs, native transparency, and better color support would be URxvt, though you would sacrifice a couple milleseconds on top of the <3ms typing latency Uxterm has.

All in all, if you’re like me and wanting a terminal with minimal typing latency, I recommend giving Uxterm a try. It may be old, but its still maintained and still (in my opinion), one of the best.