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The Kaleidoscope Way

Or, Zen and the Art of the Kaleidoscope Scheme.

Learning from Kaleidoscope, Matt Chisholm, Freshmeat, 18 October 2003.
The Mac OS that can't be tweaked (Português/Español/Italiano/Nihongo) Leander Kahney, Wired News, 1 October 2002.
Screen Decor, Patrizia DiLucchio, Salon, 19 May 1999.

A guide to changing the MacOS interface, showing you the path to true enlightenment.
Become one with your Macintosh. Have the interface you've always dreamed of. Reach within yourself and unleash your vision.

But first, begin at the beginning, O acolyte.

Read wired on interface hackers (K has street cred)

to the home of Kaleidoscope Getting started
Begin by downloading the Kaleidoscope control panel and installing it on your Macintosh.

Kaleidoscope stands at version 2.3.1 as of February 2000; now the world's gone Mac OS X Greg has ceased development.

Kaleidoscope 2.3 was released in December 2000.

Kaleidoscope 2.2.4 was released on 22 August 2000.
Kaleidoscope 2.2.3 was released on 10 June 2000.
Kaleidoscope 2.2.2 was released on 22 November 1999.
Kaleidoscope 2.2.1 was released on 29 September 1999. Now Mac OS 9 compatible.
Kaleidoscope 2.2 was released on 9 August 1999. Allegedly Mac OS 9 compatible.

Kaleidoscope 2.1.2 was released on 3 March 1999. MacOS 8.5.1 compatible.
Kaleidoscope 2.1.1 was released on 14 November 1998.
Kaleidoscope 2.1 was released on 28 September 1998. It was the first MacOS 8.5-compatible release. The installer became too large to fit on a single floppy disk.

Kaleidoscope 2.0.1 was released on 10 July 1998.
Kaleidoscope 2.0 was released on 1 July 1998. There were two releases of this version, with different contents; check that your Antique and Scherzo schemes were last modified at 4:06 and 4:05 pm on July 1st, and download again if they have earlier dates.

Kaleidoscope 1.8.2 was released on 16 February 1998. The slightly earlier Kaleidoscope 1.8.1 will crash under MacOS 8.1 if used with a scheme with a patterned menubar or patterned window titlebar. Kaleidoscope 1.8.1 and later include full support for the Appearance Manager even under System 7; the Appearance Manager 1.0.2 should be installed as part of the Eudora Pro demo package, works with System 7.1 and later, and doesn't require Eudora Pro or Kaleidoscope to run. (The Appearance Manager 1.0.2 may cause erroneous 'System file corrupt' dialogs if you double-click on your System file to open it; shift-boot to open your system file. The AM makes permanent changes to your system file, and removing it leaves visible changes.)
Kaleidoscope 1.8 was released on 12 December 1997.

Kaleidoscope 1.8 and later remove support for 16-colour mode, and Kaleidoscope 1.7.3 is the last version of Kaleidoscope to support 16-colour mode properly. However, 1.7.3 crashes with FPU errors under System 7.5 and 7.5.1; those users can either use Kaleidoscope 1.7.2 or install System 7.5 Update 2.0.

Older versions of Kaleidoscope are very useful for testing any schemes you create.

Getting schemes
Once you grow bored with the few plugin schemes included with Kaleidoscope, you will want to download third-party schemes. As many schemes as possible. More! More! More!

There are many places where you can satisfy your earthly cravings.

Many of those schemes are poorly made, and show inattention to the One True Path. Do not become become sated, or distracted and diverted from the path by their careless charms. Be selective, and learn from the examples of the Masters.

Or be partisan, and choose schemes by their country of origin.

There are also many add-ons that can make your use of schemes more enjoyable:

Scheme Checker
from Sven Berg Ryen
Don't install schemes unless you know they're well-built. Check them out first with the Scheme Checker.

from Sven Berg Ryen
Lets you take advantage of oddities in Kaleidoscope's handling of Finder window colours to generate coloured text.

WDEF Leopard
from Maf Vosburgh (
If you're having trouble with Kaleidoscope only with certain applications - PageMaker, Quark Xpress - it may be worth your time to install this.

Kaleidoscope Scheme Switching Control Strip
from Tom Connolly
For Kaleidoscope 1.7.3 or later users with Apple's Control Strip; the fast way to switch schemes.
Why they didn't call it something catchy like KaleidoConStrip is beyond me.

Compatible programs
Applications and other system utilities compatible with Kaleidoscope are starting to appear. Here's a small list:

from St Clair Software (
An Energy-Star capable screensaver whose control panel interface is fully Kaleidoscope savvy.

from Simon Fraser (
An online newsreader that has a preference option to use the Kaleidoscope window colours, including the Finder pane colour.

Smart Scroll
from Marc Moini (
Gives the Finder proportional scrollbars and active scrolling - with or without Kaleidoscope.

Program Switcher
from Michael Kamprath (
A pop-up program menu in the Kaleidoscope style.

to Apple developer Getting creative
Eventually, you'll find that none of the schemes you've seen are quite right for you, and you'll want to design your own. Here's how you begin unleashing your creative urges on the world of Macintosh desktops.

The scheme designers' mailing list
where designers of Kaleidoscope schemes discuss tips, tricks, subtleties and aesthetics in the art of the Mac interface. Read the list archives before you do anything else.

Learn about ResEdit
ResEdit is a powerful tool. (Well, Resourcerer is arguably more powerful still, but a lot messier.)
Learn what ResEdit can do, but be careful how you use it. Remember that knowledge is the one true power, and wield your tools with care.
Know that editing WPrf on a copy of the control panel will control window embossing, zooms, and the disappearance of the loathed windowshade-imitating widget, that editing SPrf can enable the active scrolling beloved of those with faster Macintoshes, and that you don't have to put up with pseudo-3D folders.
Apple's ResEdit Reference is a useful starting point to the world of Inside Macintosh.
Utilities and addons for ResEdit can be found, as can lists of tips and tricks.
ResExcellence will also prove useful.
ResEdit can't do everything with cicns; clip2cicn is a useful addition to the armoury.
The Kaleidoscope Companion guide to folder icons and Icon Helper Set show which icons to patch, and Iconographer is a very useful edit tool.

Scheme Factory
from Joe Stenger, Daniel Bogan and Arlo Rose
A developing attempt to create a Kaleidoscope 2.0 scheme editor.

Designer's Studio
from Tom Connolly
A Kaleidoscope Scheme editor. Includes a handy control strip module for switching schemes and a copy of Brian Hagler's Apple Guide. Why they didn't call it something catchy like Schemewarrior is beyond me.
Version 1.6 as of September 1998; supports Kaleidoscope 1.6 functionality and nothing more, with some bugs.

The Kaleidoscope Scheme Guide
from Brian Douglas Hagler aka Gandolf the Grey (last seen at
Although this requires Apple Guide (which is installed with System 7.5 or higher) to run, this is the best technical introduction to editing Kaleidoscope 1.5 schemes.
Version 1.0 as of 2 July 1997.

Scheme Architect
from Paul Messias (
A tool planned for scheme designing that currently lets you view resources; development appears to have ceased.

The K-Files
from Jan Peter Bode (
An illustrated guide to getting started with scheme editing; an inaccurate introduction to the 1.5 format (completely wrong about cluts...) for those journeymen unfamiliar with the basics of the tools.
Version 2.0 as of 29 April 1997.
(Kaleidoscope for Laymen documents the older 1.0.1 colour scheme format; the Col# template included is buggy; avoid it.)

Learn about colour
You need to know the numbers of colours, and the colours available to you in the Mac system palette. You will find Pixel Spy and Coloristic to be useful tools.
This online colour chart may also be of benefit, particularly in thousands of colours. (Remember that Netscape's 216-colour cross-platform palette will have different fallthrough to the system palette in 256-colour mode.)

Learn about button rings
from Ruth Fry aka Calyxa Omphalos (
Get the buttons in your 1.5/1.8 scheme right. Also get the slider cluts right for your 1.8 scheme. Slider Helper can help. Do check focus rings as well - the cluts aren't used only in these sliders. (Perhaps ignoring these until you get more control over the sliders and focus rings separately is best.)

Check your schemes
from Sven Berg Ryen
Before releasing your schemes on an unsuspecting world, check them for obvious errors with the Scheme Checker.

get Stuffit Lite Getting distributed
Once you've created and tested your marvel of interface design on a few willing friends, you will want to unleash it on the world as freeware or shareware. Here's how.

First, write some documentation - a quick 'readme' Simpletext textfile will do, but it's a bare minimum. Who are you? Where can your users get updates? Did you include a version resource detailing source and revision, for when the documentation gets lost?
Note that Kaleidoscope runs on System 7.0 and up, while text clippings require System 7.5 or later (or 7.1 plus not-widely-distributed extensions). So, make your documentation a textfile, not a clipping.

Web pages and previews
Set up web pages to describe your schemes and offer them to the world. And show screenshot previews so people can see what they're like.

info-mac is the best way to get your scheme distributed. Simply stuff and binhex the folder containing your marvel and its documentation and load the resulting textstream into an email that you send to Note that Kaleidoscope runs on System 7.0 and up, while Stuffit 5.0 requires System 7.5. Use an earlier Stuffit, e.g. 3.5, to ensure that all Kaleidoscope users can unstuff your schemes. This will send it to all the large Mac shareware archives including Mac-Umich and Info-Mac, and you will see your efforts announced in the comp.sys.mac.digest newsgroup a few months later. Fame and fortune may then arise to tempt you.

You can see what's in the Info-Mac archives already by searching for Kaleidoscope-related files in the Info-Mac Hyperarchive. Here's the new info-mac schemes directory.

If you create a web page for your schemes, please tell the mailing list.

get registered with Kagi Getting registered
Show your appreciation of your favourite colour schemes by letting their authors know in the best way possible, by registering your schemes.

By following all of these steps, you are well on the way to Enlightenment, below.
What is the sound of one hand clicking?

And beyond Kaleidoscope...

On the Mac, ClickChange was first, predating Kaleidoscope by several years, with a directory of add-ons. These days, real MacOS 8.5 theme support looks increasingly likely via reverse engineering the theme format, and is a growth area. Kaleidoscope worked under Systems (er, Mac OS...) 7 to 9. Under Mac OS X Duality seems to be attracting a lot of attention.

There are a number of other Mac utilities that haven't been updated in some time. Niji (formerly OneStep) has its own Appearance files that are about as customisable by third parties as Kaleidoscope 1.x colour schemes are.

Download the Mac Manager demo to get a taste of the 'themes' that were promised for Copland and Mac OS 8.5, and you can see its Hi-tech- and Kids/Gizmo-like appearances clearly illustrated there. A Hi-tech look is also available in Higher Tek. The attempts of former Apple employees to protect the high-tech look before 8.5 shipped without themes and everyone made them available has led to an interest in design patents that are held by Apple; for example, early attempts at popup windows are patented, as are custom window border actions. Finding patents can be tricky now that Delphion (the former IBM patents server) is heavily restricted.

Interface themes are already a reality for number of X window managers, as screenshots demonstrate - although MacOS 8.0 includes the Appearance Manager API, that can't yet match the flexibility of Enlightenment, as screenshots from one of its developers illustrate. Themes are now becoming available for a variety of X window managers.

And you can run these window managers, and other desktop environments such as KDE, Gnome and Freedom, under Linux; on a Mac there's MkLinux, and under OS X there's Fink.

Windows users can take a look at Object Desktop, at Windowblinds, Chroma, Daya or at efx, whose enthusiastic users have begun copying original Kaleidoscope schemes. Then there's MacVision.

And finally, consider getting registered.

to the schemes

Now, work on getting a life.

Lloyd Wood (
This page last updated 5 June 2004