White flat theme for Mac OS X

The general appearance of Mac OS X has remained mostly the same for several major OS X releases now, but earlier versions of the operating system had a brighter whiter look for window frames and panels, with some pin striping thrown in there. If you’re tired of the newer darker modern theme that exists throughout OS X from Snow Leopard to Mavericks, you can re-theme the appearance of things and get a retro white theme complete with restyled window elements. The resulting appearance is flatter and whiter, and other than the retro looking pinstripes, it actually looks a bit like something Jony Ive would do to OS X with inspiration from iOS 7, showing generally brighter colors, less shadowing, and a flatter look overall.

White theme in Mac OS X

If the difference isn’t immediately obvious to you, it’s because the change in appearance is fairly subtle. This animated gif shows the two overlaying each other to demonstrate this, though keep in mind a GIF has limited color palette:

Re-theme OS X windows before and after

Re-theming OS X this way requires the usage of the Terminal app, found in /Applications/Utilities/, and though it’s a simple defaults command sequence, if you’re not comfortable with the command line you may want to reconsider whether or not to do this. Yes, it can be easily undone if you’re not happy with the results. This has been tested and confirmed to work in OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) and OS X Mavericks (10.9), though it may work in older versions too.

Re-Theme OS X Windows with a Bright Flat White Theme & Pin Stripes

Launch Terminal and enter the following command string:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSUseLeopardWindowValues NO

For the full impact to be system-wide, you’ll need to either log out of OS X and back into a user account, or just reboot the Mac. If you don’t have time for that, relaunching apps will cause it re-theme upon launch, or you can kill the finder to have the change take effect there first so you can get an idea of how things look:

killall Finder

Again, for the full effect to be applied system wide, you need to quit out of all apps and re-login.

Here is a before image of a Mac Finder window with the default modern grey OS X theme:

Default OS X window theme

And here is the same Mac Finder window re-themed with the white window appearance:

White OS X Theme

And here’s a before / after of the System Preferences with and without the new theme as well, here it is before with the default Mavericks look:

System Prefs before retheme

And here is System Preferences with the white theme, notice the pinstripes are faintly visible:

System Preferences after re-theme

Longtime Mac users will notice this isn’t the super-bright candy color scheme found in the initial releases of OS X 10.0 and 10.1, but as the command string implies, it’s a later more refined version from Leopard.

The whiter flatter look goes well with other iOS-style tweaks that you can make on the Mac, so if you’re into the idea of making OS X look like iOS then you may want to go a bit further to complete your re-theming.

If you’re confused on how to do this, the brief video below shows entering the command into the Terminal and killing the Finder so that the changes take effect there. For things to apply system wide you’d want to log out or restart though:

Revert Back to the Modern OS X Theme & Window Look

Not thrilled with the washed out white pinstripe retro theme? It’s very easy to go back to the default theme of OS X Mavericks, just go back to the Terminal and enter the following command string:

defaults delete NSGlobalDomain NSUseLeopardWindowValues

For a complete reversal, log out and log back in, insuring to quit all open apps along the way. You can also reboot, or if you only took the time to test it with the Finder initially, you can simply kill the Finder again to bring about the

killall Finder

You’ll be back to the new normal darker grey window scheme again.

As far as we know, the new default and this white theme are the only two significant window appearance options lurking in Mac OS X that don’t require third party downloads – if you find another let us know in the comments.

We’re big fans of customizing the way stuff looks, if you are too don’t miss our other customization guides and walkthroughs for making OS X and iOS match your preferences.

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