There are many things you can do to make your Mac look unique.
You can customise the hardware by decorating it or adding "skins".
But most of the customising comes from the software. Partly because it’s often free, and because it’s less… permanent.
So, what can you do if you have Mac OS 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard?
Until this weekend of mid-May, icons and dock changes (which I’ll detail later) were pretty much all you could do, because Apple has changed the way OS X generates the user interface in many ways. Not completely yet though: it appears 10.6 will be the first to fully use the new "CoreUI".
But enough technobabble. In short, since this week-end, all parts of Leopard are customisable. At least, that’s the theory.
And to illustrate, this is a normal Leopard screenshot. But here is an example of a new appearance, without using any hacks (note that system fonts can also be changed), and here is my personal Leopard’s appearance.
Note: there are still some limits, but for example, window backgrounds are customisable, …
In this series, I’ll talk about the different aspects of customisation, mostly for the sake of those users not entirely familiar with it, but it will contain some advanced customisation information as well.
Part II will concern the Dock and wallpapers, and part III, theming.
Icons are the first thing I believe every Mac user should give some thought to. Why? Without at least one new icon, Macs look like they’ve just come out of the Apple store. They are only half-alive, and they haven’t truly become the property of their owner.
Icons enable you to distinguish one folder from another, and this can be both crucial and a true timesaver.
I love icons, and if you take a look at my Leopard, you’ll see it right away:
So where can you get such icons?
My favourite source of Leopard icons (which are made to be nice from 16×16 pixels [mini size] to 512×512 [HUGE]) is MacThemes2.net (with a blog of announcements too). My personal choice has been Jonas Rask’s Maji icon set, modified to fit my needs and taste.
But getting icons isn’t enough. You then need to apply them, modify them, even change the system icons.
Fortunately for us, there are freeware options to doing all that.
First off, applying icons. This YouTube video shows you that applying icons requires no external software: you have it all in OS X.
Your first freeware friend is LiteIcon. LiteIcon enables you to change the stock system icons (that generic folder, that sidebar Desktop icon, that generic USB external drive icon) in no time, and makes it painless and costless. If you really want to do lots of changing, you might consider donating to the creator of this nifty app. If you want to also organise your icons within the same app, you’ll need CandyBar, by Panic, which does cost money.
Now, secondly, I’d like to mention an app I discovered by chance, after looking for a long time for "the right app" for creating custom icons by combining existing ones. IconCompo is one of the few apps out there to support Leopard’s 512×512 sizes (though it’s not apparent when you use the app), and it allows you to create icons that appear to be imprinted on another icon or icons that seem to be in front of another. A lot of trial & error is necessary before you can fully understand the app, which means it isn’t the easiest to use, but it’s the most powerful I found for free (and pretty much the only one that does what I wanted it to do).
Once you’ve got all that worked out, it’s time to move on to step 2: the Dock.