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Leopard tamers: 9 terrific interface tweaks

With a host of new tools and add-ons available, changing the look and feel of Mac OS X 'Leopard' is easy

May 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When Apple Inc. shipped Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" in October, Macintosh users were divided about some of the interface changes Apple had made from prior Mac OS X releases. Chief among these love 'em or hate 'em changes were the newly translucent menu bar and the 3-D, shelf-like Dock, as well as the new Stacks feature, which, when you mouse over a folder in the Dock, displays the folder's contents as a column of icons or a rectangular grid.

It didn't take long for power users and shareware developers to find ways to tweak the new user interface. At first, modifying Leopard required a level of comfort and experience using the Mac OS X command line and/or modifying system files. Over the past six months, however, the options for tweaking Leopard have become more sophisticated and easier to manage.

Today, most changes can be done easily by any Mac user without trepidation. Here, we'll highlight ways to make Leopard more Tiger-like, customize its look and feel to reflect your personality, and show you how to improve certain Leopard features.

Get back the look of Tiger

Apple's response to complaints about the translucent menu bar came with February's 10.5.2 update, which allows you to turn off the translucent look. If you preferred the look of the menu bar in Tiger, just uncheck the Translucent Menu Bar option in the Desktop & Screensaver preference pane.

You can go even further with a free tool from MD Softworks called LeoColorBar, which performs a handful of tweaking functions, including restoring the familiar rounded edges to the menu bar -- another subtle change in Leopard. It also lets you choose a color besides Apple's familiar brushed-metal gray for the menu bar, a nifty tweak in its own right.

The Leopard 10.5.2 update did not address complaints about the 3-D look of the Dock when it is positioned at the bottom of the screen. (When placed on the right or left of the screen, Leopard's Dock reverts to a 2-D style.)

menu bar after LeoColorBar
Dock after LeoColorBar
LeoColorBar can add color to the menu bar and restore a 2-D Dock. Click to view larger image.

LeoColorBar comes in handy here as well -- it can restore a 2-D look to the 3-D Dock. For those who like the Tiger look, this tool is a must.

Replace the glowing Dock indicators

While LeoColorBar can give you a 2-D Dock, it doesn't change the indicators for running applications. In Leopard, these indicators were changed from simple black triangles to glowing dots.

before and after Dock Delight
The Leopard Dock before and after running Dock Delight.

If you want to get the triangles back, a free tool called Dock Delight allows you to do so with just a couple of clicks. Again, it's a great tool for anyone who preferred the pre-Leopard Dock.

If you don't want the glowing dots but weren't crazy about the triangles either, you can customize your Dock with an indicator icon of your choice by replacing the default images the Leopard uses to create the indicators. Though not difficult to accomplish, this does require some minor changes to the Leopard system files, as detailed at the Silver Mac blog. You can even download a handful of free prepackaged alternate indicators to use.

Really trick out your Dock

So far, I've talked a lot about customizing the Dock to make it look and act more as it did in earlier Mac OS X versions. But that isn't your only option. If you like the idea of a 3-D Dock but not the glass-shelf look, check out the options at LeopardDocks.com and Dockulicious. Both of these sites maintain dozens (if not hundreds) of alternate Docks that you can download and easily install with tools available from either site.

new Dock
new Dock
new Dock
New looks for your Dock. Click to view larger image.

Instead of the glass shelf, you can have an iPhone-inspired Dock, a Dock that looks like a patch of lawn, one that looks like the icons are sitting atop a wood-paneled coffee table or even a Dock that looks like a tattered old pirate map. There are endless options ranging from stylish to whimsical to downright weird.

If you're not into themed Docks, you can also use DockColor to simply change the color of the standard 3-D Dock.



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