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Jul 6, 2012

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For months, there's been a hole in my life: I discovered the joy of full-screen, transparent consoles in Linux, but I haven't found anything similar for Windows. I did my best to fill the void with Console2, but the best it could muster was a nice, minimal window with multi-tab support.

Thanks to a comment by Charles Roper on another post, I decided to give ConEmu a chance. I'd seen Scott Hanselman's writeup about it a few weeks back, but I have to admit I was turned off by the ... um, less than beautiful UI in Scott's screenshots. But it looked pretty configurable, so I thought I'd see if I could turn it into the type of minimalist, instantly available console I've grown to love on my Mac and in Linux.

Here's how I made ConEmu shine.

Note: These instructions are based on build 120705. ConEmu is actively developed, so I'm sure some of the steps will be outdated soon. If something isn't where you're expecting it, just poke around.


The initial installation is dead simple. Download the latest build of ConEmuSetup.exe from the Google Code site. Run the installer. You know the drill.


The default UI isn't what I was looking for:

ConEmu's sad default UI

And it ran cmd.exe instead of PowerShell by default.

I wanted to make several tweaks to the out-of-the-box ConEmu configuration:

  • Load PowerShell when launched, set to my home directory.
  • Make the console instantly available from anywhere with a keyboard shortcut.
  • Set font to Consolas at my prefered size and make the background semi-transparent.
  • Run in true full screen mode with no tabs or other chrome visible.

It took a little while to figure out how to do each of these, because the settings dialogs are complex and not always user friendly.

Run PowerShell at Startup

Let's start by getting PowerShell loading correctly:

  1. Press Win+Alt+P to launch the Settings window.
  2. Click Startup | Tasks and create a new task configured like this:

    Task name: Default
    Task parameters: /dir "C:\Users\mylogin"
    Commands: >*powershell.exe

  3. Click Startup.

  4. Select the radio button next to Specified named task, then select the {Default} task.
  5. Click Save settings.
  6. Restart ConEmu. PowerShell should load and set the starting directory to your user's home folder.

Set a Global Hotkey

I wanted to map a global hotkey for ConEmu to Win+**, which is similar to the **Ctrl+ shortcut I use for Terminal on my MacBook.

  1. Press Win+Alt+P to launch the Settings window.
  2. Click Keys & Macro.
  3. Click the global Minimize/Restore shortcut.
  4. Remove the Shift modifier, and set the hotkey to `. Make sure Install keyboard hooks is checked.
  5. Remove the hotkey for the Recreate active console (or whatever shortcut conflicts with your chosen hotkey.)
  6. Click Save settings.

Pretty it up

Let's get that Quake-style goodness going now.

  1. Press Win+Alt+P to launch the Settings window.
  2. Click Main. These steps are unnecessary, per Maximus of ConEmu fame.
  3. Select the Full screen radio button under Console size and window position.
  4. Click Features.
  5. Deselect Always show scrollbar.
  6. Select Quake style slide down under Caption and border options.
  7. Enter a Pad size (pix) of 8 under Caption and border options.
  8. Click Features | Tabs.
  9. Deselect Enable Tabs under Tabs (panels, editors, viewers). This only hides tabs; you can still open new tabs with Win+N and switch between them with Ctrl+Tab.
  10. Click Features | Transparency.
  11. Select the Active window transparency checkbox.
  12. Move the Transparent slider until the opacity works for you.
  13. Click Save settings.

I did decide to leave the status bar, as it has a few handy bits of info like process IDs, the ConEmu version number and the number of open tabs. Each piece of information can be toggled on or off under
Features | Status bar.

Fix the fonts

And to make the text look presentable:

  1. Click Main.
  2. Select the Clear Type radio button under Anti-aliasing.
  3. Select Consolas in the Font and Change frames font menus. I also bumped the size up to 20 because I tend to sit back a bit from my hi-res monitors.
  4. Click Features | Status bar.
  5. Change the font to Consolas and set the size to 20.


Here's what my instantly available, full screen console looks like when it's open:

My tweaked ConEmu console

There's a lot more to explore with ConEmu. The documentation could use some serious help, so if you enjoy the app, consider offering to help.

And let me know in the comments if I missed any great features that you've discovered.

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