For the Stubborn: Making OS X Work Like OS 9

For the Stubborn: Making OS X Work Like OS 9

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Although every day more and more users are making the switch from OS 9 to OS X, even those who are big fans of OS X (like myself) find themselves missing a few of OS 9's features and functionality. Because some of those people happen to be developers, there are a number of utilities available for OS X that bring back the most popular features of OS 9.

Bringing Back the Classic Apple Menu

As I showed you in Chapter 8, OS X's Apple Menu has some useful features, but it's not customizable like OS 9's. You can access the classic Apple Menu if the Classic Environment is running and you switch to a Classic application, but it's not quite the same. However, you can bring back Apple Menu customization using the shareware FruitMenu ( or Classic Menu (

I've already talked about FruitMenu a couple times in the book, and discussed it extensively in the Online Bonus Chapter. Whereas FruitMenu works more like some of the other menu utilities I've discussed in the book, Classic Menu works more like the classic OS 9 Apple Menu. When it's running (you can add it to your Login Items preferences so that it always launches at login), it replaces the OS X Apple Menu with one that reflects the contents of ~/Library/Preferences/Classic Menu Items. Much like OS 9's Apple Menu Items folder, any file or folder (or alias) you place in this folder will appear in the Apple Menu; folders will list their contents in hierarchical submenus. But unlike the classic Apple Menu, Classic Menu's Apple Menu includes shortcuts to its folder, and lets you quickly add aliases, files, and folders via an Open dialog.

In addition, unlike FruitMenu, which takes over your Apple Menu until you disable it, Classic Menu lets you access the standard OS X Apple Menu at any time by control/right-clicking on the Apple Menu icon (or using another keyboard modifier of your choosing).

Restoring the Application Menu

Speaking of menus, another one that many former OS 9 users miss when they move to OS X is the application menu—the one at the right side of the menu bar in OS 9 that lists all running applications (not to be confused with each application's own application menu in OS X, found on the left side of the menu bar). The reason this menu no longer exists in OS X is simple: the Dock provides all of its functionality (especially if you add the Hide option to each application's Dock menu, as described in Chapter 6). Yet many people still miss the old application menu, probably because it's so familiar to them.

If you haven't fully accepted the Dock and want your application menu back, there are a couple excellent utilities that will do just that: the shareware ASM ( and the freeware X-Assist ( Both provide that familiar menu you're used to seeing, but they also provide additional features. ASM, for example, lets you add each application's Dock menu as a submenu; if an application takes advantage of its Dock menu to add functionality—for example, iTunes lets you control playback from its Dock menu—you'll be able to access those options from the application menu, as well. X-Assist adds direct access to System Preference panes, recently used applications, and the contents of its own "X-Assist Items" folder. Both also let you customize the appearance of the application menu; for example, you can have applications listed by icon, name, or both, and you can change the size of those icons. (Both applications also include another OS 9-like feature that I'll talk about in the next section.)

As a side note, I really missed the classic application menu when I first switched to OS X, and I used ASM to restore it. Yet the more I used OS X and the more I got used to the Dock, the less I used that menu. I eventually stopped using it altogether and haven't thought twice about it. In my conversations with other former OS 9 users, I hear similar stories. I guess this shows that either (1) the Dock is a very good substitute that just takes some getting used to; or (2) we're pretty adaptable when we're forced to be!

Making Application Windows Stick Together

One of the most unpopular features of OS X—at least to former OS 9 users—is the way application windows behave. In OS 9, clicking on a window in an application automatically brought all of that application's windows to the front. For example, if you had three Microsoft Word documents open, clicking somewhere in the window of one of them would bring all three windows to the front; likewise with Finder windows. However, in OS X, clicking on a window brings only that window to the front; all other windows for that application remain "layered" exactly how they are at that moment.

In some ways, OS X is actually more flexible than OS 9 in this regard. For example, in OS 9, many times you only wanted to view one window of an application or the Finder; bringing all windows forward ended up obscuring the windows of other applications that you wanted to be able to see. OS X lets you have it both ways—if you want to bring only one or two windows forward, you click on the particular window(s); however, if you want to bring all windows for an application forward, you click on the application's icon in the Dock.

Nevertheless, many people (myself included, much of the time) still like OS 9's way of doing things—commonly called Classic Window Mode—better. You can get it back via ASM or X-Assist (which I discussed in the previous section), or the shareware LiteSwitch (, which I discussed in Chapter 8; in each utility, to enable this feature you simply check a box (or, in the case of LiteSwitch, select it from a pop-up menu). All three utilities also allow you to enable Single Application Mode, which means that when you switch to an application, all other applications are hidden.


There is no utility at the time of this writing that only provides Classic Window Mode. However, if this is the only feature of these utilities that you want, ASM lets you turn everything else off. In addition, ASM lets you temporarily access the standard OS X window behavior by holding the shift key down as you click on a window.

If you really only want Classic Window Mode for the Finder, LiteSwitch also has a Classic Finder Windows option that enables Classic Window Mode for the Finder, but uses OS X's standard window behavior for all other applications. In addition, the freeware Desktop Rehab (downloadable via VersionTracker or MacUpdate) allows you to click on the Desktop to bring all Finder windows forward.

WindowShading Your Windows

Mac OS 9 offered a unique and extremely useful feature called WindowShading that let you click on a box in a window's title bar (or double-click the title bar itself) to reduce the window to just the title bar (it worked just like a roll-up window shade, hence the name). With OS X, Apple introduced the ability to minimize windows to the Dock, and assumed that would be an adequate substitute for the Window Shade behavior.

Many users didn't agree. Luckily, the shareware WindowShade X ( comes to the rescue. However, it's actually much more flexible than OS 9's WindowShade functionality. It provides four different options: to WindowShade the window, to minimize the window to the Dock, to make the window transparent, or to hide the current window's application. Each of these options can be assigned to one of four different actions: click the window's minimize button, double-click the title bar, control-double-click the title bar, or press command+M. The transparency function is especially helpful if you want to be able to view the contents of two overlapping windows at once.

As a bonus, WindowShade X includes the ability to control window shadows (those fancy shadows around the borders of windows) for both active and inactive windows. I've found that using the "No Shadows" setting (which disables all window shadows) doesn't look quite as nice, but it provides a noticeable speed boost for your Mac's interface. For example, opening, closing, scrolling, and refreshing windows happens a bit (and sometimes a lot) faster when shadows are disabled. And if this fancy-schmancy shadow control isn't enough, WindowShade X even brings back the "swish" sound that accompanied the collapse/expand of windows in OS 9.

Approximating Tabbed Windows

Another OS 9 feature that was very popular was tabbed windows. If you dragged a folder to the bottom of the screen, it was reduced to a small tab that contained the name of the folder. If you clicked on the tab, or dragged a file or folder onto it, the window would pop up to reveal its contents (and allow you to access them or to drop the file or folder into the tabbed folder). Once you clicked anywhere else in the Finder, or in another application, the tabbed window would again retreat to the bottom of the screen.

Apple did away with tabbed windows in OS X, most likely because the Dock's standard location at the bottom of the screen would have made tabbed windows very difficult to implement. OS X does provide a couple of features that resemble tabbed windows, but neither of them succeeds in giving you all of its functionality. For example, you can minimize windows to the Dock, but you lose the ability to drag files over the minimized window, and the ability to quickly view and then automatically minimize the window. OS X also has a neat feature—one that most people find on accident—that will fully reveal a partially hidden window when you want to drag a file onto it. To see this in action, open a Finder window and move it to one of the edges of your screen so that most of the window is hidden. Then drag a file into the window. If you hold the file over the window, the entire window will slide onto the screen so that it is fully revealed. If you drop the file, the window will remain visible; if you instead decide not to drop the file in the window, it will slide back to its original position off of the screen. (This feature is actually a variation of OS X's spring-loaded folders, which I discussed in Chapter 5 and its online supplement.) Likewise, if you click the green zoom button in the window's title bar, the window will resize and move so that you can view its contents; clicking it again will switch it back to its original position off of the screen.

Unfortunately, although these features are helpful, they really don't bring back tabbed windows. Even more unfortunate—if you're a big fan of tabbed windows—is that there really isn't any way to bring them back, even using third-party software. The closest things out there are the shareware DragThing ( and Drop Drawers ( Both are excellent launcher and file access applications that offer drawer-like windows that open and close much like tabbed windows. Unfortunately, because these drawer windows are created within the applications, they don't reflect Finder windows like tabbed windows did; you have to create new drawers and then populate them with whatever files you want to appear in those drawers. However, even if they don't exactly replicate OS 9's tabbed windows, you may find them to be excellent alternatives.

If you're using OS X 10.1.x, the freeware DragonDrop ( also offers a good attempt at tabbed windows that actually allows you to "tab" Finder windows; unfortunately, I haven't been able to get it to work properly in OS X 10.2 or later.

Putting the Trash on the Desktop

Although in OS 9 the Trash was found on the Desktop, in OS X it's now found in the Dock. In the online supplement to Chapter 5, I showed you how to use a third-party utility to put the Trash on the Desktop and gain a good deal of additional functionality; however, what if you don't want to run a utility just to access the Trash on the Desktop? Here's another solution:

  1. Create an alias of any folder in your home directory, and then move that alias to the Desktop. (It doesn't matter what the target of the alias is; we're going to change it later.) Rename the alias "Trash" (or whatever name you want your Trash to have).

  2. Get Info on your new alias (File Get Info, or command+I). Click the Select New Original button. In the dialog's "Go to" field, type /Users/username/.Trash, where username is your short username (and also the name of your home folder). Click Go and the .Trash folder will be highlighted, and the Go button will change to Choose. Click Choose to reassign the alias to your .Trash directory.

  3. As of right now, your folder alias will work just like a Trash basket on your Desktop. (With one caveat—since the user-level Trash resides on the boot volume, if you drag anything into this new folder from another volume, it will be copied to the folder rather than "trashed." To throw something away that resides on a volume other than the one hosting your user folder, you'll need to use the Dock's Trash.) However, if you want it to also look like a Trash basket, click the Trash icon in the Dock to open the Trash folder. Without clicking on anything in the Trash folder, choose File Get Info to get info on the Trash. In the Trash Info window, select the Trash icon, and then choose Edit Copy to copy the icon to the clipboard. Switch back to the Info window for your new alias (or get info on it again if you already closed it). Click on its icon in the Info window, and then choose Edit Paste to paste the Trash icon onto the alias.


If you copy the real Trash icon when the Trash is empty, your Trash alias will always look empty. Likewise, if you copy the icon when the Trash contains files, your Trash alias will always look like it contains files. There's no way around this without using a third-party utility.

Revealing Labels

Another popular feature of OS 9 that didn't make it to OS X is Finder labels. You could use one of seven custom-colored labels on any file or folder; after being "labeled" an item's icon was highlighted with that color. Many people used labels to identify or sort items based on projects, priorities, etc.

The same developers who brought back WindowShades have also resurrected labels in OS X via Labels X ( After installing Labels X, you can control/ right-click on any file or folder to assign a label to it via contextual menus. In addition, list views in Finder windows gain a Label column that allows you to sort files by their labels. If you boot back and forth between OS X and OS 9, Labels X labels are also visible from within OS 9, and vice versa.

Restoring F-key Shortcuts

OS 9's Keyboard control panel let you assign applications, documents, and folders to your keyboard's function keys (F1–F15); pressing an F-key launched or opened the item assigned to it. Sadly, OS X's Keyboard preferences don't provide this option. If you're really missing it, and haven't found similar functionality in one of the other file launching/access tools I mentioned earlier in the book, check out the shareware FLaunch (, which lets you launch as many as four items per F-key.

Hearing What You've Been Missing (Interface Sounds)

Finally, another minor detail missing from OS X is interface sounds—the audible feedback that OS 9 could provide when navigating the Finder and interacting with windows, menus, etc. Once again, it's Unsanity ( that brings a popular OS 9 feature to OS X. Xounds provides audible interface feedback just like that found in OS 9, but provides you with even more control over individual sounds than you had before. You can even import OS 9-compatible sound sets. (Custom sound sets are available from