Lion Taming

2011.07.30 16:16

Lion in a cage

Since I downloaded and installed the latest version of Mac OS X, nicknamed Lion, I’ve been working at a feverish rate to re-claim certain aspects of the OS which the overlords at Apple had deemed worthy of change, refresh, or removal. My desire to customize my computing experience isn’t new by any means — I remember tweaking the colour scheme on my first Windows 3.1 laptop back in 1993 — but as I grow, these changes are more to do with productivity than simple aesthetics. Lion broke my workflow.

There are several apps and areas which needed some attention. Finder, especially with its new Launchpad and Mission Control as well as numerous interface quirks, Safari, iCal and Address Book, and iTunes.

Lion in a cage
Sidebar icons in Lion are greyscale. But why?

In Finder, one of the first things I noticed was how the icons along the sidebar now appear in monochrome only. I could write for quite a while about frustrating this is, but a quick glance at the Apple Discussion Forums will reveal that plenty has been said already. In short, I like coloured icons — they help me find what I need faster, at a glance. Apple’s new icons are tough to differentiate because they’re not only greyscale, but they’re similar shapes. But unfortunately, all the nerds of the Internet haven’t yet been able to re-claim these icons. We’ve discovered where the icons are hidden within the system, but strangely, the sidebar has a new behaviour which desaturates any icons placed there. So even if you alter the icons, they’ll be greyed out again by the system. We’ll have to wait for Apple to fix this.

Luckily, the same is not the case for iTunes! In the latest version update, many iTunes users complained that they lost their coloured icons. A tutorial was released last Fall, but it’s already out of date. I did manage a workaround, though. Here’s the long and short of it:

comparison of iTunes icons
comparison of iTunes icons

coloured icons restored
coloured icons restored

Download this file: itunes_scottperezfox.rsrc and replace your existing iTunes.rsrc file. Be sure to backup and rename, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read the following paragraph.

Many, if not all the graphics for the application live within the iTunes.rsrc. So I had to dig in there and change what I wanted changed. The problem is that I had no idea what the hell a .rsrc file is, or how to edit it. Internet research revealed that a number of people had become expert at editing these, but apparently no discussion of it has taken place since 2007. All the systems and iTunes versions are well out of date, and I’m essentially looking into the past for a solution. It seemed the best hope for unlocking these .rsrc files lay with a program called ThemePark. (which was at some point a Google property?) ThemePark doesn’t seem to be supported anymore, and now that Lion no longer runs PowerPC-based applications, I had to employ my old G4 Powerbook to run it.

ThemePark 3.1
screenshot of ThemePark, messing with icons (click for larger view)

I downloaded version 3.1 and used it to open iTunes.rsrc. Within that .rsrc file are a series of PNGs which make up the system graphics. I found the one containing all the icons, and was able to drag it to my desktop. From there, it was a matter of going into Photoshop and replacing the grey ones with now-legacy coloured icons. If you’re interested in doing this yourself, here are the files I used:

1. itunes_colour.rsrc - the vintage coloured icons
2. itunes_default_10.4.rsrc - the default greyscale icons from v10.4 (for safe-keeping)
3. itunes_scottperezfox.rsrc - my resulting alteration, coloured.
4. itunes_scottperezfox.psd - the layered Photoshop file, so you can make/alter the icons to your liking.

And then of course when your finished, do the same process in reverse. From Photoshop, save as PNG, and then drag it back into ThemePark. Save the .rsrc and drop that back into iTunes. Where, exactly? Well, in the iTunes Resources folder. To access that, right-click on the iTunes application and select “Show Package Contents”. Then check out Contents and Resources folder within that. Like this:


Similarly, this is how you’d go about replacing the icon for iTunes if you, like others, don’t fancy the new iTunes icon. Here are two I’ve used. In this case, do the same thing, drop them in the Resources folder and rename as iTunes.icns

iTunes alt icon iTunes_alt1.icns

iTunes alt icon iTunes_alt2.icns

Right, so let’s get back to the Finder.

Launchpad is a mess in this first release. For me, apps can’t be removed from groups. Certain groups can’t be renamed, not ever app gets an X in jiggle mode, and there’s no way to adjust the icon size. Also, every new app goes to a second screen, when there’s more than enough room on the first one. A mess. There’s a little program that seeks to tame LaunchPad a little called LaunchPad-Control. In short, it’s a small little add-on that lives in System Preferences, and let’s your easily check on and off which apps you’d like to appear in LaunchPad. Unfortunately, this can’t fix the aforementioned behaviour problems, but it’s a start. Check out the write-up on Techland.

In Finder, as well as apps like TextEdit and Safari, you may have noticed the animation whenever a new window is opened. (Hit cmd+N a few times and see if it annoys you). Here’s how to fix that. Launch Terminal and type the following:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO

iCal and Address Book have been given silly interface redesigns to make them look more like their 20th century analog equivalents, I guess. If you don’t like the leather-and-paper look of iCal, check out this tutorial on how to restore the aluminum look of Aqua courtesy of OS X Daily:

As of yet, I’ve been unable to find a fix for Address Book where I can revert to the “classic” look, where three columns (and no “pages”) were visible. Fucking ridiculous.

Quickly, about Safari. Most of the new features are easily turned off, such as Reading List and Resume, but the new Tabs behaviour requires a third-party extension called LinkThing. This lets you control how the Tabs work, allowing them to open along the Tab bar in the classic fashion. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then nevermind. But if you know what I mean, you’re probably punching the air in joy/relief right about now.

Wow, this is a lot. In only a week we’ve seen the community come out in force to take back the stupid decisions made by Apple regarding the interface and functionality of many popular apps. If you’re looking for something specific, the best bet is to first search on Google, of course, but then check out the forums on,, and . Power to the people.

Found any workarounds, hacks, or hidden customisation options in Lion? Share in the comments.

  • Pingback: No More Grey – Bring Back Color iTunes Icons to OS X Lion

  • João Aroso

    And to Mail? Mail is sooo boring now!

    • Prescott Perez-Fox

      Since I don’t use Mail I haven’t attempted any hacks or fixes. Have you tried digging around for a similar resource file? Perhaps the process is similar.

      • Joe

        Could you please look into changing the sidebar icons for mail? Inside the app is a collection of .png files (no .rsrc file), but editing them produces strange results..

  • Michael Spencer

    Thanks so much. The grayscale Finder was making me crazy trying to find things. Was wondering though what to do with your Extras2.rsrc file? is this another set of icons for Finder, or iTunes, or?

    • Prescott Perez-Fox

      If I remember correctly, it gives iTunes-style scrollbars to Finder (the gray flat ones, as opposed to the shiny blue gel ones). But in Lion it’s a moot point. Are you using Snow Leopard or Lion?

  • Frank Maddox

    Prescott – Thanks so much for restoring the COLOR to iTunes and the new application icon. Although I loved my Mac Plus, COLOR sure adds a  dimension which Apple lost with iTunes 10 as well as Lion.

    By the way, any idea how to get the scroll bars back in Lion?

    • Prescott Perez-Fox

      No idea about the scroll bars, I’m afraid. It seems no one has yet to crack that one. I don’t mind the new look of the thin, flat, grey bar, but I miss the arrows. I do, on occasion, go for a simple click and it’s still annoying not having them there, especially in cases like Adobe Photoshop where the scrollbar of a palette window will be even smaller than regular sized ones. Grabbing it is tricky indeed.


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