Discovering GeekTool

Update: I’ve abandoned GeekTool for NerdTool. It has all the same features, but uses less memory and less processor time, and also has a nicer interface. It was just a little harder to find. Find it here.

Today I discovered GeekTool in earnest. I was reading a blog post about cleaning up and organizing your computer desktop, and it also talked about GeekTool as a method of displaying extra information on your desktop. For a while, I messed with my own creations, trying to get a desktop setup that I really liked. I found it surprisingly hard to choose a font and a color that I really liked for doing large text (as in, 200pt large), so I ended up resorting to copying a GeekTool setup I found online. It doesn’t look half bad:

GeekTool Desktop

But though you can go download setups from online, you really lose the true geekiness of GeekTool if you do that, so I’ll try to cast some light on what GeekTool is and how to use it.

What is GeekTool?

GeekTool is a desktop customization tool. It allows you to create small widgets (called geeklets), which do one of three things: display a file, display an image, or display the results of a shell command or script. These widgets are not clickable, and behave as just part of the desktop background, so the overall effect is just like having a dynamically changing desktop wallpaper*.

Getting Started: Time and Date

Displaying files and images is pretty self-explanatory. The real power comes when you begin using shell scripts. Let’s start with a simple example: the date command. This simple command gives you access to all the things you’d ever want to do with the date or time.

Day of the week Name:

date “+%A”

Date of the Month

date “+ %e”

Month Name

date “+%B”

Hour (24-hour clock)

date “+%k

Hour (12-hour clock)

date “+%l”


date “+%M”


date “+%S”


date “+%p”

If you are dying to find more commands, in your Terminal enter man strftime. For the rest of us, we have all the ingredients we need to build our clock and date functions. First, add a new geeklet of type shell. In the command box, type date +“%l:%M”. Now, unless you have a light background, you probably won’t see the text, but it is there. The default font is very small and hard to read. Fonts are beyond my realm of expertise, but one that I like very much is this: Helvetica Neue, UltraLight. Customize the color to one that is visible on your desktop. On my desktop, the time is size 225, but you’ll want to play around with it until you find the size that works for you. I would suggest creating separate geeklets for the month name, day, and AM/PM. This will allow you to customize their font settings separately from the time itself.

Continuing… Not here!

I considered writing about more options for configuring your GeekTool, but since it’s already been written about extensively on the internet, I’ll let you all read about it here, and here, and here. If you still want more… I don’t know what to say, except that the internet is a big place — go Google it!


Many people have told me that I’m well-rounded, but I refuse to believe it. My nature is to dash madly from one hobby to another, so over time I’ve covered enough topics to begin to approach round.

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2 comments on “Discovering GeekTool
  1. floft says:

    Wow, that screenshot looks amazing. I somehow missed it till now. At first glance it looks like the date is behind the mountains, a very cool effect. And, as a side note, that photo is amazing. *looks up that guy’s portfolio*

    What’s your longest uptime? These are things normal people care about… 😉 I just checked one of my computers, been up for 124 days so far. No chance my desktop will be up that long though. Flash every once in a while locks up Xorg and then occasionally I reboot when the kernel and cuda (nVidia) get updated, otherwise Blender won’t let me use GPU rendering.

    • ke7fze says:

      Definitely these are things normal people care about :-D. I tend to do a system maintenance process (clear kernel, boot, user caches) every few weeks, so my longest uptime is probably not more than 2 or 3 weeks. As a side note, I also discovered NerdTool, which is more memory and CPU efficient than GeekTool, so I use that. And I have a “low-power” Alfred workflow which switches off NerdTool and all my other unnecessary applications and lowers my brightness (and one to turn them on), and when manually restarting the NerdTool process, it doesn’t fill them in the correct order (i.e. the text is on top of the background). So I am not using this background by this point.

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