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Do you spend half your life inside the OS X Terminal? Is a plain text editor your second home? Do you need to SSH into a server on a regular basis? Perhaps you’re always found editing your hosts file with nano, or maybe you’re like me and do most of your online writing offline first.
Whatever you do with Terminal or TextEdit there’s no denying they’re each a bit boring and basic, and certainly not retro enough for my liking. Cathode ($10) and Blinky ($5) are two very stylish replacements that bring a touch of old-school jitter and grime to your pristine OS X desktop.
If you’re a sucker for classic computers, blinking green command prompts and magnetic interference you’ve just hit the jackpot.
Cathode, Replacement For Terminal
First, let’s make one thing very clear. Cathode doesn’t really add much functionality to your Mac beyond what it can already do. There are refinements, but the Terminal app in OS X is already full-featured enough for most non power-users. Cathode merely adds a degree of style to command-line based computing.
It features unique and accurate emulation of some classic command lines of the past alongside additions like a dynamic scrollback buffer, unicode support, 256 colours and a smattering of retro fonts. In terms of added refinements users can drag and drop files, customise keyboard shortcuts, use the mouse to copy and paste and open URLs with a cmd+click. These features alone probably won’t have to reaching for a crisp $10, but the aesthetics might.
Cathode will appeal to those of you who miss degaussing your monitor and the analog warmth that can only be provided by a cathode ray tube. If you long for the days of big visible pixels, image retention and instant-on command line interfaces, Cathode will make you smile. It might even make the hours you spend feeding text into a blinking prompt “fun”!
The app costs $10 but there’s a free trial version, which last indefinitely. The limitations of the trial version is that the quality of the command line will degrade beyond a usable point until you quit and re-launch the program. You can see the extent of this degradation over the course of about 30 minutes in the screenshot below (the “clean” image is above).
Blinky, A Text Editor
Blinky uses the exact same concept as Cathode except it’s a replacement for TextEdit, the default OS X text editor. The program feels like Cathode’s younger sibling and has now become my go-to text editor for writing articles. In fact, I’m typing this straight into it. One immediately noticeable trait is that, unlike TextEditor, Blinky does not do rich text formatting. This means it’s most suited to coders or programmers and bloggers who don’t mind a few HTML tags here and there. You might not want to format your CV using it, but it’s great for writing blog posts locally or editing CSS.
Adding transparency to the window using the slider in Preferences will provide what I have found to be Blinky’s only useful effect. Similarly, opening an image file (using drag and drop) converts it into ASCII art, which you can then screenshot using the File menu. These are probably the only “features” that Blinky has over TextEdit, but that’s not to say I haven’t had way more fun using Blinky. As someone who seems to spend half their life inside of a text editor, I absolutely love it.
Unlike Cathode, Blinky has no trial mode and instead must be purchased straight-up for $4.99 from the Mac App Store. If you’re only interested in Blinky but want to demo it first then you might as well download the Cathode trial, as the two are virtually identical in appearance (though not in functionality, obviously).
If there’s one thing I would like to see added to Blinky it’s iCloud support for saving documents to the cloud. TextEdit has this, and other apps can now use Apple’s cloud storage system provided they’re using the Mac App Store. Some of my colleagues swear by smart editors like SublimeText and TextWrangler, but for all their extensions, macros and time-saving functions I’d rather stick with Blinky. Neither it nor Cathode are the most useful apps of their kind, but there’s little denying they’re probably the best-looking replacements for Terminal and TextEdit out there.
Cathode splits its style options into two clear sections – the console and the monitor. Both are different, so you can mix and match any style that suits you. Blinky uses the same array of monitors but provides separate settings for fonts, rather than defined themes. You can also throw caution to the wind and create your own profiles and themes for each.
These vary massively between simple monochrome old DOS-like prompts to the Commodore-inspired “C86” and iconic green-on-black “Pomme”. Fonts and text size vary between each, though its easy to customise using the sliders provided (the settings panels pictured refer specifically to Cathode).
The Monitor settings panel offers the biggest range of customisation options, and as well as choosing from 14 presets, dragging the sliders around and clicking Save As… allows you to create your own monitor presets too. There are some really cool models here – from borderline-detuned TV setting “1986 TV” to the transparent, mildly curved “Teddy Boy”.
The picture can be distorted as you see fit using yet more sliders, with options for “overbright” and “burn-in” among others. Long ago many would have longed to see the back of jittery, de-synced monitors but now you can artificially induce your own monitor failure!
There are also sounds to accompany your visual distortions. On launching both Cathode and Blinky you’ll hear a decidedly old-school fanfare noise and on the Sound preferences tab you can change or enable even more audio accompaniments. In Blinky the sound that accompanies each keystroke could get annoying, but I personally don’t do enough with the command line to find the bleeps worth turning off in Cathode.
Attention to Detail
You’ll probably already be forming an idea of whether you think Cathode and Blinky are “worth it” merely for some aesthetic choices that some might consider a hindrance to their productivity. Not so, says I and If this vintage effect also appeals to you, you will adore the overall polish and attention to detail.
Both apps include the ability to shoot a picture of your office using your webcam and display it as if it were a reflection in your 1980s monitor. You can also decrease the speed at which the terminal returns information to a minimum of 110 bps, on a par with early dial-up modems – for seriously slow computing.
The immersive nature provided by Cathode and Blinky allows you to escape to a past you may or may not remember. This is software for those who feel a pang of sadness when they see an old 386 by the side of the road. It’s for people who use command lines and plain text often, and to whom $15 all-in is fair price for sprucing up the office. They’re a bit of fun, in an otherwise stark and utilitarian software market – and worth every penny.
Download: Cathode for Mac OS X ($10, free to try)
Download: Blinky for Mac OS X ($4.99)
Have you used Cathode? Does a vintage console emulator appeal to you? Let us know what you think in the comments, below.