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Hey, What Are You Doing? Playing With Your OS?
October 19th

Gary: Holy crap!!!! What have you done to your Mac, man? It looks like…well, it looks so…unMac-like.

Randy: Relax there, Wheezy, and stop clutching your chest like that. I haven't changed anything except the look of the interface of the Mac OS. Everything still works the same. It's just a new skin on the familiar old Mac OS.

Gary: Ahhhh. Here we go again with the Desktop Themes again. You are constantly screwing with the nuts and bolts of the OS. Apple has worked long and hard on the design of the Mac OS interface and woe be it for you to second-guess them. After all, you are an Idiot.

Randy: All the more reason I must muck with it. The way I see it, I have to look at my Mac everyday, 365/24/7. So why should I have to look at the same old interface everyday? We always talk about programs that allow you to waste time, like games and web-based entertainment, but I am proud to say one of the biggest time waster I love to play with is the Mac OS itself. How many other OS's can you say are fun to play with?

There are desktop pictures and patterns, sound sets, font face choices, custom cursors, and my favorite, schemes and themes. There are thousands of programs and tricks for tweaking your Mac's appearance. For today's little online powwow, we will focus on desktop themes and schemes.

It's possible, with just a few mouse clicks to transform your computer into a whole new experience. Make your Mac look like the computers aboard the Starship Enterprise, or make it look like everything is hand drawn like a mechanical drafting. The choices are practically limitless. Especially when you start using third party add-ons to your interface.

Gary: Man, you are such a complete geek it frightens me. I don't know about you, but I appreciate the job that Apple has done with the Mac OS interface. It's kind of the reason I bought a Mac in the first place.

Randy: Spoken like the timid old lady you are, old chum. I do agree the platinum theme that ships with the Mac OS is "the original" interface for the Mac OS, but change is good. As long as it doesn't interfere with the way you interact with your machine.

Gary: That's the whole point, lardhead. It does interfere with the way you interact with your machine. I hate working on your machine after you've had one of your episodes.

Randy: But changing your desktop theme only changes the appearance of the interface. All the widgets and controls are still in the same place and they still work the same way.

Gary: Maybe so, but Steve Jobs agrees with me. He axed the other themes that were to ship with OS 8.5.

Randy: Well, that is true. In fact, desktop themes are built right into the Mac OS since the release of OS 8.5. However Apple only ships the OS with the Platinum Theme installed. If you want other Apple built themes like Hi Tech, Gizmo or the hard to find Drawing Board theme you'll have to download them from the web.

A good resource for all kinds of themes is the Allegro Themes Project. These guys have compiled a great collection of third party themes files that are ready for downloading.

Another place to check out some groovy themes for your Mac is GTK Here you'll find well over 60 themes that work with Apples Appearance Control panel to customize your interface.

Gary: After you have downloaded one of these themes you'll have to drag the theme file into the Theme Files folder inside your Appearance Folder which is in your System folder. Once the file is in place just open the Appearance Control Panel and click the Appearance tab. Any themes you have installed will appear in the popup Appearance menu. Just choose a new theme and watch the chaos ensue.

Randy: Another great theme I like is called DSG and it was created by the DS Group, a company that specializes in interface design.

And if that wasn't enough to play with then you can explore the world of schemes.

Gary: That's schemes not themes, there is a difference.

Randy: Right you are, Gary.

Gary: As always.

Randy: Schemes are similar to themes in that they also change the Mac OS interface. But they do it in a very different way.

Gary: Schemes are files you use in conjunction with a Control Panel application called Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope's author, the most excellent Greg Landweber, is responsible for many interface enhancements over the past few years. Most Mac users have used the Greg's Aaron Control panel at one time or another (I must admit I used it too) to get that sweet Platinum appearance on their Mac before OS 8 came out. While I never like adding third party software to my System Folder, Mr. Landweber's enhancements are always rock solid.

Randy: With the shareware Kaleidoscope and any of the thousands of schemes available you can just about have a new computing experience every day of the year.

Gary: While there are only a handful of Mac OS Appearance Control Panel compliant themes, less than a hundred from what we have found, there are gazillions of Kaleidoscope schemes. And if you can't find the look you are going for then you can make your own schemes with Designer's Studio from Akamai Design.

Randy: With Designer's Studio you can change pretty much anything about the system interface you desire. From trash cans to window widgets, Designer's Studio lets you modify it all from one simple interface. And after you have made your own interface perfection you can pass on your scheme file for other Kaleidoscope users.

Gary: Unfortunately, Randy's own scheme attempt, "Used Six Pack" never caught on.

Randy: It was very popular with the college crowd.

Gary: So were beer hats. Need I say more?

Randy: But don't YOU still own a beer hat, Gary?

Gary: Ix-nay on the eer-bay at-hay. My ife-way thinks I threw it out-ay.

Randy: Man, you can't even speak pig Latin right.

Gary: Iss-kay my-

Randy: Well, that all the time we have for today, folks. But have fun experimenting with your own interface customizations. If you have to sit at a computer all day, you may as well make it as fun as you can. If you come up with a really good one, pass it on to us and we'll post it in the Developers' Cave for our readers to share.

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .

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