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Mars Report:

CrystalClear Interface 2.2

Published August 25th, 2009

I posted the new version of CrystalClear Interface a few days ago, and then proceeded to hunt down and squash a couple of last-minute bugs. Yesterday, I was also moved to make one of the hard-wired features a configurable option. While not as dramatic an upgrade as version 2.1, CCI 2.2 nevertheless has a large number of new features, enhanced features, and bug fixes, as well a great deal of code optimizing. What follows is a summary of the more significant changes since version 2.1 was released in June.

  • Rewrite of Text Contrast Code. The new code in version 2.2 is much more compact, requires less processing, and is more robust and accurate to boot! It also now handles text labels on form fields.
  • Window of Quick Tips for New Users. A lot of what CrystalClear Interface does—as well as how it’s done—is not your average application fare. It’s won’t even be familiar to users who have previously tried theming software on the Mac. So, I put together a small panel that shows up the first time a user launches an application hosting CCI. The new panel briefly points out some of the features and methods a new user needs to know to make the most out of CCI.
  • Identifying Incompatible Applications. Starting in vertsion 2.2.0, CCI is maintaining a list of applications known to be incompatible with CrystalClear Interface. Whenever a user launches one of these apps, an alert notice will appear explaining the problem and offering to let them either “minimize” or disable CCI. It would be best if no such applications existed, but given the complexity of what CCI is doing, that’s never going to happen! The following applications are already on this list: Espresso, CSSEdit, Times, and Burn.
    If you encounter an application that doesn’t work in CCI’s default mode, please email me a note so I can do some testing and add it to the list.
  • Additions to the CCI Global Menu. CCI 2.2 squeezes a lot of functionality into its newly designed global menu. Here’s a brief rundown on the major changes:
    • Minimizing and Disabling CCI.  Now you can turn CCI off or minimize/maximize it right from the menu! Disabling adds the current app to the list maintained in the CCI System Preferences pane, and you’ll have to go there if you want to enable CCI for that app again. Minimizing and Maximizing can take place right from within the menu. Note that for any of these actions you’ll be asked to restart the current app.
    • Specify Your Desktop’s Brightness. Since CCI can’t see through your windows to account for the brightness of your desktop picture, it’s never been able to re-set the contrast text color when your desktop picture changes. If, like me, you have a rotating set of desktop images you like to use, this required either some compromise in appearance or some time to change the CCI theme to work best with the new background. In CCI 2.2, you’ll find a handy setting in the global menu that lets you tell CCI that you have a Dark Desktop at the moment, or a Light Desktop. CCI will then take that information and intelligently apply it to the text in your current windows, including all your other open applications. It’s not perfect, but I’ve really enjoyed having it available!
    • Text Tools. I added these out of frustration that many of the fine apps I use for formatting text leave out one or more of the various text format panels that are part of Apple’s Cocoa frameworks. Sometimes you can’t find a Color panel, sometimes the Font panel is hidden, and outside of RTF editors like TextEdit, Bean, and DevonThink Pro, you hardly ever have easy access to the Table panel. Besides those, there’s one incredibly useful text panel that I’ve never seen implemented in any Mac OS X application: The Font Options Panel. Once you get your hands on this, you’ll want it at the ready, as I do. (Apple has built many of its features into the Font panel you can find in iMovie.) And if you want to make a list or use your defined text styles, you can toggle the formatting Ruler on and off as well. All of these now appear in the new Text Tools submenu:
      • Fonts
      • Colors
      • Table
      • Font Options
      • Add/Edit Link
      • Toggle Ruler (which gives you access to lists, alignment, and styles, among other things.)
  • New Window Frame. Based on a frame developed a few years ago for ShapeShifter called "Cathode," the new "Shiny Dark" frame is perfect for those of us who like a rich, dark, sleek look for windows now and then. This frame is now the default for CrystalClear Interface.
  • Browser and Icon Views. File browser views, such as those in Save/Open panels, now get a complementary color, as do icon views.
  • New "Extras" Option. The "Extras" tab now includes an option to enable or disable the blur effect for window backgrounds. The effect helps readability and overall usability, but on some systems may also cause some distracting flickering of page elements. If you disable the blur, the change will take effect with the next window you open, not with your current one.
  • "Frosted Crystals" Desktop Pictures. The CCI 2.2 download includes the set of 8 desktop pictures featuring a "frosted glass" look that were previewed in a recent Mars article.
  • Redesigned Preferences Panel. The preferences panel for CrystalClear Interface has been redesigned for version 2.2. The new panel has a different tab style and coloring, is somewhat smaller, includes more labeling and explanatory text, and accommodates more window frame styles.
  • Custom Application Mods. Added some CCI theming to iMovie, iPhoto, Leap 2.0, and a few others. Also made some changes to handle Safari 4.0. In addition, I’ve just about finished theming the widgets in Apple’s iWork suite (Numbers, Pages, Keynote).
  • New Window Animations. Yes, I'm still fiddling with these! This time around, the windows fade in as in version 2.1, but they zoom out more like Quick Look panels.
  • Poor Man's Contextual Menu. I plan to rework this in a future update, but here's what you get in 2.2. In most of your applications running CCI 2.2, right-click (or Ctrl-click) on the window titlebar, and you'll gain access to the application's main menu, including, of course, the CCI global menu. This is a convenience for those of us who are too lazy to drag the mouse all the way to the system menubar. You won't be able to access the menu in applications with toolbars that extend their own menus into the titlebar (e.g., Safari).

More information, including screenshots and documentation, are now available on the CrystalClear Interface website. As noted there, this is likely to be the last free version of CCI, given the rather huge amount of time that's been devoted to it. I'm hoping that if you download and use version 2.2, you will make a donation to the cause.

One final note, regarding Snow Leopard, due to be released in a couple of days. CCI does work on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6), but will not load into applications running under the standard 64-bit memory system. Most of Apple's own applications run as 64-bit apps by default, and some newer third-party ones do as well. For these applications, you can load CCI by opening the application's Info window in the Finder and selecting the "Open 32-bit" checkbox. In addition, the CCI graphics module is not yet compatible with Snow Leopard, so you'll see the default Snow Leopard buttons and other widgets rather than CCI's. I'm hoping the latter problem can be solved soon.

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