A scruffy Jack russel displayed on a glitchy terminal

Relive the glory days of CRT monitors with cool-retro-term

David Rutland
David Rutland CLI

Cathode ray tube televisions dominated household lounges from the beginnings of television in the early 20th century, to the widespread adoption of LCD displays in the early 21st.

Most people's first experience of any kind of computer would have involved using a coaxial cable to connect an early console or home computer to the back of the family television.

Even if you were an early adopter of the fabulously expensive 'personal computers' that could be used at home, you still would have plugged it into a CRT monitor.

Cool Retro Term is a time machine for your terminal

Amiga 1200 with a CRT monitor playing Bomb Jack

The humble CRT monitor has an enduring place in pop culture, and aside for in the nostalgia for your own lost youth, they appear as central to the plot in a huge range of cinematic and cultural classics.

The project aims to transport you to a simpler time and place, when a computer's memory was measured in kilobytes, and having to adjust vertical scanning to get a clear image was a daily chore, and you occasionally needed to physically whack your hardware to get it to behave.

cool-retro-term is lightweight and immensely customisable to help you get the exact retro look and feel you're searching for.

As well as coming with presets such as IBM, Apple, monochrome green, and futuristic, you can also configure cool retro term with visual artefacts common to technology of the last century to make your session more immersive.

Install cool Retro Term on Linux

cool-retro-term is available is the standard repositories for most distros.

To install cool-retro-term of Arch and its kin enter:

sudo pacman -S cool-retro-term

Or for Debian and derivatives:

sudo apt install cool-retro-term

For Fedora and friends:

sudo dnf install cool-retro-term

Alternatively, you can install cool-retro-term using the AppImage:

wget https://github.com/Swordfish90/cool-retro-term/releases/download/continuous/Cool_Retro_Term-dac2b4f-x86_64.AppImage

Make it executable with:

sudo chmod +x cool-retro-term/releases/download/continuous/Cool_Retro_Term-dac2b4f-x86_64.AppImage

...and launch with:


Fine-tune your vintage computing terminal experience

Screen split vertically into two. cool-retro-term on the left, with the setings menu on the right

Early monitors had their quirks. Monochrome screens for instance, and weird lines that floated up and down the screen. Fuzzy text, burn-in. cool-retro-term recreates these faithfully.

Launch the app from your start menu or regular console, and you'll see glowing orange text on a brown background, complete with the bezel of the curved monitor on which your terminal is supposed to be running. A slow drifting line changes the hue as it lazily progresses down the screen, and static noise hints at electromagnetic interference - or possibly a dodgy tuner. There's a slight flicker. Welcome to the 1980s.

Of course, you may want your session to be more or less immersive, and if you want to alter of fine-tune any of these special effects it's easy to do:

Right-click anywhere in the interface to bring up the context menu, then click on Settings. Under Effects, you'll see checkboxes and sliders for everything from screen curve and flickering, to ambient light, jitter, and burn-in. You can adjust these to your satisfaction or turn them off altogether.

Under the Advanced tab, you can enhance the realism by adjusting the quality of the textures, bloom and burn-in, as well as changing the frame rate of the effects. Yes, your virtual monitor can flicker and jitter with a realism of 60 FPS, but that kind of defeats the point.

Modern utilities in a vintage environment

The great thing about about using cool-retro-term is that you can use it just like a regular terminal. Edit your conf files in nano, view images with ImageMagick, create markdown documents, and write HTML for your website or blog.

Whatever you do, it will exude a kind of ineffable cyberpunk cool. It's like using the terminals in a video game, but for real, and important stuff. You're the protagonist in Fallout, or your own 80s movie. You'll find yourself frequenting coffee shops in the hope that someone will look over your shoulder and see just how excessively cool you are.

Run some classic games in your retro terminal

colossal cave adventure on cool retro term with an emulated black and white IBM screen

While you can do virtual everything you'd normally do in cool-retro-term, we feel you'd be missing out if you didn't fully embrace the nostalgia by running some cool retro games. We'd especially recommend Colossal Cave Adventure - the world's first text adventure.