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Mars Report:

CrystalClear Interface 2.5:
Taming a Leopard in Winter

Published April 16th, 2010

I recently released a major new version of CrystalClear Interface (CCI). Among the most significant enhancements in version 2.5 are its full compatibility with Mac OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") and its ability to finally theme the Finder. Because of new limitations to system add-ons imposed by Apple, taming Snow Leopard has been a daunting challenge, but the final outcome is a version of CCI that's the most stable, robust, and compatible yet. The extended struggle with Snow Leopard over the winter is one of the primary reasons I've decided to require a license fee for CCI 2.5 ($12.00).

The solution would not have been feasible without use of an updated SIMBL framework, which now relies on a ScriptingAddition rather than an InputManager for its magic. However, using SIMBL is not without a pretty noticeable drawback. Specifically, when loading into 64-bit applications, CCI must wait until SIMBL loads, and this produces a delay in theming windows when you first launch such an app. (This problem doesn't affect 32-bit apps, because CCI still uses an InputManager for those.) So far, I haven't found a workaround to this. If you find the delay unacceptable, you have two choices:

  1. Don't use CrystalClear Interface 2.5.
  2. Modify your 64-bit apps to run as 32-bit ones. (This involves opening the Info window for the app in Finder, and then selecting the checkbox "Open in 32-bit mode.")

I've completely rewritten the CCI User's Guide, which I encourage you to peruse in order to get a feel for the breadth and depth of CCI's power. But for this article, I'm confining myself to listing the highlights of version 2.5.

    Works With Snow Leopard!
  • Compatibility with Snow Leopard. CCI 2.5 not only now works with Snow Leopard, it's actually more stable and app-compatible than on Mac OS X 10.5. As noted above, the only significant downside is that the initial loading of CCI into 64-bit applications takes longer than with traditional 32-bit apps. The delay is due CCI 2.5's use of the SIMBL framework for 64-bit applications, which must be loaded before CCI can.
  • Support for Finder on Snow Leopard. Finally, CCI can theme the Finder! In Snow Leopard, Apple transformed Finder into a Cocoa application, so it can be themed like all the other Cocoa apps you use. CCI's Finder functionality was added fairly late in the development of version 2.5, so its implementation isn't complete. Look for a more thorough and robust implementation in a future update.
  • New "Glossy" button theme. Designed for Snow Leopard, the Glossy button theme is also available for Leopard. Gloss Button Style(For now, the original "Gradient" CCI button theme is only available for Leopard.)
  • Robust toggling between button themes. You can now quickly, easily and fully switch between Aqua and the CCI button styles.
  • Crystal Document IconsCrystal Docs Icon set. This set of icons is designed to complement the Crystal Albook icon set I released a few years ago. In CCI 2.5, you can easily install or uninstall these document icons for various groups of Apple applications as well for an initial set of third-party apps. The Crystal Docs icon settings now occupy a separate tab in the CCI Preferences panel. (For a visual preview of the icons, refer to this Mars article from January.)
  • A new set of eight preset themes. The new themes are designed to complement the set of eight "Frosted Crystal" desktop pictures introduced with CCI 2.2. (The themes were previewed, with full screenshots, in this February 2010 Mars article.)
  • Crystal Document IconsCrystal Document IconsWindow overlay options. An earlier version of CrystalClear Interface experimented with using a glossy (shiny) overlay for windows, but I removed it some time ago because the implementation was buggy. For CCI 2.5, however, the overlay idea is back and much better than before. You can set this Interface Fluff option to one of two different kinds of "shine," or elect to have no shine at all.
  • New preference settings:
    • Make all toolbars customizable. Gives you access to settings that are often hidden—for example, rearranging toolbar buttons in application preferences windows, changing the size of icons, or showing or hiding icon labels.
    • Make (almost) all windows resizable. Adds a resize corner to windows that don't normally have them.
    • Specify a different color for window "panels" and application preferences windows. Previously, windows and panels had the same color, though they could use different window frames.
  • Redesigned window frames. The "Gradient" style has been completely redesigned as well as reprogrammed, so it's totally stable now. The "Glass HUD" frame has also been refined.
  • Experimental theming of focus color. This is an attempt to replace the usual blue or graphite keyboard focus color with one that matches your current window color. At this time, it only affects one or two types of buttons.
  • Check for CCI updates from the global menu. Now you don't have to open System Preferences to check for updates.
  • CCI Contextual Menu. You can now access the CCI global menu by right-clicking on virtually any window that has a titlebar.
  • Redesigned and expanded "Extras" Tab. With the various major additions to CCI "Extras," this tab now has four tabs of its own:
    • Alternate Interface Paradigms
    • Graphics Options
    • Interface Fluff, and
    • Other Options
  • Expanded implementation of Text Tools. The text tools available in the CCI global menu have not only been expanded to include full Mac OS X Format and Styles submenus. Of even greater use to those of you who love contextual menus, CCI adds a contextual menu that's available wherever you can write and edit rich text. The menu, labeled "Format," has the same set of tools as the Format menu in the CCI Menu's Text Tools section.
  • Numerous Bug Fixes and Enhancements To Earlier Features. CCI 2.5 has made still further progress in handling text color for best contrast (including the need for correct contrast colors on buttons when using the new Glossy theme), covers more of the many non-standard elements found in some Cocoa applications, and makes further strides in ensuring reliability and stability.
Other Information About CCI 2.5

There are a few differences between the way CCI works on Snow Leopard than it does on Leopard. I wouldn't characterize them as "bad news," per se, but they may annoy or disappoint some users.

  • App icon in menubar. I have succeeded in making this happen in 64-bit apps on Snow Leopard, but not in 32-bit apps. So for these apps, you'll have to make do with the app name, as the Good Apple intended.
  • Carbon windows don't hide. When you're using Single Application Mode (SAM), windows from some applications constructed mainly from Apple's older, "Carbon" frameworks refuse to hide as other app windows do. There are exceptions, fortunately. For example, Adobe Photoshop does obey SAM. (For the full scoop on Single Application Mode, refer to my recent Mars article, "The Ultimate Solution To Window Clutter: You Can Call Me SAM".

CCI 2.5 does have a few known bugs that you are likely to notice. Fortunately, each has a fairly simple workaround.

On Snow Leopard:

  • Exposé does not work correctly in CCI's default configuration. Most windows show up with only their bounding rectangles and titles showing.
    Workaround: Disable window blurring. Open CCI Preferences, select Extras tab, then the Fluff tab, and deselect the second checkbox on that screen. You'll need to restart any open apps to see the change. Spaces is affected by the same bug.
  • Finder sometimes will unexpectedly restart when you eject a disk image.
    Workaround: fThis bug occurs when you eject an image while you have the image selected in the sidebar. So, to keep the bug at bay, select another item in the sidebar either before or just after ejecting the disk image.

On Leopard:

  • When you enable the option to show the application's icon in the menubar, you end up disabling that app's Services Menu.
    Workaround: Deselect the CCI option that replaces the application's name with its icon in the menubar. Open CCI Preferences, select the Extras tab, then the Other tab, and deselect the second checkbox on that screen. You'll need to restart any open apps to see the change.
What about Application Compatibility?The good news here is that for Snow Leopard, I've actually been able to remove several apps from the "Incompatible Apps" list that CCI started maintaining in version 2.2. From testing so far, the following apps work just fine on Snow Leopard, though they still don't on Leopard:

  • Espresso
  • Picturesque
  • CSSEdit
  • Burn
  • Times
  • Sandvox

The following are still a problem, however, for one reason or another:

  • VoodooPad (sometimes)
  • iFreeMem 2.0
  • XTorrent
  • Coda

In version 2.5, CCI now explains the compatibility issue when it pops up a warning about a particular app.

For More Information

More information about CrystalClear Interface, including screenshots and documentation, are now available on the CrystalClear Interface website.

If you find a bug—particularly one that affects one of your favorite apps—you can either leave a comment to this article, or contact me through this page.

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