A configuration-based solution to the translucent menu bar in Leopard

I had forgotten I’d even found and tried this until I looked up at my menu bar today after changing my desktop image and noticed it was opaque. I can’t find the site where I originally got the code, but I’ve found another blog that mentions it. The code to execute at the command line is:

sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables' -dict 'CI_NO_BACKGROUND_IMAGE' 0.63

(The code all needs to be entered on one line, of course; I need to work on my CSS for displaying code, probably employing Google’s Syntax Highlighter. So add that to my gigantic and ever-growing — at an increasing rate — to-do list. At my present trajectory, I will get this done approximately 10 million years after never.)

As the poster notes, the number 0.63 at the end can be any decimal value from 0 to 1. It represents the lightness of the opaque menu bar: 0 is black, 1 is white, and anything in between is shades of gray (surprise!); all non-white values have a subtle gradient as well.

This works great, which is not surprising, since this is the way Apple designed it to be managed. (In other words, they didn’t intend for the end user to be able to adjust it at all… but they built a way into the code to allow their programmers to adjust it.)

Of course, in the meantime since I first complained about it, I have actually come to tolerate (if not like) the translucent menu bar. But for now I’ll leave it as it is. If I do decide to change it back, I’ll run this:

sudo defaults delete /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables'

And of course, because these are system-level changes, you need to reboot for them to take effect (which is probably why I had forgotten I’d done it in the first place; I didn’t restart immediately and surely got distracted by whatever it is in my life that’s constantly distracting me… two kids, perhaps).

OK, I’m convinced Steve Jobs fired all of his UI designers in a fit of rage…

Much has now been written, a smidgen of it by me, regarding the various design faux pas committed by Apple with Leopard, but here’s another new inexplicable one I just noticed:

Weird drop shadows in Mac OS X Leopard

What’s wrong you ask? Well, if you think about it, this just plain makes no sense. I’m not complaining about the weird blur effect on translucent elements in this new version (although that bugs me too). It’s this bizarre drop shadow on the little slide-down alert dialog box. Why is there a drop shadow here? Presumably it’s to make us realize this dialog is attached to the window (as they’ve been ever since Mac OS X debuted, albeit without a gratuitous shadow). But the effect is to make it look like the title bar is casting the shadow. Yet, the title bar does not cast a shadow on the rest of the window itself. So it therefore appears that the dialog is recessed below the window itself. And yet, the dialog casts a shadow on the window as well. It’s M.C. Escher’s worst nightmare. As others have already said about other UI elements in Leopard: Why, Apple? Why?

On the other hand… I have to admit, I’m actually starting to like the translucent menu bar. The horror!!!

Please, somebody, just tell me how to turn it off!

Yes, I drank Steve Jobs’ Kool-Aid a long time ago. I lined up at 4:30 on Friday outside an Apple Store to wait for 90 minutes for my copy of Mac OS X Leopard. I had read lots about it before it was released, so I knew what was coming. And yet, as much as I like most of the new features (especially the new Finder), and can put up with the things I like less (such as the cluttered-looking new Dock), I simply cannot stand the translucent menu bar.

Since I installed it yesterday, 90% of my computer time has been spent online trying to find out what I can do — whatever it takes — to just get back to a normal-looking, opaque menu bar. Why, oh why, Steve Jobs, can you not cede one tiny millimeter of interface control to the user? (OK, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve spent the last week in the nirvana of user customization that is Ubuntu Linux.)

Judging by a Google search, it looks like I’m not alone in my frustration. But so far the only fixes I’ve seen are a hack app that only worked with the beta, and the somewhat obvious but equally lame option of incorporating a proper menu background as a band at the top of all of your desktop pictures.

Unfortunately, it looks like I won’t even be able to take the “somewhat obvious but equally lame” route, as it appears that Photoshop 7 (yes, it’s pitifully out-of-date, but it’s the version I own) doesn’t work in Leopard. D’oh!

Some more searching revealed a plausible, inexpensive alternative called Pixelmator. Of course, I am always dubious when someone posting on a forum or a blog comment says “this $59 shareware program can do everything Photoshop can do.” Um, yeah. Right. For less than 1/10 the price it was worth at least investigating though, so I downloaded the demo. It’s definitely a nice program, but it looks like the one thing I need most in Photoshop for the work I do, its layer effects, are completely missing from Pixelmator.

Update: Finally an elegant (if still fundamentally hackish) solution has presented itself, in the form of a little app called Opaque Menu Bar!