In fact I have a very low interest in system customization nowadays. Probably because I’m tired of this kind of stuff (years of creating skins and icons and work in could not come unnoticed) or just because desktop customization in Windows is an endless source of troubles: from system slowdown to incompatibility problems or constant crashes.
Well, I often configure the system I’m working on to some extend, but this configuration is usually limited to wallpaper and some other minor changes. What I was really surprised with when working on OS X is how easy it is to change icons of files, folders or even applications. In most cases you only needed to copy-paste the icon you like in file properties window…
The thing that really annoyed me many times was the look of brushed metal windows. They contrasted a lot with Aqua style looking so much “old-school”. Besides, certain developers seem to overuse brushed metal windows in their apps which started looking freaky.
So, after some accommodation period I just tuned-up the system to make it look (and behave) more the way I prefer. What’s even more interesting, all these customizations could be done by only using free software and stuff.
I started from changing some application icons. The interesting thing about OS X is that many software developers just don’t see how ugly their software is when placed aside native Aqua applications. This is especially true for icons.
After a small inner fight I’ve given up the idea of using Firefox on OS X and installed Shiira and Camino instead. Sure, Camino lacks Firefox extensibility, but it looks much better on X due to its polished Aqua UI and icons.
Xee, my favorite image viewer got some makeup with the help of Adam Betts’ replacement resource set. Xee was not the only custom application icon available. In fact, you may download new visuals to a dozen of applications only from Adam’s site. Just to name few: iTunes, Adobe CS, Firefox, Newsfire… Can’t tell all of these icons are better than original ones, but many applications do really benefit from the updated look.
Custom Russian keyboard layout has finally got a pretty icon (5 minutes in Seashore) which I applied by just placing a custom ICNS file to “~/Library/Keyboard Layouts/” and giving it the same name as a layout file, but with “icns” file extension.
Growl default style was changed to “Smoke” to fit the new “grayscale” UI look…
The fist bit step was using an Agua replacement icon set by Iconfactrory (with this and this addons). Can’t tell I’m a huge fan of these guys (Mezich, Rogix, Centaurus or Buzuk have very competing styles IMHO), but this work has been done very professional and polished. Well, I do not like some perspective distortions in complex icons but for me they still look better than a default set I’m used to. What’s even more important, this set is “Aqua compliant”, i.e. it looks great with other Aqua icons. Even though Iconfactory recommends CandyBar for icon change the latter just didn’t start on my system updated to 10.4.9 so I just used free Liteicon instead which has done the work.
Now there’s one big thing left: theme unification. I’ve tried Shapeshifter several times, but could find no use for its themes and just applied Uno instead. The result is just what I needed: I got rid of brushed metal in favor of iTunes-like plastic and all bundled applications got a unified look. It should also be noted that this procedure is completely painless for the system. Unlike in Windows, in order to change the “theme” you don’t have to mess up with hacks like Windowblinds or ThemeXP keeping them in memory and “enjoying” redraw bugs or edit system kernel: in most cases Uno just modifies resource bitmaps in application bundles (it’s not even resource hacking!). Much more elegant solution, to my taste.
To complete the picture I have applied Adam Betts’ seasons change wallpaper as a background. I do still love Tiger wallpaper set but this image is more calm and neutral to my taste.
The final touch was the installation of a ClearDock application enhancer in order to remove Dock background. Really, I think it looks better without a background and zooming at all.
As I have already mentioned, I’ve installed some of popular productivity tools for X like Growl or Quicksilver (default skin).
Some of not well known addons included Visor (handy addon for Terminal letting you call one with hotkey and use like in modern FPS games), Afloat (small window enhancement like adjusting translarency level) and Mega Zoom (correcting the behavior of “green plus” to make it behave like in Windows/Linux).
So, as you can see, you may easily freshen the look (and feel) of your OS X system without having to pay a single cent for software or skins/themes.