My desktop lacks sparkles, silliness, and a general evocation of fun. I’ve been wondering why, and came to the conclusion that the culprit is macOS itself. At the moment, my computer desktop looks like this:
Besides the (temporary) mess—game screenshots I still need to archive and a few papers I dumped on there—That’s very much not that different compared to the screenshot I took when I was about to throw out the old 2012 MacBbook Air; see my earlier article desktop screenshots of olde. I cheated a little by including Obsidian since that comes with custom themes.
Take a moment to glance over my old desktops from 2004 when I was still running Linux/FreeBSD/WinXP. All those OSes had something in common: it was easy to change a window manager, and thus a theme. Even in Windows, this was easy: a lot of talented DeviantArt folks created dedicated themes that were easy to install. Remember Windows 95 Plus! Desktop Themes? The mouse pointer that became a buzzing bee—or was it a wasp?—(jungle theme) or a painting (Da Vinci theme), or a magnifying glass (spooky investigation theme)? It’s even possible to transform Windows 10 to inject a Win95 Plus! vibe.
On Winodws, I’ve used WindowBlinds for years, and amazingly, it’s still around for Windows 10 and 11!
On *NIX, I ran Fvwm, which is extremely customizable but by default extremely ugly. And then Xfce came along. But what stands out is that when you search for “macOS theme”, you get all kinds of results that help you transform your *NIX WM or Windows environment into a macOS clone. I distinctly remember trying to emulate the big and then cool looking Mac Doc icons and zoom animations on Fvwm.
But now, I want to do the other way around! Where is the Shapeshifter or ThemePark Mac software for OSX 12+? All I found was a dicey GitHub project called PaintCan and a theme called Siro on MacRumors—which is incomplete because suddenly we have to design both a light and dark mode.
MacOS—being it Montery or v13, Ventura—is boring. It’s dull. The red, orange, and green circles make me yawn. It’s too clean. I want custom icons, custom handle bars, silly system dock apps like
wmbubble or Gnome’s BubbleMon, a duck on water that visualizes CPU and memory load. BubbleMon for OSX exists but of course doesn’t compile on ARM. I don’t care for a boring stocks or weather app from Apple. Somewhere along the lines of incremental OS updates and standardization, we have lost the possibility to express ourselves. Even all those Gnome-powered default Ubuntu installations I see at work all look alike. Boring.
One of the problems is of course the nature of a commercial OS like Apple’s: it’s closed source and leaves little wiggle room to tinker with. Apple Scripts doesn’t alleviate that. I appreciate automation tools, but it doesn’t let me color my window title bars in bright green. To me, contemporary macOS feels arrogant: it wears its posh iconic design with too much pride and refuses to let others in. Granted, since OSX 12, “General” settings improved by a large margin, allowing users to set accent and highlight colors and light/dark appearances.
But that’s not silly enough: it still radiates boring!
Even the file manager, Finder, is getting on my nerves. I’ve discovered alternatives I still need to try out, but so far, all of this is making me think of moving back to a *NIX environment. Where tinkering was fun—and above all, possible. I know I switched to macOS because I didn’t have time to tinker anymore, and I probably still don’t, but still. The problem is that I don’t want to give up the vastly superior battery life and screen quality, and performance/ease of use of the ARM-M1 chip…
If you have customized your Mac’s appearance in a way that isn’t described here, please let me know!
Addendum, 17 Oct.: Luke reached out and has this to say about customizing:
I struggle with distraction, and the boringness and constraints of macOS is an advantage for me. I spent so much time theming Linux before I switched. I want the OS to fade into the background while I work.
Good call, I haven’t thought about that! Although there is more than enough distracting software installed on every macOS—how about a browser…