My name is Carol Pinchefsky, and I’m a Macaholic. I’ve never owned, or even seriously used, a PC. I find Macs intuitive and usable, and I’ve never once felt that way about C: drives and D: drives and oh-god-why-me drives.
So may the ghost of Steve Jobs smite me for admitting this: I like the idea of modifying my Mac. Not much. Just enough to personalize it.
But famously, the Cupertino-based company doesn’t like it when anyone fiddles with its pristine environment. Heck, I’m surprised that Apple lets me approach their computers without a cleansuit and a certificate of immunization.
So although I can change my desktop to one of my vacation pics from Hawaii, as well as swap out my screensaver at will to even more vacations pics from Hawaii, I wouldn’t mind some motion to the Pacific Ocean. Enter live wallpaper.
Live wallpaper—a backdrop with attention-getting movement and/or a constantly updating stream of data—may have been all the rage in the mid-2000s with the PC crowd, but not so much for the devotees of Apple Inc. But what’s a person who loves both her Macbooks and the instant gratification of live wallpaper to do?
Luckily, there’s an app for that. And if you’re feeling adventurous with shells, there’s a script for that too.
And you don’t have to worry about being smote by the ghost of Steve.
InstaLive Wallpaper ($1.99)
Instagram fans who can’t live without a frequent update of their friends’ drunken selfies/future blackmail fodder are in luck. By streaming your Instagram feeds to your desktop, InstaLive gives you everything but the blackmail letter.
If, like me, you don’t have any friends, you can use a hashtag to find the photos you want (and InstaLive provides multiple layouts, so you can find the configuration you like best). Just remember that you get what you ask for: “Halloween” retrieves both pictures of scantily clad costumers and pictures of zombies with rotting flesh.
As with InstaLive, PicStream displays the photos of your friends. But PicStream one-ups InstaLive by snagging their photos from Twitter and Facebook. You can also click on a photo to read their captions.
As with InstaLive, the quality of the photos depends on the quality of your friends.
Blotter is a simple yet incredibly useful tool that overlays a one-week view of your calendar, your To Do list, and your current/upcoming appointments onto your desktop. You can create multiple “panels,” which is particularly useful if you have more than one calendar (such as one for home, one for work, one for your wife’s schedule, and one for your mistress’ schedule).
Also, Blotter‘s gotcher iCloud right here: If you update your calendar from your iPad, your desktop instantly displays your new schedule. There’s never been a more stress-free way to warn you that you’re on a deadline.
Dateline is just that: a one-month (or less) display, either horizontal or vertical, of your calendar. If you’ve scheduled an important meeting with your parole officer on the 29th, your calendar gets a simple highlight. Click on the date for a view of your schedule.
Dateline‘s opacity can be adjusted, as can its font. You can even shift the way you view the dates, so you can set today’s date as the first in the dateline or in the middle of the month—handy if you like this level of granularity.
But the fact is, Dateline isn’t anywhere near as schedule-oriented as Blotter…which makes it the perfect app for those who put their feet up, rather than hit the ground running.
Mach Desktop ($3.99)
Why have a static picture of an ocean on your desktop when you can watch waves lap at the sand? Mach Desktop gives you gorgeously filmed Quicktime clips that make your desktop seem like a window into your next vacation. You can also upload your own Quicktime movies, complete with sound: great for making loops like this one.
Also, you can set Mach Wallpaper to display a live (albeit not interactive) website, so you have only to unsleep your computer to see how your eBay bids are doing.
In another nice touch, you can also add a few basic widgets to your desktop with a click of a Preference. And let’s not forget that Mach Desktop works as a screensaver, made of Quartz compositions.
Ticke-Tack ($1.99; free version)
That clock on the upper right corner of your Mac is annoyingly tiny. By putting it on your desktop, Ticke-Tack makes your clock larger, friendly… and just a bit sarcastic. Ticke-Tack gives you the time alright, only it’s not exactly specific. “It’s nearly twenty-five to five.” “It’s precisely quarter to eight.” “It’s just past nine o’clock.”
This app updates the time in real-time, along with attention-getting backgrounds. (You can add your own, if you’re so inclined.) As with Mach Wallpaper, it also works as a screensaver.
If you’re a fan of art, if you like the idea that your clock application isn’t exactly, specifically, precisely accurate, and you don’t have a time-critical job, Ticke-Tack is the live wallpaper for you. (If you’re an air traffic controller, ferchrissakes, walk away.)
Planets doesn’t just give you a lovely animation of the solar system as orbits around the sun. It also gives you a highly customizable view. Drag your cursor over the animation to change your viewing angle. Shift perspective from different planets and satellites. Scroll out for a panoramic view or in for a tighter focus on a particular planet. Don’t forget the asteroid belt. Planets hasn’t.
In addition, this app is informative: Each planet (but not satellite) comes with such details as its orbital period and its mass… as well as the Earth date and time.
A view of this corner of the Milky Way has never been so much fun as it is with Planets.
(Note: Lifeware Solutions also makes the very beautiful Galaxy Pro.)
Satellite Eyes (free)
This live wallpaper is dead simple: Install Satellite Eyes, and your Mac’s GPS locates you and shows you a bird’s-eye view of your location from wherever you are.
It’s quite cool. Better yet, you get to tell your therapist that, yes, you really are being spied upon by an eye in the sky.
For those who think that customizability isn’t a challenge but a right, there’s GeekTool. GeekTool is for those who don’t mind installing plugins, i.e., reaching into a Macintosh’s digital guts. But the results can be stunning.
Wallpaper with whatever font you want, displaying whatever information you want, with any backdrop you want. And if you want your info displayed as Marty McFly’s dashboard in Back to the Future, or in a style reminiscent of the movie Tron, or something stunning yet Surrealist — well, there’s not an app for that. But there is a geeklet.
And one last note: A shout-out to Desktop Aquarium, which reminds me of the Aquatic Realm screensavers of the 1990s (think Flying Toasters). However, Desktop Aquarium has not been updated in over a year.