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Winterizing Your Mac

By Mike Grueter
Updated December 14, 2007
Originally released December, 2003

If you live in a cold winter climate you've surely winterized your home and your vehicle by now, but how many of you have thought to winterize your poor Macintosh? Of course, winterizing your Macintosh has little to do with climate and much to do with holiday spirit, but it is of incredible importance (at least at our house) nevertheless. What does "winterizing your Macintosh" mean? Well, if your Mac screen does not look like Snoopy's doghouse in "A Charlie Brown Christmas", read on to find out!

Note: the configuration steps and some of the software described here are for Mac OS X only, but some of the general ideas are useful for older versions of Mac OS and even other operating systems (if you must).

The first and most dramatic step in winterizing your Mac is to find an appropriate desktop picture. You can hunt the web to find free desktop pictures, or you can use your own pictures. The Digital Imaging experts at dBug have made it even easier to find a nice desktop picture. Click the small images below to view larger versions of each picture. Save any large images you like on your computer. More images will be added as they come in.

Adirondacks Adirondacks 1945 by Dona McAdam
Beaver River Beaver River by Dona McAdam
Winter at the Farm Winter at the Farm by Dona McAdam
Church Church by Eric Black
Ornaments Ornaments by Eric Black
Poinsettia Poinsettia by Eric Black
Ice Tree Ice Tree by Mike Grueter

Just download the picture you like and follow these steps to configure your Mac to display the picture on your desktop:

1) Take the time now to clear all of the clutter from your Desktop. The beautiful new desktop picture you picked out will not look good with a bunch of files and folders all over it. Go ahead and put those items in your Documents folder or elsewhere. I'll wait...

2) Put the desktop picture(s) you downloaded in an easy to find folder. If you share your Mac with other people who have their own accounts, you might want to put the pictures in a place they can access too. I keep mine in a folder titled "Holiday Desktop Pictures" in the "Shared" folder in the "Users" folder on my hard disk.

3) Choose "System Preferences..." from the Apple menu

desktop_prefs.jpg 4) In Mac OS X 10.3 or newer, click the "Desktop & Screen Saver" icon in the "System Preferences" window, and click the "Desktop" tab. If you are running an older version of Mac OS X, click the "Desktop" icon.

5) In Mac OS X 10.3 or newer, click "Choose Folder..." in the left-hand list, navigate to the folder you created in step 2 above, select the pictures folder, and click the "Choose" button. If you are running an older version of Mac OS X, select "Choose Folder..." from the "Collection" pop-up menu and pick your pictures folder.

6) You should see your holiday desktop picture(s) displayed in the window. If you want a single picture displayed on your desktop, click the picture and you're done. If you downloaded more than one picture, you could have the desktop picture change as often as you want to keep things fresh, so click the "Change picture" checkbox and fiddle with the settings to get them just right.

Now that your desktop is showing a lovely holiday picture, the first thing you notice is that bare metal hard disk icon sitting at the top right corner of your screen. That just does not fit with our wintery theme, so we need to change it. Again, you can search the web for the perfect holiday icon. I found a few nice ones here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Icons can come in a variety of formats. The easiest format to use is standard Mac icons. Other formats will work, but this tutorial shows how to do it with standard Mac icons. Download a suitable icon and follow these steps to change your hard disk icon:

get_info.jpg 1) Click once on the new icon to select it

2) Choose "Get Info" from the "File" menu

3) Click once on the icon in the Info window to select it

4) Choose "Copy" from the "Edit" menu and close the Info window

5) Click once on your hard disk icon to select it

6) Choose "Get Info" from the "File" menu

7) Click once on the icon in the Info window to select it

8) Choose "Paste" from the "Edit" menu and close the Info window

Now that we've got the right look for our desktops, lets get a little action going. There are several cool little programs that can liven things up a bit.

Christmas Tree Creator If you've already decorated your tree this year and miss the decorating rush, you're in luck. Christmas Tree Creator by Spindrift Software is free software that lets you decorate digital trees to your heart's content. You can even share the love by printing greeting cards, posters, emailing friends, or viewing your trees as animated screen savers.
MacLampsX MacLampsX by The Arctic Mac draws animated blinking light bulbs around your screen.
Holidock Holidock by Anomaly Industries puts a Christmas tree with changing lights and music in the Dock.
Santa Menu Santa Menu is another free application which puts a little Santa icon in the menubar and makes a "Ho ho ho" sound every once in a while.
Snow for Mac OS X Snow for Mac OS X by Rick Jansen is a $10 shareware program that adds some animation to your screen with small snowflakes piling up on your windows, polar bears wandering around, and Santa flying in his sleigh pulled by reindeer.
Snow Globe And don't forget to add a Snow Globe to your desktop. You can shake it up to send snow flying around the Christmas tree.
Snö Snö is a free program by Infinity-to-the-Power-of-Infinity which gives you more snowflake choices and behaviors. It looks great running along-side Snow for Mac OS X. The Activity Monitor shows Snö to be a bit of a processor hog, so keep that in mind if your Mac starts to slow down.
TreetopLights TreetopLights is a free AppleScript Studio application that places a Christmas tree on the desktop and holiday lights on the menubar or screen edges.
Wreath-in-the-Dock Wreath-in-the-Dock by StimpSoft is another free application that puts a customizable wreath in the Dock.
Xmas Lights Xmas Lights is also free and it lets you hang lights from the menubar. There are settings for blinking as well as ways to customize the lights themselves.
X-MasTree X-MasTree is a free Christmas Tree for your Mac with many options, including which color lights to display, lighting modes (static, blinking or fading), a few ornaments, and a badge displaying days left until Christmas.

Hip Holiday Desktop
Yes your Mac can look this cool, but just for the holidays OK?

Lets not leave our Macs idle while we're not using them. Holiday screen savers are just the thing to keep our Macs busy while we're off drinking egg nog or hot cider. Frosted from Skyrocket Software combines a winter wonderland scene with sound effects and a talking 3D snowman, or take a walk through a 3D Christmas Village from Scrnz. Big, Fat, Stinking Snowman sports snowmen spinning and dancing in a 3D winter world of falling snow. NightLights, also from Skyrocket Software decks out your Mac screen with glowing configurable lights. A Very 3D Christmas Screensaver by Useless Creations displays Santa, his Reindeer, and a hard working Elf in 3D as they fly through the air throwing presents down chimneys and randomly stopping at houses while Santa climbs down the chimney. IcoNVader by Daedale causes Christmas images to bounce around, flip over and finally explode in a kind of soap bubble effect. On the simpler side of things, paper-cut snowflakes pop on the screen and slowly spin and float away in Flakey Saver. If you're in the mood for something a little warmer, try Fireplace by TwoSailors Network for a "real fireplace without running out of wood". They have other real video loop screensavers including candle, iPod Christmas, and Santa and Snowman too.

If you're running Mac OS X Tiger or Leopard, you might want to add a little holiday spice to your Dashboard as well. The Christmas Calendar lets you click onto the small "Mac-doors" to see what is behind, the well-named Festive Lights hangs lights in your Dashboard, there are no less than 3 widgets to help you count the days until Christmas arrives, and Snowreport Widget by PowderFone brings you snow reports, updated every hour, every day incase you want to venture outside and plow through some real snow.

Don't forget to add some soothing holiday music to the mix. Just rip some of your favorite holiday CDs in iTunes, or buy some holiday favorites from the iTunes Store, and press play.

Whew! Now that we've done all that work, it's time to play. Circus by Mac-Yun-Soft, Christmas Avalanche and Christmas Sudoku by Dracosoft, Christmas Crisis and Christmas Super Frog by Koingo Software, Christmas Quest by Spinapse, Pinch ol' Santa 2 by SwordLord, and Santa's Super Friends by Toybox Games might be just the thing to help you relax (or they might just push you over the edge too).

I'm sure the elves in Cupertino are hard at work developing iFiggyPuddingDispenser™, so we'll have something new to try next year, but careful adherence to the steps in this tutorial should get our Macs through this winter anyway.

Mike Grueter is a co-leader of the Mac OS X SIG and owner of Sudden Technology.