Apple does a pretty good job providing us with an array of smart looking icons as part of OS X. Most software companies that develop for Mac do the same. Their clientele is just a little more conscious of great icon design – or maybe just more easily persuaded with something shiny.
Whatever the case, sometimes we find an icon lacking for one reason or another. Sometimes we feel the need to add a little personal touch. Icon designers have answered the call and there are now millions (I’m guessing here, but there are a lot!) of beautifully designed icons for us to use.
It’s not too tough to change an icon with Mac OS X, but it’s not the most straightforward process either. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some utility to manage all these fancy little things? Turns out there is – and it’s called IconBox. Read on to find out more!
Plain and simple, IconBox is a piece of software that is used to manage the icons on your system.
The basic functionality provides the ability to change just about every icon on the system, and every application icon as well. With other tools to organize and find new icons, IconBox is a complete package in the icon management category.
The IconBox Interface
The IconBox interface will look familiar. It really feels like a native Apple product with it’s Finder look and feel. It is essentially iPhoto for icon management. The left hand column is your folder tree and shows your entire icon library (My Box) along with several other ways to filter your icons.
The center window displays the icons. There is a search feature at the top of the window and also a slider at the bottom that allows you to adjust the size of the icons in the window. This is a great feature and works just perfectly. There is also an option to toggle the view from the actual icons to a file list.
The core functionality is changed by using the buttons in the upper left hand corner of the application. You’ll see four buttons there and they will expand if there are additional sub tools available. The buttons, to me, are not all that descriptive, so I had some trouble finding what I was looking for and had to just click around to find it. After some regular use I’m sure you would get used to it, but I don’t think that should be necessary.
The right hand column (which can be turned on and off) shows the meta data for a selected icon. The information available is the name, size, date imported and modified, fields for entering keywords, a description, and author information along with a section for mapping an icon to a specific category and icon group.
All of the info must be manually input besides the title (which can be changed), the size, date imported and the date modified. It would be a ton of work to complete this information for every icon so unless you’re a complete organizational fanatic you probably won’t use it (or you’ll use it sparingly).
Different Usage Modes
There are three modes in IconBox, Organize, Customize, and Online. You can toggle between modes by using the four buttons at the top of the application.
Organize ModeAre you the type of person that grabs every free cool icon set that pops up in any icon roundup blog post? If that’s you (you know who you are), you are well aware that organizing and keeping track of what you have is a challenge. If you’re like me, you forget about a lot of the icons you have, and never use them. There are several levels of organization that will help you find that really great icon you downloaded last year and have finally found the perfect use for.
The IconBox section of the left sidebar shows your full icon icon library and also the last import, icons downloaded, and the trash. These all show exactly what you’d expect.
The middle section is called Smart Boxes. Here you can create your own Smart Boxes which are, as the IconBox developers describe, like iTunes Smart Playlists that continually update based on given criteria. I tried to use this feature and really didn’t have a whole lot of luck with it. It seemed a little more difficult than it was worth, but I think the power of it could come with the type of user that has a large library with icons that have a lot of meta data.
The Organize section of the left sidebar is where the actual organization really takes place (I know, hard to believe right?). The operation in this area works by creating your own custom boxes and then organizing them into custom folders and sub folders. It’s pretty basic functionality, but this was one of the key features of the application for me and it works very well.
This is the area where the actual icon swapping happens. When you click on the Customize Mode button it will expand to show four additional sub functions. In this mode, the main window will be split in two. The top section will display the current icons and the bottom will show your IconBox icons.
The first three sub function buttons take you to different categories of current system icons. The fourth takes you to an area that allows you to make some modifications to the Dock.
Icons are changed with a simple drag and drop technique. Drag the icon you want from the bottom window and release it on the icon you want to change in the top window. Your changes won’t be reflected until you click the Apply Changes button at the top of that window.
Make several changes and then click the Apply Changes button. For a lot of changes, you will have to log out and log back in for them to take hold. Doing a group at once will save you from logging out and in repeatedly.
You can click the Restore button any time to go back to the default icons. Be warned though, this switches all icons back to default. I didn’t find an easy way to just switch one icon back to default, which would be a nice feature.
I did have a little trouble getting into Customize Mode from time to time. I’d click the button, see the sub functions, but couldn’t actually get into Customize Mode. I’m not sure if this is a common issue or just with me, but it is kind of a pain. I had to quit and reopen the application for it to work again.
There is only one Tool in Tools Mode at this time, but the developer is planning more in the future. The X-Ray tool allows you to see all the icons associated with a given application. It seems that the only thing you can do here is export individual icons or entire icon sets.
There are also tools to help you find some great new icons. One section of the site has links built in to some of the best icon developer sites around. They are essentially links that will open up the website in your default browser.
Another section actually offers an “Icon of the Day” (Optimus Prime is now my Finder icon thanks to this). The entire time I’ve been using IconBox this has not changed. I don’t know if this is a limitation of the trial version I’m using (I didn’t think it was) or if it’s an actual bug. It could be a cool feature if it worked.
The cost of IconBox is $24.99. That may be a little steep depending on how seriously out of control your icon collection is or how crazy you are about changing them. There is a trial version that allows you to build a library of 250 icons and is limited to 15 days.
IconBox was one of the first pieces of software in this space and they have built a pretty solid product. It fits in very well with the rest of your Mac OS X applications and you’ll feel right at home using it. It’s a breeze to use and, more importantly, a breeze to change icons.
The developers are planning to release more tools for free which could be a nice bonus. Aside from a couple glitches I experienced, I’d say IconBox is a very capable and pleasant to use icon management tool.
Another application in this space you may want to consider is CandyBar. It offers much of the same functionality, an equally stunning interface, and a similar price point of $29. Worth trying out in tandem with IconBox to see which you prefer!
IconBox 2.0 is an iPhoto like application that enables you to store, manage & change your icons or dock using simple drag & drop like functionality which has been seamlessly integrated into our new "Box" system.7
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