Mac OS - Customise your desktop

If you've recently bought a Mac or upgraded to OS 9, and are tired of its appearance, have you ever thought about customising your interface? While we are stuck using OS 9 and waiting for the scheduled July release of OS X, with its translucent menus and photo-quality icons, here's some food for thought.

First thing's first - let's have a look at your resolution. In Control Panels select Monitors and make sure the colour depth is set in the millions. To the right is the Resolution area. Experiment here a bit and find which resolution/refresh rate combination best meets your needs.

Resolution checked, the next step is to decide on a desktop theme. This time in Control Panels, select Appearance. As you'll see, this is the command centre, so to speak, for tweaking your system's appearance. The first tab from the left is Themes. Here you can quickly and easily preview and select from a range of default colour/font schemes provided with OS 9. Nothing there to your liking? Then create your own theme. Any time you want to save your mixed and matched options as your own theme, remember that the Theme tab is where you come back to. Select Save Theme, give it a title and it's there for the next time you change your mood or do a virtual spring clean.

The next tab is titled Appearance. By using the drop box you are able to change the colours the system uses when highlighting text or menu options. In the same fashion, you can select your system fonts and sizes under the Fonts tab. There is also an anti-aliasing option to smooth out larger fonts.

The Desktop tab allows you to choose your wallpaper from either OS 9's defaults or any image stored on your hard disk. For the latter, simply select Remove Picture, Place Picture then Set Desktop to apply the change. The Sound tab allows you to toggle on or off any sounds at certain system events or user actions, such as a reassuring "click" when selecting an item. Finally, in the Options tab there are tick boxes allowing you to toggle two nice navigation features. The first is the placement of both arrows at the bottom of the scroll bar, saving you the need to move to the top of your screen to scroll up - something much appreciated when using a trackpad on a Powerbook, for example. The second feature is the ability to collapse the current window to the title bar by double clicking the title bar itself.

If this isn't enough, there is an interface enhancement shareware program compatible with Mac OS 9 called Kaleidoscope 2.2 ( With it, you can download and switch between schemes/themes ranging from conservative to the outright ludicrous. Icons, scroll bars, windows - you name it - can all look however you can imagine. You can even make your own scheme.

The huge amount of third party software available from sites like is another strength of the Mac Operating System. If you are new to the Mac, I strongly recommend investigating extensions such as Drag Thing - a shareware application which provides yet another way to open applications.

Speaking of different ways to navigate OS 9, the Control Strip demands a mention. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a hindrance, it allows easy access to system applications like sound volume, Internet connection and the like. Don't like the look of it? You can change its fonts by going to Control Panels, selecting Control Strip and choosing the font and font size of your choice. Don't like where it is at the moment? You can put it anywhere you like along the left or right of your screen by simply holding down the option key and dragging the tab at the end. Want to get rid of it? Once again, go to Control Panels, select Control Strip and then Hide Control Strip.

So, if you are getting sick of looking at the same interface palette and design day in and day out, what's stopping you making a change? tipIf you find yourself at a loss at any time while using your Mac, simply click on the question mark button in the window you're currently in for help specific to that area. Additionally, Balloon Help - a pop-up bubble of useful information displayed about the area over which your mouse is located - is available at any time by selecting Help, Show Balloons.

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Danny Allen

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