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Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview:
Yes! The Term “Opaque Window” Is An Oxymoron

Published August 6th, 2007

After all, who Crystal Clear Safari 3.0 Windowwould ever install an opaque window? In the real world, a window by definition is clear—you can see through it. If it weren’t clear, you couldn’t very well call it a “window.” In other words, an opaque window is an oxymoron. Yet, that very oxymoron is the norm on our computer desktops today. As Crystal Clear evolves, its aim is coming closer to making opaque windows as much of an oxymoron on your desktop as they are in that wall over there.

Computer desktops have slowly evolved since 1984, when the first Macintosh was introduced. With each operating system release, Apple has added more realism to the graphics that make up application windows, the desktop, and their various “widgets” and icons. Microsoft and other GUI-design-wannabes have followed along as closely as they could. Through this process, our software windows and icons have gained a little 3D through primitive shading, higher resolution displays, larger icons, better shadows, alpha transparency and compositing, smoother animation and transition effects, and so on. These changes have produced a dramatically more “realistic” look-and-feel today than we had in the beginning. Undoubtedly, this evolution Mac OS GUI Circa 1984will continue, and desktops 10 years from now will make today’s look similarly primitive.

The Crystal Clear experiment is asking the graphical question, “How about using transparency to improve realism, while enhancing the beauty of our desktops at the same time?”

Up to now, the Crystal Clear theme for Mac OS X has brought clarity to your Aqua window toolbars, titlebars, and menubars. Crystal Albook icons clarified your system and application icons. And there has been much rejoicing.

However, a common question from early users of the theme was, “How about the window edges? How about the status bar? How about Safari’s bookmark and tab bars?” Unfortunately, none of the tools in a Mac OS X themer’s bag of tricks (chiefly, ThemePark ) can help affix transparent colors or graphics onto those bits of Aqua windows, so I had to throw my shoulders up in a major, sad shrug.

Fortunately, my little experiment in alpha transparency didn’t end there. The SetAlphaValue software that’s been a key part of Crystal Clear’s magic from the beginning has led me on a merry (well, mostly merry) romp through Objective-C and Cocoa Land, the world of geeky wonder that lies behind each object on your Mac OS X desktop. With much open-source Cocoa software code, two excellent books, and the rich universe of web Cocoa resources in hand, I’ve been slowly absorbing the syntax and grammar of Objective-C, the programming language of choice for Cocoa application development. As I got deeper into the “messaging” framework that’s a key part of Cocoa, I realized I could hack SetAlphaValue to do much more than just adjust window transparency.

So, I’ve been experimenting with doing just that. The new version of Crystal Clear isn’t quite ready for release, but I thought I’d publish a few screenshots to see if anyone but me finds this sort of thing irresistable.

Crystal Clear
Font Panel
Color Panel
Table Panel

Crystal Clear TextEdit

Crystal Clear
Address Book

Crystal Clear iCal

Crystal Clear
Amadeus Pro

Crystal Clear Amadeus Pro

Crystal Clear

Crystal Clear Xcode

Crystal Clear
System Preferences
Help Viewer
Character Palette

Crystal Clear System Preferences

The new version of Crystal Clear will add these features to the current one:

  • Semitransparent text fields
  • Semitransparent background color for text composition windows, such as the one in TextEdit
  • Nearly transparent window backgrounds
  • Semitransparent backgrounds in scrolling lists and table views
  • Addition of an “opacity” slider to the Color Panel, so you can use transparent background colors of your choosing in any Cocoa editor, including Xcode and Coda, that do not natively support this. I’m also enjoying using it in nifty little utilities like MemoryStick , which you can see at the bottom of all of the screenshot windows.
  • A new, tiny application that adds the Crystal Menubar to your desktop.
  • Another tiny app that adds a transparent “gloss” to your desktop.
  • Reworking of numerous button and other graphics in the Crystal Clear theme to account for newly transparent backgrounds.
  • A workaround for Safari 3.0 that works right with a couple of annoying exceptions. :-)

I’m hoping to finish testing and have something available to release by early September… sooner if all goes well!

Since more transparency in your windows gives you even more reason to eliminate window and desktop clutter, I plan to get that key article on Single Application Mode (SAM) out the door between now and then. If SetAlphaValue worked in all of your apps, SAM wouldn’t be absolutely necessary, but since it doesn’t work in Carbon apps (such as Finder, Microsoft [whatever], Adobe [whatever], iTunes, and many others), I find using SAM essential to making transparent windows usable on Mac OS X. Not that SAM is hard or in any way painful, but it’s definitely something that’ll be new to many Mac users. Sadly, I’ve found that many humans equate “new” with “bad,” even if “new” is clearly “good.”

Of course, if you don’t have beautiful desktop pictures, there’s really no point in having transparent windows. After all, what else is there to “see through” in an application window if you don’t care to see your other windows or desktop-icon clutter? To that end, the new Crystal Clear will ship with a variety of new background pix that I’ve found enjoyable. In the interest of celebrating “gloss” generally, this collection of background pictures shares that theme.

The preview images above have three desktop pictures of my own devising—the first, fourth, and fifth. The second is a simple glossy pic that was aptly named ” YAGW” (yet another glossy wallpaper) by its maker, an artist from Portugal nicknamed Greven. The third is a design called Pastel Dreams by the Almighty Bazaa, to which, with her permission, I added a bit of gloss. Every time I visit a site like Deviant Art, I come away with an armload of great desktop pictures, which I’ve found are just a whole lot more interesting to look at than opaque white and grey, the staples of traditional software windows. Now, with Crystal Clear, I can enjoy my desktop pix and still get all my computing done!

High-Res Screenshots from my deviantArt site
Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview No.5 by ~marsmuse
Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview No.4 by ~marsmuse
Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview No.3 by ~marsmuse
Screenshot #1:
System Preferences
Screenshot #2:
Amadeus Pro
Screenshot #3:
Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview No.2 by ~marsmuse
Crystal Clear 1.5 Preview No.1 by ~marsmuse
Screenshot #4:
Screenshot #5:
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