I hate transparency. Only recently, though. I used to love it. And Mac OS X is littered with it. It’s everywhere – in the Dock, in Terminal, in Dashboard, etc. At one point, you could see about 5 layers of transparency at once on my screen, […]

I hate transparency. Only recently, though. I used to love it.

And Mac OS X is littered with it. It’s everywhere – in the Dock, in Terminal, in Dashboard, etc.

At one point, you could see about 5 layers of transparency at once on my screen, like this:
An example of multiple layers of transparency on my desktop.

Yup, pretty ridiculous.

But recently, I’ve decided that I hate transparency.

Sure it’s pretty, but I realized that transperency is the difference between easy-to-read and hard-to-read; the difference between strain on my eyes and beautiful text. So I turned off transparency in every place I could, and I encourage you to do it to.

Here’s some places to start:

  • In Terminal, go to Terminal –> Window Settings –> Color, and drag the Transparency slider all the way to the left.
  • In Adium, go to Adium –> Preferences –> Appearance, and drag the Opacity slider all the way to the right (to 100%).
  • In NewsFire, go to NewsFire –> Preferences –> Interaction, and uncheck Window behavior: Fade main window when inactive.

Since I’ve done that, I’m much happier using my Mac, and my eyes are happier too.

In addition to encouraging you to remove transparency from your Mac in every place you can, I also encourage Apple to remove it from many places. Not all, for example, I don’t think that Dashboard should have a transparent background, but in places like menus for example, which are slightly transparent, and it’s difficult for users to remove this transparency.

So, what’s your view on transparency?

By Julian Bennett Holmes

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  1. Paul Armstrong Monday, January 15, 2007

    Only one of these applications is included in Mac OS X, so it is hard to agree with you that the OS is “littered” with transparency. Also, by default, the Terminal and Adium do not have transparency turned on.

  2. I thought I was the only one!
    Many new apps, like Disco and Voice Candy use it very unnecessarily.
    It has a purpose, to let you multitask, but it’s pretty ugly if it’s not needed.

    Unless there’s a real reason that I absolutely need to see everything on the screen behind the window in question, then make it normal and let me move it if I have to.

  3. I think that transparency is quite appropriate in the dock and the dashboard, where no text is directly on the transparent layer. I don’t use it in Terminal or Adium, because of the reasons given in the article, but sometimes it looks nice in Terminal, depending on what kind of desktop background you have.

  4. Like every special effect, translucency must be used with care. For instance it makes sense in Growl but I would never enable it in Adium or Terminal.

  5. I’m not a fan of transparency– there’s a need for something that signals when a window is hidden, but transparency generates too much noise along with the signal. It’s been pointed out before that paper manufacturers go to great lengths to prevent transparency– I think they’re on to something.

  6. I like it as long as it’s used in a way that makes sense.

    In the Dashboard for example, it’s harmless. It reminds you that your desktop is in a temporary state and you will have to “go back” at some time (such as opening a drawer with gadgets, use them and close the drawer again).

    Title bars, pop-up menus and open/save dialogs use a little transparency too, but only to maintain a pseudo-3D effect in your desktop.

    Compare OSX with Windows Vista, and you will realize that OSX is pretty much opaque.

  7. People often get enamored with transparency and use it too often and with settings too high. Here are some rules for transparency:

       1. Use it only if it makes something easier
       2. Limit your settings to 10%–25% transparent (90%–75% opaque)
       3. The more important the information, the less transparency you should use
       4. If you can change background color, use a very light or very dark color

    Mac OS X follows these rules in most places transparency is used—the dock is 75% opaque, menus are 90% opaque, the photo adjustment HUD is 75% opaque, pro app HUDs are 90% opaque; Exposé breaks the rules with a 10% opaque background.

  8. Yes, using more than 10-20% transparency in a Terminal window is just making it hard on your eyes. And yeah, it defaults to 100% opaque anyway, so that was your own fault for going crazy with the slider when you discovered it. :)

  9. So use the default settings then. No one is forcing you to use transparency in applications with the options.

  10. Like so many other useful and attractive elements, transparency is getting old because of it’s heavy-handed use. BE SUBTLE! More is not always better. The purpose of your screen is to communicate. If you can’t read the type in a window because it’s set to 25% transparency, then you’ve missed the point.

    I’m with Gruff!

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