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

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Make Stacks look and act consistently

In the Leopard 10.5.2 update, Apple responded to criticism about Stacks by making the feature optional. Users can now choose to display a folder placed in the Dock as a hierarchical pop-up menu of the folder's contents (as previous Mac OS X versions had done) rather than as a stack.

While this choice is an improvement, the update didn't address the major problem with Stacks: the changeability of their icons in the Dock. By default, the icon displayed in the Dock for a Stack shows tiny icons for the first few items (documents, image files, applications, folders, etc.) contained within the folder, stacked three-dimensionally, one in front of the other. The icons included in a Stack's representation in the Dock are arranged in alphabetical order of the items inside the folder.

Apple's intention here seems to be that a Stack icon will always reflect the contents of the folder that it represents. Unfortunately, this means that every time you add a new item to a folder represented by a Stack, the Stack's icon in the Dock may change. As a result, there is no real consistency for folders whose contents change often.

hard to see Stack icons
Stack icons can be hard to distinguish and may change frequently.

Even when folders don't have constantly changing contents, it can be difficult to tell which Stack is which without mousing over them to see their names highlighted. For example, two of the Stacks in the screenshot above look identical simply because they both contain folders and Word documents, and both happen to have folders within them whose filenames are alphabetically listed before any other items.

Although it doesn't change the overall behavior of Stacks, Stacks in Da Place is a great donationware tool for solving the problem of making each Stack look consistent regardless of its contents. It lets you select a single icon that will be perpetually displayed as the front icon in a Stack so you'll always know which Stack is which.

A great companion to Stacks in Da Place is one of several series of drawer-style icons for Stacks by Yasushi Chida (note that the majority of text on this site is in Japanese) that make your Stacks look like filing cabinet drawers or bins containing the icons of the items in the folder being displayed.

Stacks in Da Place with drawer-style icons
Stack icons are much easier to identify after using Stacks in Da Place and adding drawer-style icons.

Extend Quick Look for folders and archives

Without any tweaking, Leopard's Quick Look feature shows you a full-size preview of almost any file without opening an application: As you're browsing through files in the Finder, simply tap the space bar. But there are two free plug-ins available for Quick Look that extend its functionality and usefulness.

default Quick Look
enhanced Quick Look

The default and enhanced Quick Look folder views. Click to view larger image.

The first is for folders. By default, when you look at a folder with Quick Look, you see some general information about the folder and its icon.

But with the Folder Quick Look plug-in, you can also see a list of the folder's contents (optionally including all hidden files) as well as information about each item such as file size, creation and modification dates, and file type.

Similarly, Zip Quick Look Plugin allows you to peer into .zip archives. This makes it easy to see what files are contained in an archive from the Finder or within an attachment in Mail. Being able to get a view of the contents of an archive before expanding it makes it easier to work with compressed files, but it also adds a certain level of security (particularly when used in Mail) because you can ensure that the contents are something that you actually want to expand and/or open.

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