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.

Thoughts

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.

Conclusion

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.


Summary

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

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  • Krol

    Well, a while ago, when the Leopard comes out there was a new feature — translucent menu bar and there was no option to turn it back to solid. Few updates later there appeared a check box in system preferences that solves that problem.
    I wonder why Apple didn’t implement similar option for finder side bar icons, despite all users concerns. I myself posted feedback on every system update since Lion launch as well as many others.
    And alas, I think that unsupported buggy SIMBL is not an option. I’ve tried it and it worked bad.

  • http://www.strshp.com Prescott Perez-Fox

    This lack of colour was one of my major gripes with Lion (which I generally didn’t like). Before Side Effects, we used the SIMBL update manually and had to restart the Finder using the terminal. Side Effects is great and works fine for me.

    However, it doesn’t work on Mountain Lion. In fact, in ML it deletes the icons entirely, which is very annoying.

    As Krol says, sometimes Apple changes their OS based on user feedback (or “complaining”) but this monochrome business is not going anywhere — they’ve doubled down and imported the same effect into iTunes, iPhoto, and other native apps.

    If you’re interested in replacing the coloured icons in iTunes, I wrote a tutorial about it last year. Last time I checked, it still works, even in Mountain Lion:

    http://www.perezfox.com/2011/07/30/lion-taming/

  • Jason

    I miss colors. IOS OSX APPLE is supposed to look all clean sharp and somewhat gay cute. now its all blackberry finder lol

  • http://www.mothsoftware.com Beatrix Willius

    Thank you for this information! I hate the concrete look of Lion. Now I only need to get rid of the awful linen texture that is visible everywhere.

  • Andrew D

    I tried this out and really liked it. My only problem is that there is no way yet to bring color back to the save dialogue

    • http://macmatrix.blogspot.com/p/sideeffects.html Simon Barnett

      Andrew, check to see if PowerboxInjector.app is in Login Items (go to System Preferences – Users and Groups). If not, click the + sign and locate it in Applications.

      Now launch it using Spotlight (or from Applications).

      It’s a little intermittent, but it adds color to open / save in some apps.

  • Bryan Gibson

    I’m kinda neutral on the subject as I understand they probably just wanted to unify the look, but am happy there is a choice now. I can also understand the gripes about losing the color option as well. At any rate, it worked without a hitch for me, thanks Simon! And thanks Prescott, for your iTunes sidebar color hack, as well.

  • http://www.simonbarnett.co.za Simon Barnett

    New version released: SideEffects 1.8.6.1
    http://macmatrix.blogspot.com/p/sideeffects.html

    This version includes an updated EasySIMBL (v1.4), automatic permissions repair for colorfulSidebar.bundle and an uninstaller.

    On my system it’s looking good. I’m hoping to be able to remove the “beta” label from this one – holding thumbs..

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  • George

    Sweet. Keep it up. Apple is so stupid for arbitrarily changing the colors and other things in Lion/Mountain Lion. Whoever is the visual designer is a piece of garbage.

  • http://macmatrix.blogspot.com/p/sideeffects.html Simon Barnett

    1.8.7 (beta) released. Due to new code, there is no need to click the “Use SIMBL” checkbox during installation. The setting will hold after user is logged out or Mac restarted fixing an issue some users experienced with 1.8.6.1.

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