An Interview with Greg Landweber,
Father of Kaleidoscope
by Migellito


In the realm of MacOS customization, few have had more impact than Greg Landweber. Making use of the unique features of the OS and the machine, Greg's program "Kaleidoscope" can alter windows, the os bar, icons, system fonts, and other details. Power Windows produces exceptionally smooth window transparencies, with the underlying windows and images not needing to re-paint. Still though, the main highlight of Greg's efforts must be the vast number of third party applications which adopt the running K-scheme.

Why does Kaleidoscope seem so ubiquitous, such a standard? Pehaps this has to do with the nature of Mac user-ship itself. Not as many people use it, quite simply, so a smaller percentage of these are casual users. To put it another way, as soon as one is part of the Mac user base, one's already off the mainstream.


Tek: You have been referred to, in various terms, as the leading shareware developer for the Mac OS. How long have you been creating software for the Mac, and would you agree with this assessment?

Greg: I have been writing Mac software for 10 years now. While there have been lots of great Mac shareware authors, not many of them stay in the shareware arena for so long. They tend to get snapped up by software companies and vanish into the corporate world, occasionally resurfacing in the about boxes of commercial software.

I guess I would say that my name is one of the most recognized in the Mac shareware community. My early programs were eponymous, and I have always written and distributed my software in my own name rather than creating a business name to hide behind. After a decade of successful shareware, people start remembering who you are.

Tek: Do you feel your efforts have helped the advancement and success of the Mac OS, and of Apple as a whole?

Greg: Not really. Even though my shareware is very successful, it still doesn't reach a large enough audience to make any noticeable impact on Apple or the Mac OS as a whole.

The biggest impact my shareware had on Apple came indirectly. I collaborated on one of my earlier programs with Ed Voas, and when Apple took notice, it landed Ed a job at Apple where he has played a big role developing the High Level Toolbox and Carbon.

Tek: Do you feel embraced by Apple, or is the relationship difficult?

Greg: The relationship has had its ups and downs. When Ed Voas and I wrote "Aaron", which implemented the Mac OS 8 appearance under System 7, the response from Apple was mixed. Some people there wanted us to stop distributing it, while others offered to help us improve it.

More recently, Apple threatened legal action to block our release of "Kaleidoscope 2.0", although that involved complicated legal matters regarding my collaborator, Arlo Rose, who had recently left a job at Apple. Fortunately, we worked out a compromise that let us release it.

Since then, we have avoided stepping on Apple's toes, refusing to post any third party schemes (interface plug-ins for Kaleidoscope) that might infringe on their intellectual property.

Tek: Can you run down a list of the software you've made, with a brief description?

Greg:
Greg's Buttons:
Customizes buttons, system fonts, menu colors and various other interface features under System 7.

Greg's Browser:
A NeXT-style multi-pane file browser, similar to the Mac OS X columns view.

Aaron:
Gives System 7 the Apple platinum appearance adopted in Mac OS 8.

Aaron Light:
Under Mac OS 8, patches older applications that do not yet support the Apple platinum appearance.

BeView:
Gives System 7 the appearance of the Be OS.

SmoothType:
Anti-aliases (smoothes) text on the screen, removing the jagged edges using shades of gray. I released this years before Apple or Microsoft decided to incorporate font smoothing directly into the operating system.

Power Windows:
When moving windows, Power Windows lets you drag a solid or translucent image of the full window, rather than just a dotted outline. It also offers fading windows and menus, as well as transparent menus.

Kaleidoscope :
The ultimate in user interface customization, completely overhauling your Mac's appearance using plug-in files called "schemes".

Tek: Is Greg's Shareware a one or two person company?

Greg: Greg's Shareware is not a company with any employees. It's just something I do in my spare time. I have collaborated with various people (Ed Voas and Arlo Rose) on some of my shareware programs, and the Kaleidoscope Scheme Archive is run by Eric Reid.

Tek: Is the shareware business your career, or do you have other work?

Greg: No, shareware is not my career. I am a mathematician, and I used my shareware income from my shareware graduate school. I currently have a post doctoral research position, and I will be taking an assistant professorship next year.

Tek: What do you think the future holds for shareware companies? What are your thoughts on ASPs (Application Service Providers?)

Greg: The shareware world is booming. With the World Wide Web, it is easier than ever for authors to distribute their homemade software, and with e-commerce, people don't think twice before buying online.

I don't have any thoughts on ASPs.

Tek: One company that has decided on the ASP paradigm is Stardock Systems. Among other software, they produce WindowBlinds, probably the closest analog to Kaleidoscope on the Windows platform. Are you familiar with WindowBlinds? What are your thoughts on the relationship between these two programs?

Greg: Yes, I have heard of WindowBlinds, but I have never used it myself. When people ask me if there is a Windows version of Kaleidoscope, I routinely refer them to it. Aside from that, there really isn't any relationship.

Tek: Apple Computer has recently been in contact with Stardock Systems to ask that they remove designs similar to Aqua. Has Apple ever contacted you with a similar request? Do you feel K-schemes based on Aqua have a place in the world, or are they merely plagiarism?

Greg: We talked with some people at Apple ages ago about the "Hi-Tech" and "Gizmo" appearances originally intended for Mac OS 8 (then going by the code name "Copland"). They made it clear to us that Apple did not want anyone implementing these new interface designs, and they have kept to that policy to this day. With that in mind, we have always tried to avoid the issue. When Apple released Aqua, we decided not to post Aqua schemes on the Kaleidoscope Scheme Archive, anticipating that Apple would not allow it.

The issue of Aqua schemes, themes, and skins has nothing to do with
plagiarism. Nobody was copying Aqua and claiming it was their own design. I think it would be great if Apple were to allow people to implement Aqua. However, I also believe that Apple should have the right to control its intellectual property.

Tek: What are your feelings about the designers who create K-schemes? Do you make any special efforts to support them? Do you follow any of them, or have any personal favorites?

Greg: We have had a mixed relationship with the Kaleidoscope scheme community. We have done a great deal for them, hosting their schemes on the Kaleidoscope Scheme Archive, maintaining the SchemeList mailing list, and responding to their requests in creating new versions of Kaleidoscope. Still, we could do a lot more. There were plans for detailed documentation and a scheme editing application that never materialized, and that engendered some hard feelings.

I keep track of scheme authors on the SchemeList mailing list, and I have met many of them in person. Some of my favorite schemes come from Japanese authors, and I particularly like the work of Kei Kinoshita (Silencio con Konicons, Estano).

Tek: What do you think Apple's current attitude is toward GUI modification?

Greg: Back in the days of Copland, Apple was very enthusiastic about GUI modification, building the capability into the Mac OS via the Appearance Manager. However, since Steve Jobs retook the helm, they have steered away (from) the issue. Instead of letting the user choose the appearance of the interface, they opted for a single unified interface, pouring all their design efforts into Aqua.

Tek: It's been said that a customization program for OS-X could change not only the appearance, but virtually every visual and functional aspect of the operating system, similar to the way a program like LiteStep can alter the Windows OS. Is there a possibility we might see a version of Kaleidoscope for OS-X?

Greg: I am working on various possibilities for Kaleidoscope under Mac OS X. It is much more complicated than the classic Mac OS, and it is significantly more difficult to patch Mac OS X.

Tek: Do you have any other applications planned for OS-X?

Greg: I am thinking of Carbonizing Greg's Browser for Mac OS X. I want to make it into an extensible file browser, allowing plug-ins to browse various archive formats or FTP sites.

I have also considered working on a TeX (mathematical typesetting) package for Mac OS X.

Tek: What sort of programming environment do you use? Could you give us a rough idea of what your creative process is like?

Greg: I use Metrowerks CodeWarrior. My creative process comes in brief bursts of energy, where I get an idea for a new feature or program and then work obsessively all night long until I am finished with it. Then I go for days or weeks simply answering support e-mail until I get my next inspiration.

Tek: What are your opinions about the world of skinning and GUI modification as a whole? Do you follow the GUI design 'scene'?

Greg: I prefer to modify the appearance of the user interface globally, across all applications. These days, lots of applications want to be skinnable, but the end result is a hodgepodge of different interfaces in each application.

Tek: In the Windows milieu, there are a handful of skinning sites which generally have some sort of master list of nearly all skinnable programs, with exhaustive galleries of skins for each. In the Mac OS realm the sites are more numerous, but only list a handful of disparate applications. The galleries for even these few applications are usually scant examples of what is actually available. Generally, the most designs for the Mac are available at the Application sites themselves, such as kaleidoscope.net. Do you have any opinions as to why this difference exists? Can you perhaps share some links with our readers that might provide a better compilation of skins for Mac programs?

Greg: The Mac and Windows skinning communities are made up of different people and evolved independently of each other. I am not surprised that they take different approaches. On the Mac side, the site I go to for general skinning news and info is ResExcellence: http://www.ResExcellence.com/

Tek: Finally, where do you think GUI modification is headed, as a whole?

Greg: I am looking forward to the day when you can represent your data in a 3D virtual reality. When you see things like this in movies (Disclosure, Jurassic Park), it always seems pointless, but I am convinced that it can be implemented effectively. Of course, once you have virtual worlds, you need virtual interior decorators...

Tek: Thank you very much for taking the time to look over and answer these questions!

Teknidermy 2001