Cathode is a vintage terminal emulator for Mac OS X. Sporting an extremely authentic retro look, the app echoes the old CRT terminals of the 70s and 80s whilst providing much of the same functionality as the terminal built into OS X. Cathode contains a wide range of classic themes in various shapes and colors, as well as a bevy of customization options. You can change the size, font and colors as you’d expect, but there are also unique options like changing the screen’s refresh rate (with options for both baud and kbs!), curvature, flicker and glass effects. Cathode is one of the most unique and well designed apps I’ve seen and is sure to turn heads when you boot it up with it full-screened in your local computer lab or coffee joint.
Cathode is made by Colin Caufield, lead (and only) developer at Secret Geometry. I took the opportunity to pick his brain about Cathode’s future development, the possibility of ports to Windows and Linux, and his reasons and inspirations for taking up the project:
Cathode was partially inspired by GLTerminal. I loved that app! Last year I was looking for a project to work on, and it occurred to me that lots of people wanted something like this. I went pretty overboard on the graphics by the end, but it was a lot of fun. I’m very proud of the finished product.
Cathode is under constant development. Colin hopes to soon release version 1.0, with quite a few planned upgrades, including modern terminal functionality and performance improvements:
Version 1.0 will have selection/copy support, drag and drop files support, and extended character support (accented characters, umlauts, etc.) Also, the app will be getting some performance tweaks.
These improvements should make it much easier to justify using Cathode as a serious terminal instead of a retro novelty. While Cathode did run smoothly on my machine, it did take a hearty third of my Hackintosh’s Core2Duo CPU. For a terminal that’s a bit excessive, but hopefully this will be greatly improved in future revisions.
Ports to Linux or Windows?
The most common question about Cathode regards its availability on other platforms. I was pleased to hear that the Cathode developer would be willing to release a free open source Linux version, although he understandably doesn’t want it ported back to Mac:
“As for Linux, I would love to release a free version for Linux, but again, I’d need to work with someone else. I really wish there was a way I could release a free/open-source version for Linux without ruining my Mac sales, but I don’t think that’s possible. If I released the source, I’m sure someone would release a free Mac port, and I’d be out of a job. I have a lot of respect for the open source community, and I think it’s becoming increasingly important.”
Hopefully this can be solved with judicial application of the proper license, as I think Linux users would really get a kick out of this application. Whilst an eventual Linux release seems possible, those on Windows aren’t likely to be so lucky – the developer doesn’t want to port Cathode to Windows due to concerns over piracy. It’s an understandable objection, but one that I am sure will disappoint many Windows users stuck with the default command prompt.
If you’re interested in trying Cathode, you should download it from developer Secret Geometry’s website. The download is free, but a clever trial scheme means that the terminal will slowly fade away, and you’ll have to restart the program or buy a license to return the program to normal and unlock the customization options. The full app costs $20 – it sounds expensive, but when you see the detail and dedication that has gone into producing Cathode I think you’ll agree it’s a price worth paying.