In this post, we will take a look at the new features of Microsoft's terminal emulator Windows Terminal v1.2 and see how they improve working with the command line.

While terminal apps such as the command prompt have long existed in the Windows operating system, these have been aging for quite some time. Back in the summer of 2019, Microsoft released a new little program that has garnered excitement ever since, Windows Terminal.

Windows Terminal provides many features and capabilities that far exceed other terminal applications in Windows. Ever since the initial release, Microsoft has been steadily releasing new features with Windows Terminal. In this post, we will take a look at the new features in Windows Terminal 1.2 and see how far the program has come since its release.

Windows Terminal vs. Windows Terminal Preview ^

Since the release of the initial preview, Windows Terminal has gone GA. If you search for Windows Terminal in the Microsoft Store, you will see the Windows Terminal and Windows Terminal Preview releases available for download and installation.

With each Windows Terminal Preview release, Microsoft introduces features that make their way into each Windows Terminal GA build release as those versions are incremented. If you want to see the latest and greatest features and what is coming down the pipes, you will want to download and install the Windows Terminal Preview release.

Windows Terminal and Windows Terminal Preview available from Microsoft Store

Windows Terminal and Windows Terminal Preview available from Microsoft Store

New features in Windows Terminal 1.2 ^

As of the time of this writing, the latest version of Windows Terminal is version 1.2.2381.0. What are the new features found in release v1.2? It seems Microsoft is focusing heavily on the controls and interaction with the program itself.

This may seem trivial; however, among the many important aspects of an effective terminal or ISE are control over how the code looks and code interaction. With this release, Microsoft has introduced the following:

  • Focus mode
  • Always On Top mode
  • New Windows Terminal settings
    • Set tab color
    • Open tab color picker
    • Rename tab
    • Retro terminal effects enable
  • Cascadia Code font weights
  • New Settings UI design spec has been finalized

Installing or upgrading to Windows Terminal 1.2 ^

Before you can take advantage of the new features offered by the new Windows Terminal release, you will need to install or upgrade your existing installation. Microsoft has made this easy, as the Windows Terminal release is part of the Microsoft Store app.

You can simply search for Windows Terminal and choose to install or upgrade to the non-Preview version. Once you have installed or upgraded, simply click the Launch button.

Installing or upgrading the Windows Terminal app to v1.2

Installing or upgrading the Windows Terminal app to v1.2

Changing Windows Terminal settings ^

You may have noticed that many of the new features with Windows Terminal involve new settings. In this version, Microsoft has settled on the design spec for the Settings UI. However, it is still not available for use in changing settings. Up to and including this release, changing the settings for the Windows Terminal app requires low-level edits to the settings.json file. How is this file accessed currently?

To change the settings for the Windows Terminal app, click the dropdown arrow next to the new tab button and choose Settings. This launches the settings.json file for editing and enabling features.

Change Windows Terminal 1.2 settings

Change Windows Terminal 1.2 settings

New settings and features in Windows Terminal v1.2 ^

First, let's look at Focus Mode. To enable the new Focus mode, look for the section in your settings.json file that contains:

// Add custom keybindings to this array.
  // To unbind a key combination from your defaults.json, set the command to "unbound".
  // To learn more about keybindings, visit https://aka.ms/terminal-keybindings
  "keybindings":

This is the section where you add custom keybindings, such as the new focus mode. Note that you can use whichever key combination that you want to use. Here, we use SHIFT+F11.

Adding focus mode keybinding to the Windows Terminal v1.2

Adding focus mode keybinding to the Windows Terminal v1.2

With the new focus mode, the title bar and tabs are all removed, allowing you to focus in on the work in the current tab.

New focus mode with Windows Terminal v1.2

New focus mode with Windows Terminal v1.2

Always On Top mode

Another new feature with Windows Terminal v1.2 that helps to minimize distractions from your desktop is the new Always On Top mode. After toggling this mode, your Windows Terminal window will always stay at the focus of your desktop. All other applications will open "behind" Windows Terminal.

Configuring the Always On Top keybinding in Windows

Configuring the Always On Top keybinding in Windows

New customization settings

You can set a custom color for the focused tab in Windows Terminal v1.2. To do this, add the following keybinding in the same section as above:

{ "command": { "action": "setTabColor", "color": "#ffffff" }, "keys": "ctrl+a" }
Setting the focused tab color

Setting the focused tab color

Additional color control and other tab tweaks include the following:

  • Open tab color picker: { "command": "openTabColorPicker", "keys": "ctrl+b" }
  • Rename tab: { "command": { "action": "renameTab", "title": "MyTab" }, "keys": "ctrl+c" }
  • Toggle retro terminal effects: { "command": "toggleRetroEffect", "keys": "ctrl+d" }

Cascadia Code font weights ^

Windows Terminal makes use of Cascadia Code, which is a new monospaced font introduced by Microsoft alongside Windows Terminal. This font is purpose-built to be used with terminal editor applications and ISEs, such as Visual Studio Code.

The new Cascadia Code font enables controlling the font weight inside Windows Terminal. This will help to contribute to the visual appeal of the code editor.

Command palette ^

A new command palette is available when bound in the settings.json. Here, I am binding the new command palette to CTRL+SHIFT+P. The command palette allows you to visually select commands in the Windows Terminal, making it easy to find the command you are looking for.

The new command palette is almost complete

The new command palette is almost complete

New settings UI design is complete ^

Microsoft has been actively working on a new settings UI for making changes to the Windows Terminal settings. As you already know, making low-level adjustments to the settings.json file is not ideal and is error prone. Having a new settings UI that can drive the changes will help to make changes to turning settings on and off much easier.

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New settings UI in Windows Terminal v1.2 image courtesy of Microsoft

New settings UI in Windows Terminal v1.2 image courtesy of Microsoft

Wrapping up ^

Microsoft is making great progress with the Windows Terminal app. It provides a powerful new tool to write code and interact with the command line in many languages. Making changes to the app is currently a bit cumbersome with low-level settings.json edits. However, a new settings UI is coming soon that will make this much more efficient in future releases. The new functionality includes the new Focus mode and Always On Top to help eliminate distractions. In addition, the new tab colors, renaming tabs, and Cascadia fonts help to add to the visual appeal of the editor. It will be very interesting to see how Windows Terminal continues to grow and change with future releases.

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6 Comments
  1. Tom Siemers 1 year ago

    Can you run it elevated? Earlier versions didn't handle that very well.

    avatar
    • Why would you want to run a terminal application elevated?

      • Craig Matthews 1 year ago

        To execute terminal commands that require elevation.

        • Ah, you mean you use it to run local commands. Not sure if anyone at Microsoft really had a particular usage scenario in mind, but perhaps the idea was to use it as a remote tool. Another explanation (more likely) is that nobody in Redmond had thought this trough when it was published as a Store app. To run Terminal as admin, read this.

  2. I've been wishing for it since the beginning. I frequently do a lot of my administrative work through an elevated powershell session or an elevated cmd prompt.  Most of the time it is faster and more convenient for me doing it in the CLI than the GUI.

     

    David F. 

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