The Downside to Freeware Terminal Emulators

As a software developer with more than twenty years experience specializing in terminal emulation software we've seen many competitors come and go. Freeware, shareware and open source terminal emulators have existed alongside commercial alternatives almost since the first terminal emulator was developed. While there are situations where they are perfectly suitable for a users needs, for those using terminal emulation in a commercial environment, they aren't a real option. Here's why.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The DEC VT100 was a particularly prominent and widely adopted early terminal. It's standardized ANSI escape sequences and general popularity lead to it being used as a model for many subsequent terminals manufactured by both Digital Equipment Corporation and it's competitors. Terminals from such diverse manufacturers as Siemens, ICL, Stratus and various implementations of UNIX terminals look to the VT100 as a base. It's important to remember however that these terminals had 'enhancements', modifications and unique features that distinguish them from the VT100.

Not surprisingly the VT100 is the most widely implemented terminal in emulation software and commonly found in freeware emulators. Occasionally we hear of users using a VT100 emulation in place of another terminal. It's true, you can potentially use a VT100 emulation to connect to, for example, a minicomputer which is expecting a Wang 2110 terminal but despite their shared heritage they are different terminals and you will inevitably find that things don't quite function as expected. Screen formatting for many applications, particularly text editors, will appear incorrectly. Line wrapping, cursor positions, the interpretation and display of character attributes will occasionally behave incorrectly. It's not unusual for information to be displayed in the wrong place or even 'disappear' because it is being written to a position that is off-screen on the VT100. In a pinch this might be acceptable, but if terminal emulation plays an important role in your business or organization you really need to use the terminal that your host system is looking for.

Incomplete Implementation

Often, free terminal emulators take a 'near enough is good enough' approach and this is especially true if the author is writing a piece of software where he or she is the primary user. Of the many functions and features of the original terminals some will be obscurely documented and rarely used. Sometimes there were bugs on the original hardware terminals and software written for these terminals expected certain behaviors unique to the hardware terminal. A good terminal emulation needs to behave in the exact same manner as the original terminal and implements ALL it's behaviors. A mature and widely used terminal emulator such as TTWin 4 is the product of years of real world usage and testing – we're very confident in the completeness of our terminal implementations.

Outside of the actual terminal emulation, there are the extra features that you'll find on professional grade software that often aren't present on the freeware alternatives. Scripting languages, macros, proper language and keyboard support, security features, customization options and so on. More than once we've been approached by customers who have rolled out a freeware package across their userbase only to be forced into looking for an alternative months later when it has become apparent that their original choice wasn't up to the task.

Obsolete?

It's true that terminal emulation is a technology that has been around for many years. Whilst the terminals we emulate are a mature technology the platforms we develop for are continually evolving. If you're using free or open source terminal emulation software, chances are your software isn't 64 bit, doesn't support IPv6 and isn't being regularly updated. If terminal emulation plays an important role in your business it's important to know that there's a development team that is continuing to evolve a product and ensure that it remains up to date and relevant to the environment you're working in.

Trust and Responsibility

Turbosoft, like all commercial vendors, stands behind its products. Your host systems and the data they hold are a valuable asset to your organization and we understand that our software is often a vital link in the chain. Employing commercial software in place of freeware or hobbyware solutions gives you peace of mind and security – you know who wrote the code (do you really have the time to scrutinize the entire codebase of an open source alternative, or are you assuming others have done that for you?), you know that the vendor will take responsibility for the software and you know that when need support the company that wrote the software is on hand to assist you.

Freeware vs Commercial, the choice

Really, what it comes down to is fitness for purpose. If all you're looking to do is configure some network equipment via a serial connection and a VT100 emulation then you may be able to comfortably use one of the many free pieces of software floating about the Internet – we'd even encourage you to download a demo of our Windows terminal emulator TTWin 4 - it's fully functional and the 30 day evaluation time period should be ample for your needs. On the other hand if you have an activity that's important to your business then a terminal emulator which is accurate, reliable and will continue to remain relevant and meet the needs of your changing IT environment in the future is a sound investment. You need a high quality terminal emulator which correctly emulates the full capabilities of the original and interacts with your host software in the manner it was intended. Download Trial Software here.

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