My task: I need to set up standard colors for Xterms for a large set of users in a company. The requirements are:

  • There are four types of Xterms (Development, Production, External Client, and Multiclient).

  • Production Xterm is green text on black background (think Matrix :)

  • External client Xterm was decided to be yellow on darkish blue. It's easily distinguishable from black/green Production palette, but still dark-background, signifying production context.

  • Multi-client is some weird light-on-dark combination, of no specific significance other than it is different from either production or External client but also light-on-dark.

Challenge: I need to decide on the text and background colors for Development Xterm.


  1. First, it needs to be drastically different from Production and Client ones, strongly preferred to be light background (if it's a dark background, you need to explain how someone can on purely visual instinct distinguish from existing production palettes, when they do "Copy"-"Alt-Tab-to-wrong-window"-"Paste"-"Enter" in a fraction of a second.

  2. On the other hand, contradictory, software developers (of which probably 1/3 or even 1/2 Xterm users are), have to spend a LOT of time in Development Xterm; which means that the colors picked must be

    • Easy to read

    • Not cause eyestrain from long staring at

    • Preferably, be at least not heavily widely displeasing (that's subjective, but it's generally understood that - for example - green on red is ugly, even leaving aside color blind user issues).

    The problem being, of course, that the best palette choices to satisfy these constraints are dark background with light text, which generally conflict with consideration #1 (not obviously different enough from production type Xterms which all have dark background theme going).

Originally I chose black on light blue, but there were numerous complaint that light blue background (#51 in table below) was too bright and hard on the eyes.

The color choice is a standard 256 color ANSI color set:

enter image description here

  • From my subjective experience, developers are much more aware than other users that light-on-dark is more protective for the eyes than the inverse. Probably, due to experience staring at code and consoles. Anyway, they will be spending a lot of time with this setup, so I wouldn't underestimate the problem. My suggestion would be that you review your first consideration, and maybe think of a clearly distinctive background, that is still towards the dark range of the spectrum. Would playing with other aspects (e.g. font faces or semi-transparency be an option)? – mapto May 16 at 8:02
  • Why are you deciding the color scheme and not the users? Why so many different color schemes? What's wrong with the default GTK/KDE color set? – xiota May 16 at 8:44
  • @xiota - so many questions.... the answer to all is "management decided". – DVK May 16 at 14:20
  • @mapto - this is bog standard Xterms, Putty terminals etc... colored using ANSI colors. I am not aware of semi-transparency, or font face, being something that can be centrally configured for either for a large diverse user set (where basically the only control that can be had is .login/.cshrc type files in Unix user directories) – DVK May 16 at 14:22
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because belongs on graphicdesign.stackexchange.com – Danny Varod May 16 at 18:47

You cannot have a light background. You can try medium gray something like 238/250 from your choices.

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    Could you expand on this? – Mayo May 16 at 15:53

As mapto notes, developers who spend a lot of time at the terminal seem to prefer dark backgrounds. I certainly do, even though I'm fine with black on white for webpages and GUI text editors.

If you need the developers to switch to a light background, consider buying Macs for each of the developers. The default terminal on Macs is black on white, and they may not mind it if they get a new device out of the deal.

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    How is "get a Mac" an answer for "what color to use"? If your answer is "use a black on white", that's fine, please explain why that's a good color choice (imho it's even worse than bright blue background usability wise, but I'm open to being convinced) – DVK May 16 at 14:24
  • You state "strongly preferred to be light background"... But then "there were numerous complaint". To get the light background without the complaints, give them Macs (bribe them). – xiota May 16 at 14:26
  • I thought I posted on UX.SE, not lifehacks.SE. While I appreciate the ingenuity, this in no way answers the UX question asked (what is the light background combo that would still work for the purpose, or a dark background combo that would be drastically and easily snap-distinguishable from existing black/dark blue ones) – DVK May 16 at 14:29
  • The UX feedback you get will be awesome if you buy them Macs. – xiota May 16 at 14:30
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