Serial: A better USB Serial program for OSX

USB Serial support in OSX has been a pain in my backside for years. The drivers for the USB to Serial adapters are hard to find, rarely work across OSX Version upgrades, require special processes to “authorise the driver” and are often buggy. Programs that support talking to a Serial Port are even harder to find.

For a long time, we’ve been using the Prolific PL2303 adapters. There are a number of companies that make them, and we can pick them up for about $10.  Recently, a number of network devices have started shipping with in-built USB ports that we need special breakout cables to support, and have had great difficulty getting OSX to support them properly.

We’ve also been using ZTerm – which is a stalwart of the USB to Serial empire on MacOS. It’s been around since OS 8 (for those of you who can remember back that far!). When I opened it tonight, I was reminded that ZTerm hadn’t been updated since 2011, and unless it got an unexpected update, it would not work sooner or later. I realised there must be a better solution.

Enter Serial.

Serial is a universal Serial terminal program for OSX. It has native support for most USB to Serial drivers (so you don’t need to find them) and it looks actually modern.

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I’ve used it to configure a Juniper SRX 110 tonight, and it worked great. I think my favourite feature was the paste mode, where it would wait for the remote device to echo the serial content back before proceeding – which meant that pasting a large configuration onto the device was a lot faster and not prone to the errors I have seen in ZTerm in the past.

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Aside from the fact I don’t know my own password… the serial console program looks and feels much nicer than ZTerm. Which is great when you are using a 40 year old technology.

There is a good range of configuration options too in terms of terminal emulation modes and character mapping – which I know resolves many of my long term beefs with ZTerm.

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“Modern” terminal emulation support, text-pacing, and character mapping are just a few of the things that make this much nicer than ZTerm’s quite limited settings.

Probably the thing I like the most is that it’s available in the App Store and doesn’t need any special authorisation to run as all of the drivers are in user mode. While it costs $46.99 Australian, it’s cheaper the ZOC (which I’ve found quite buggy at $80), and I would typically spend 3 – 4 hours trying to get these things to work – so the time savings are well worth it.

You can find it here in the OSX App Store.

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