Do you consider yourself a geek? A nerd? Do you live, breathe, sweat and bleed technology? Well if you do, then there’s a fair chance you’ve spent hours tinkering. With any piece of tech, wanted or unwanted, to make it do something magical. Hardware-wise, you may have spent many an hour spent alone, tool in hand getting all dirty and sweaty over a few screws, and many of us crave that satisfactory feeling of a job well done with our software, too.
Linux, I’ve found, in its many forms is the ultimate platform to tinker and play with the UI and basically customise it to your own personal pleasure. Android, in the mobile arena, has adopted a very similar approach, whilst iOS is pretty much restricted to what you see is what you get. Similarly, Mac OS X is pretty limited in terms of desktop enhancements. Sure, it has the basics: changing wallpapers, arranging icons, folders and what have you, but in terms of actual productive and attractive enhancements, it’s way, way behind Linux. And though not as far, it lays in the wake of Windows thanks to a combination of built-in customisation options and a host of third parties creating their own tools for Microsoft’s OS-in-chief.
Enter GeekTool. An application for Mac OS X, predictably aimed almost exclusively at geeks, to aid in the customisation and personalisation of your Mac OS X desktop.
Setup and Usage
Setup is actually pretty easy. For those familiar with OS X, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s a simple job of installing GeekTool as a pref pane. It sits at the bottom of your preferences window and when clicked it brings up its own window with all the necessary tools in front of you.
Unfortunately, that’s where the simplicity ends. It’s actually a pretty complex tool, and if you’re averse to using the web to source all of your customisations, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty with a little bit of Applescript, which admittedly isn’t the most complex language in the world, but it’s a fair learning curve.
Though it might take the ‘geek’ out of GeekTool, I would perhaps like to see a stock library of templates packaged in with GeekTool, such as a clock, date, weather and iCal to-do list, as these seem to be the most popular searches related to GeekTool.
Alas, there isn’t, so you’re forced into doing it yourself, which bear in mind can be pretty rewarding and actually extremely fun once you get the hang of it. To start off with, you need to decide what you want on the desktop. You have an option of three categories: ‘File’, ‘Image’ and ‘Shell’. Shell is where the coding happens, and you’ll have to know a few commands to get anywhere with it. However, Image and File are pretty much as they appear. They allow you to shove files and images onto your desktop in a fixed position, so it would appear that they are actually part of your wallpaper. Making it a little more interactive.
The other preferences are pretty much as you’d expect. The output is usually text-based, so things such as font, size, colour etc. background colour and the likes. Nothing especially fancy, but give it a while and you’ll come up with something stylish. An important tool for a geeklet such as a clock is the refresh speed. In other words, how often it runs the script to display a new output.
Once you’ve entered your code and organised your style, you can simply drag the ‘geeklets’ around on your desktop to arrange them as you please, then simply close the pref pane and they’ll become untouchable until you next launch GeekTool. A little side note, GeekTool does include an option to place an icon in the menu bar for a quick launch. A handy little shortcut.
In the interest of organising, you can categorise your geeklets and group them together so you can essentially make presets in case you want to revert to an old favourite at some point after you tinker too far and spoil a good show.
Before you take the plunge into GeekTool, you’ll obviously want to know what you can do with it and whether it’ll aid you in any productive manner. Well, so far I’ve probably only touched the tip of the iceberg, but the clock/date is always a good place to start and become familiar with the tools on offer.
Personally, I happily use iStat for all the tools to monitor my machine, but entirely similar functionality is available through GeekTool, displaying CPU, RAM, Hard Drive, Battery, Network status etc. I’m not going to post the scripts, you’ll either have to figure that one out for yourself or check it out on the web; there are plenty of useful sources.
Alternatively, you could go for the more business-orientated approach of display iCal items including events, to-do’s etc. and you can pretty much do that for any other application which provides a similar service, such as Things for Mac, or OmniFocus. Twitter or Facebook feeds can be displayed on the desktop, though no interaction is available, it’s a simply a monitoring tool.
The possibilities really are quite limitless really, within reason. Any raw data that’s on the web you can pull, such as weather from popular sources such as Yahoo. There are mail notification scripts making the rounds as well. Anything that you can do in an Apple Script can be done in GeekTool, as far as I know, and there are many ideas which include scripts bound to shortcuts, all using GeekTool for organisation and consolidation.
The thing with GeekTool is, it requires you to spend a long time on the desktop to actually make use of it. To be quite frank, when I’m on the computer I’m on there for a reason and usually, that means running an application. Whether it be a web browser, e-mail client, word-processor is neither here nor there, it’s simply the notion that whenever I’m on a computer, I’m never sat looking at the desktop for any length of time. So sure, have my Twitter feed on there, but I’ll never look at it, I’m far more inclined to simply nip to the website or open the app. I currently only have the clock displayed on the desktop, and the reason behind it is simply to say ‘hey, look what I did with GeekTool’. I still have the clock in the menubar, so in that respec,t it’s quite a pointless application.
Having said that, though, the hours you could potentially spend kitting out your desktop can be quite fun for a geek, and that’s what this is about. Tinkering. Fiddling and making alterations that will differentiate your desktop from the next guy’s. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll stumble upon something that may just make your desktop a whole different experience. A whole new tool that will make you more productive.