Putting Color Back into Finder with SideEffects

After years as Windows only user, I came to the Mac shortly before Lion was released last summer. I was still so new to Mac OS at that time that I failed to notice many of the changes from Snow Leopard to Lion. I did notice the removal color from the icons in the Finder sidebar, however. Like many, I found the loss of color made it more difficult for me to quickly find the icon I wanted. The icons just blended in together more than they did before.

The color is still there. If you look under the Go Menu in Finder, the icons still show in full color. Apple described the change as designed was to reduce emphasis on the interface in favor of content. While effective for that, the loss of contrast didn’t seem worth the tradeoff. As usual, developers stepped in to restore what they saw as lost functionality. SideEffects restores color to the icons Finder Sidebar. How well does it work? Let’s see.

What Is SideEffects

Add Color to the Finder SideBar

Before and after installing SideEffects to add color to the Finder sidebar.

Though adding color back to Finder might seem like a simple change, there are three components required to work this magic. SideEffects packages them into one simple installation. First SideEffects packages the Finder plugin framework SIMBL. This framework simplifies the development of plugins and tweaks to other applications such as Finder. SideEffects then installs a SIMBL based plugin, ColorfulSidebar, that colorizes the sidebar in Finder. It also takes care of restarting Finder to allow the new framework and plugin to take effect.

All of these are things you could install and run on your own, but SideEffects puts them in one simple package that makes it simple to get everything installed.

Getting and Installing SideEffects

You download SideEffects as a disk package and have two choices. The SideEffects installer installs the applications to run on each login or reboot meaning you’ll always have color icons. The SideFX installer just brings color to you sidebar until you logout or shut down your Mac. If you experience problems or simply tire of the addition of color, there is an uninstaller included which removes the plugins and framework from your computer.

Advanced Install Options

Advanced Install options must be used if you run TotalFinder.

When you launch the installer, the first two installation screen provide some information on the application and project. Also note that if you use the TotalFinder plugin as I do, then you must make one change to the installation. On the install screen, you must choose the Customize Option. Here you must uncheck the RelaunchFinder option and instead check the RelaunchTotalFinder option. As long as you complete this step, I saw no conflicts between TotalFinder and SideEffects.

When the installation completes, it will inform you if everything went smoothly. To confirm switch to Finder and open a new windows and you should see color icons in your sidebar. If not the included ReadMe file includes a few troubleshooting steps. As noted, an uninstaller is added to your Applications folder should you run into problems or simply wish to remove the program. That’s always nice to see when you’re installing something that changes the way your system works.


While I ran into no problems while installing or using the program, there are some rough edges. It would be nice if it could automatically detect TotalFinder removing the need to manually change that option. It would also be nice if the program could change between always colorizing the sidebar and just until the next reboot as an option instead of requiring the installation of a custom version.

The developer has not signed the application with a certificate, meaning you may have to work on Mountain Lion by either allowing any application to install or right clicking and choose open to get the option to install anyway. The author notes on the SideEffects web site that he’s applied for a certificate for the application, which will hopefully fix this in future versions.

The are a few things to keep in mind before running this on your daily machine. First, this is still beta software. As the documentation itself notes, “it is an experiment in which you are a tester (which means your Mac is the guinea pig).” I saw no issues running in, but if you’re not comfortable with your Mac being a guinea pig you may want to wait until the software matures and is tested a bit more before installing this on your primary or only computer.

There is also a concern on the use of SIMBL. While a popular and well developed plugin, it is not supported on either Lion or Mountain Lion. The author has noted he has no plans to update for either version of OS X. While the framework still works well and causes few problems, there is the potential for a chance in Mac OS to break things.


Is it worth it? While it is just a color tweak, I did find that I could find the right icon faster in the sidebar once I’d installed the change. For the experienced user who missed color in the Finder sidebar, give SideEffects a try and see how it works for you. Less experienced or users worried about running beta software might want to wait a bit for the project to mature.


By combining a few tricks, SideEffects will attempt to restore color to your OS X Lion or Mountain Lion Finder sidebar.