This enhancement is not so transparent

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When Steve Jobs demoed Leopard at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, one of the new features included in the revised Desktop is a semi-transparent menu bar. It’s clearly visible in the streaming video of the keynote, and in many of the screenshots on Apple’s Leopard pages.

Now, I’m all for fancy effects, at least where it makes sense and might actually help the user. But in this case, I don’t think it makes sense—look at many of Apple’s own screenshots, and you’ll see that certain entries in the menu bar are quite hard to read, owing to the bad mix of black text, a semi-transparent background, and a dark background image. Instead of being useful, it seems to me that—based on what’s been shown, at least—the semi-transparent menu bar will do nothing but annoy me when I try to find a menu item against a non-cooperative background image. Of course, I won’t know for sure until October when Leopard ships and I can test (and discuss) how well it does or doesn’t work.

But that doesn’t mean I’m just sitting idly by, waiting for October. No, I’m being pro-active, in case I find the transparent menu bar completely non-functional. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll want to return to a nice, solid, OS X 10.4-like menu bar as quickly as possible. And as of today, I’m quite happy to find that this potential issue has already been solved, fully three months or so before Leopard’s release.

Peter Maurer, author of Butler, Witch, and a number of other useful utilities, created a simple solution: Non-Transparent Menu Bar is a simple little program that draws a white half-rounded rectangle behind the menu bar portion of the screen, but above the background image, thereby eliminating the menu bar transparency. At least, that’s what it does in theory—anyone who can legally test it on OS X 10.5 can’t talk about it. Peter himself hasn’t even tested it, because at the time he wrote it, the WWDC Leopard seed hadn’t yet been uploaded for non-WWDC attendee developers to download. So he developed and tested his little program in 10.4, where he tells me it works just fine (though you can’t really tell for sure, given the opaque 10.4 menu bar).

I’m anticipating there may be other solutions to this problem down the road—hopefully Apple will include a preference (even if hidden) with which we can set the transparency level for the menu bar. But even if it doesn’t, I’m theoretically set—I’ve got Peter’s solution downloaded and stored away, awaiting the day it can be, if necessary, put into use to restore my solid menu bar. If this new transparency feature looks unappealing to you as well, you may wish to do something similar.

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