Why Is Microsoft Replacing the Default Windows Command Line?

Image of a laptop on a desk displaying code on the screen.
Why is Microsoft replacing the default Windows command line?

Several months ago, Microsoft announced that it would be replacing the default command line experience with Windows Terminal for Windows 11 users. Although this move might initially seem counterintuitive, it’ll likely make your life easier in the long run. In this article, I’ll explain why Microsoft is changing the Windows command line environment and what you can expect from this change.

First, let’s look at why Microsoft is implementing a new command line environment!

Why Is Microsoft Changing the Command Line Environment?

If you’ve ever worked with the Windows Command Prompt Window or with PowerShell, you might have noticed the similarities between the two environments. Even though the two command line environments support different commands, the interfaces look and behave very similarly.

Screenshot of a command line window and PowerShell window side by side.
The command line and PowerShell side by side!

This similarity stems from the Windows Console Host. This is the backend mechanism that both PowerShell and the Windows Command Prompt leverage. The Windows Console Host is tied to a process called ConHost and is what allows the command prompt environments to run inside a window. It’s also the mechanism that lets you change the font size or copy and paste in a command line environment.

Even though the Windows Console Host gets the job done, it’s dated and leaves much to be desired in a modern computing environment. If you’ve ever tried copying a block of text from the command line and pasting it into another window, then you know what I’m talking about. 

Microsoft has made some improvements to the Windows Console Host over the years. But these improvements haven’t been sufficient to allow command line windows to interact seamlessly with other windows. You can’t, for example, copy and paste with the same ease as with other Windows applications. 

How Can Terminal Help?

Microsoft is making it so that command line windows no longer have to be bound to the outdated Windows Console Host process. This means you’ll be able to use the environment you like best. 

You can certainly use the Windows Terminal, but other third-party vendors will inevitably release their own terminal environments. In fact, you’ll find vendors who already offer such products. That said, Microsoft has never officially supported the modifications.

What Can You Expect?

Initially, the only real change will be that if you open a PowerShell script or a DOS-style batch file, it’ll execute in the Windows Terminal. It’s possible, however, that performing other command-line-related activities might cause the Windows Terminal to open. That said, the old Command Prompt window and PowerShell window will still exist and function as intended.

The Terminal Experience

At first glance, the Windows Terminal doesn’t look much different from the existing command line environments. However, it has several useful features that admins and power users are sure to enjoy.

The most significant new feature is the tabbing feature, meaning you can have several command line windows open simultaneously. Additionally, you can even have differing window types side by side. For instance, you can have a PowerShell window next to a Command Prompt window.

Screenshot of Windows Terminal with two tabs open.
You can open multiple tabs at once with Windows Terminal.

Windows terminal also allows you to customize your experience in other ways. For example, you can assign different colors to open tabs to make it easier to remember which tab is which. 

You can even split a tab so that two command line sessions are displayed side by side within a single tab. For those that need to run migrations or more complex backend operations, this feature helps to keep your screen tidy and hopefully reduce a few human errors!

Screenshot of a split tab with two terminal sessions open side by side in Windows Terminal.
Two sessions are open within a single tab.

The Bottom Line

Windows Terminal is a huge improvement over the legacy command line environments. It contains many modern features that the modern computing environment sorely missed. That said, Windows Terminal still has more room for improvement. You can expect that since Microsoft allows for console extensibility, third-party vendors are sure to create some exciting command-line environments.

Do you have more questions about Windows Terminal? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

Is the legacy command prompt environment going away?

No. Even though Windows Terminal will act as the default command line environment, you can still access the Command Prompt window and PowerShell just like before. Batch scripts should still work as intended, although they may open the Command Prompt or PowerShell to run instead of Windows Terminal.

How do you copy command line text to the Windows clipboard?

To copy command line text to the Windows clipboard, first, select the text. Then, click on the icon in the upper left corner of the window. This reveals a menu. Next, select Edit, and finally, click Copy from this menu to copy the text to the clipboard.

Can you use the Windows Terminal in Windows 10?

Although the Windows Terminal is not natively included with Windows 10 like it is with Windows 11, you can download the Terminal for free from the Windows app store. If you’re running Windows 10, you can try out the new features before you move to Windows 11.

What types of tabs can you open in Windows Terminal?

Windows Terminal can display PowerShell, Windows Command Prompt, and Azure Cloud Shell tabs by default. You can also run all your batch scripts from Windows Terminal. But for some scripts, it may open an older terminal. That said, it should still run as intended.

How does Windows Terminal know what type of tab to open?

You can use the settings in the Windows Terminal menu to set the default tab type. You can choose the tab type from a drop-down menu when you open additional tabs. Once open, you can also use the split feature to run tabs side by side.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Essential Command Prompt Commands

Get essential Command Prompt commands.

TechGenix: Article on Custom PowerShell Cmdlets

Read more on how to create custom PowerShell cmdlets.

TechGenix: Article on How to Use Windows Terminal

Find out how to use the Windows Terminal.

Microsoft: Article on Installing Windows Terminal

Learn how to install the Windows Terminal.

Microsoft: Article on Windows Terminal Profiles

Discover how Windows Terminal profiles work.

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