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Modding the GUI

Having invested lots of time (not to mention expense) in building the Iceberg, we saw no reason to stop there. Our next project was to replace the Windows desktop.

There have been many other contenders in the OS space, Amiga Workbench, Atari ST-OS, Apple Mac OS, Be OS, NeXTStep, OS2... and Microsoft has pirated taken inspiration from them all. As a result, the Microsoft Windows GUI (Graphical User Interface) has improved tremendously over the product's lifetime. Indeed, with the company's Windows XP operating system, the GUI has reached a level of maturity enjoyed by few other systems. But Windows is mainstream, far too common to grace the desktop of our new custom rig (not to mention buggy, insecure, monopolistic, er... sorry, I'll get off my soapbox).

Ideally, we would have liked to have installed a non-Microsoft operating system on the Iceberg. There are currently two credible alternatives to Windows on the desktop: Linux, an open source variant of Unix and Mac OS X (which is built on a Unix core).

Linux is one of the all-time great operating systems. It is renowned for its stability and is one of the few operating systems enjoying significant growth despite Microsoft's dominance. Unfortunately, while Linux makes an absolutely rock-solid server platform (Urban Mainframe runs on a Linux server), it is still somewhat lacking as a general purpose desktop OS for the average (non-technical) user, although this is slowly changing.

On the other hand, Apple's OS X is a first class desktop operating system. Fast, powerful, easy to use and visually stunning. However, at this time, OS X only runs on proprietary Apple hardware, so it's a non-starter for our x86 class machine. Or is it?

We can't buy OS X and install it on the Iceberg, that much is true. But maybe we can customise Windows XP to resemble OS X.

Let's start by looking at the OS X desktop:

What the image above doesn't convey is that the OS X desktop isn't static. There are many dynamic, animated elements that, while adding to the visual impact, make it extremely difficult to emulate. Watch the movie clips in the Mac OS X Theatre to really appreciate the many effects.

As you can see, OS X is pure, unadulterated eye-candy and much more aesthetically pleasing than any version of Windows. This then is our model, our inspiration.

We can begin the metamorphis with a couple of quick downloads:

Desktop Wallpaper

In the process of transforming Windows XP into a Mac OS X lookalike the easiest change we can make is to the desktop wallpaper. (use "Display Properties" in the "Control Panel" to change your desktop wallpaper)

Windows Media Player - iTunes

Many of today's modern applications support the use of "skins" to customise their cosmetics and, sometimes, their operation. Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 is no exception. Want your WMP to look like OS X's "itunes"? An "iTunes" skin for WMP is available (preview). When the download is complete you will need to unzip the skin before you can install it.


Mozilla is a web-browser (like Microsoft's "Internet Explorer", only much, much better). The browser can be completely customised with skins, as can its associated applications. The very best skin we have found is "aquaMoz", which maintains the look and feel of the OS X environment (preview).

UPDATE (14th May, 2004): I have also managed to recreate Safari with a Firefox mod, which I covered over in the Weblog.


We can change our screensaver to one with an OS X "feel". This screensaver bounces a simple, graphite Apple logo around the screen (over a white background). It supports multiple monitors.

The Shell

Many other applications support skinning but, in order to get as close to OS X as possible, we are going to have to customise the Windows "shell" - the backbone of the user interface. Hitting the shell is the only way we are going to be able to bespoke the icons, menus, windows and widgets of Windows XP.

What we need is an application that allows us to modify any element of the Windows GUI. What we need is Object Desktop!

Object Desktop is a toolkit for the GUI builder/modder. A suite of powerful applications, OD consists of the following:

There's much more to Object Desktop, but those are the highlights. Better still, compared with the costs involved in hardware modding, Object Desktop is incredibly cheap at just $50 (includes one-year's worth of updates).

So with Object Desktop in place, we're now able to take huge steps towards the perfect OS X clone...

My Computer

Exploring "My Computer" is transformed when the Object Desktop is running...

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer benefits hugely from a makeover...


Which idiot decided that the menu serves us best when it's at the bottom of the screen?

Roll Up

Where the heck's my window gone?

We're almost there now, but there's one huge feature of OS X that we're missing on our clone: the dock.

The dock is extremely important on OS X and, apart from the eye-candy, offers some useful features. The dock can act as a container (or launchpad) for our favourite applications. It also holds icons representing all running applications, so that we can easily switch between tasks. Furthermore, the dock contains thumbnail images of minimised applications to make restoring them easier. This is functionality that would benefit our system, it's also crucial if we want our clone to be as OS X-like as possible.

Fortunately Stardock, the makers of Object Desktop, come to our rescue one more time. ObjectDock is Stardock's version of the OS X dock and fits our needs perfectly.

With ObjectDock installed, the final piece of the jigsaw is in place...

The dock, in its inactive state...

This image above shows the dock "at rest". The "launcher" is to right of the divider and contains shortcuts to our most used applications. The "task switcher" is to the left. The whole dock expands and contracts automagically as icons enter and leave it.

In the following image you can see how the dock reacts to a "mouseover". The icon directly under the mouse is enlarged to twice its normal size and the icon's title floats above it. The icons either side of the "selected" icon are also enlarged (to about 75% of their maximum size). As a result of their proximity to the selected icon. What the still image can't show you is the gorgeous wave effect that occurs as you run your mouse along the row of icons, each icon expanding and contracting in relation to the proximity of the pointer. When an icon is clicked, it bounces in the container to inform you that something's happening (for example: the corresponding program is starting). Similarly, when an application demands your attention, its icon will bounce to indicate as much.

The dock, reacting to a mouseover...

Finally, the Iceberg's GUI in all it's glory:

The Iceberg's GUI...

It's worth pointing out that, with ObjectDesktop, you are not restricted to OS X cloning. On the contrary, the ObjectDesktop suite can be used to bespoke your desktop however you want it. Check out WinCustomize for ideas, skins, wallpapers, etc...