So are widgets killing skinnable programs?

The fall of the mini-programs

Wednesday, December 22, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Customization Software

Long before widgets, in the sense that we know them today, existed there was skinning. A skin is a collection of graphics designed to replace the user interface of a particular program. The first major skinnable program was Winamp.  Skinnable programs became very popular for awhile.

During that time, we saw small, skinnable programs come out. These programs did one thing but they were skinnable.  Programs like Colorpad, Beatnik, Boxnote, Coolplayer, eNotes, EZPop, SkinCalc, XXCalc, Kewlpad, and countless other programs all let users have skinnable programs that did a small but specific thing.

And then came the widgets. Programs like DesktopX and Konfabulator came along. They have the advantage of usually using less overhead than a stand alone program does on a given widget as well being able to provide the functionality of all the skinnable stand-alone programs.

Widgets, currently, do have one downside - it is hard for end users to customize the way they look.  Programs like XXCalc may be able to do only one thing but users could then apply dozens of skins for them.  By contrast, today's widget programs are somewhat harder to make new skins for since each widget is its own thing. 

Regardless of the respective merits, what we have seen is a decline in the # of new skinnable stand-alone programs. The widget enabling programs seem to have taken much of the momentum away from these programs.  Programs like WindowBlinds, which can skin every standard GUI'd application on the computer, probably didn't help them either.

Which brings us to where we're at - widgets or custom mini-programs? Are we better off with widgets or skinnable mini-programs?

Here are some examples (some screenshots courtesy of Customize.org) -- you be the judge:

Mini Program

DesktopX equivalent

Konfabulator

N/A


(coolplayer)


(skincalc)


 


(ezpop)

N/A


 

Don't judge any of the 3 by the screenshots since I mainly just went and found ones that I thought looked nice but your tastes may vary. The point is to show that for every popular stand-alone skinnable program there is usually some sort of widget equivalent to them.  Now whether the widget equivalent is better is a matter of debate.

There very well could be other reasons why we have seen stand-alone skinnable programs become less popular. And there are notable exceptions - Rainlendar (a skinnable calendar) and SysMetrix (a skinnable system resource meter) are very popular. 

Let us know what you think either way.

CerebroJD
Reply #1 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 12:40 PM
What if it were possible to make "skinnable" widgets? Ones that got their graphics and code from a stand-alone folder. That way people could skin them like regular apps and basically finish off the take-over. Realistically, while many things in the computer world are evolving, a large percentage of skinnable programs will eventually merge. DX has the potential to be that "super-app" with all of its capabilities. If each module were able to be skinned independantly, then they could be treated as seperate apps, while using the backbone of DX to power them. DX has a massive future, and if such clocks and gizmos DO get replaced by DesktopX, then I'm fairly sure that it'll be because DX can offer more in the way of features. They arent being replaced by an inferior program, thats for sure.
Kobrano
Reply #2 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 12:53 PM
I think what you are seeing is indeed a "Consolidation" of things into the main leaders of Widgetry. Why get 20 little skinnable programs, when you can buy DX and get widgets to do all of that?

Second, in my opinion, Widgetry is moving from a niche market, to a more mainstream aspect as people uncover more useful widgets/gadgets. Furthermore, stand alone gadgets that are really nice, are viewed more as actual appplications than widgets themselves. Much of this I feel, will be driven by commercial interests - but it will take time..

Further, Widgetry will replace tiny gadget-like skinnable applications without question. But they cannot replace more advanced and detailed skinnable apps. So I guess to answer your question, are Gadgets/Widgets replacing Skinnable apps? Yes and no, depending on the app.
c242
Reply #3 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 1:40 PM
I was long using sysmetrix, but now DX is finally able to do all it does (except for the crappy mail-plugin).
Septimus
Reply #4 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 1:56 PM
What if it were possible to make "skinnable" widgets?


They aleady exist.

FTPDrop for DesktopX has skinning functionality built in.

AveDesk's iTunes controller and FTPDrop are two prime examples.

Kapsules Weather Bar and again iTunes controller.

In fact only Konfabulator doesn't usually support skinnable widgets. Some such as mini series of widgets by Arlo have some capability but its not the norm.

Andreas designs his desklets to be skinnable which is a design feature more than the few I've mentioned should adopt.
ZubaZ
Reply #5 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 3:12 PM
It would be nice if the CUI concept for DesktopX had an element for skins. Seems like a logical spot.
ZubaZ
Reply #6 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 3:12 PM
It would be nice if the CUI concept for DesktopX had an element for skins. Seems like a logical spot.
TasT
Reply #7 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 3:51 PM
I think that the small apps were dying long ago, unless they were freeware it seemed kinda silly to spend $10-$20 for an app that did little other than give stats or notification of email arriving. And I think you hit the nail on the head with the thoughts on WB taking the wind out of thier sails. I tried to get into a couple of the skinnable text editors a long time ago but there was really no need because WB would skin what ever text editor I was using, In fact some proggies that used their own skins and would ignore WB really irritate me System Suite is and example.

The widget proggies are just reviving all the functions of the little proggies that died a while ago. I hope to continue to see inovation and simplification of the use of DX with widgets, I would not use Konfabulator because of the overhead but, some of the features are really nice. I do not want DX to get completly dumbed down though I import all my widgets into DX so I can use them as objects ( slightly less ram usage). And I can also save my theme that way..
XX
Reply #8 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 4:13 PM
It seems to me that it's possible with present support. I think I'll try to make something skinnable.
dmense
Reply #9 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 5:59 PM
Having probably created more skinnable "mini-programs" than just about anyone else, I noticed a pretty large decline in interest with new 545 Studios products some time before the release of kapsules. I think users lost interest in small programs that only served one function, the applications usefulness was degraded to the simple fact it was "Skinnable" in part because of the developers ( myself included ) creating applications that were not exactly useful on a day to day basis.

With the introduction of Trillian, and desktopX.. combined with Windowblinds. users were pretty much able to have freeform skinning control over all the applications they used daily. eliminating the need for a skinnable clock, skinnable notepad. ect.

And the only way to stay ahead of the game was to expand on the features of the existing application, for example..Inedita ( a old 545 Studios product ) expanded above and beyond the functionality of notepad. But at the same time, parted it self of being considered a "mini-program" and made users ask them selfs if they really "needed" a skinnable bloated notepad replacement.... probably not.

I also think another reason for the decline was the introduction of Visual Styles and mainstreaming of "globalized skins" although WindowBlinds had been in place for quite some time, as well as other applications that allowed similar functionallity ( eFX ) Visual styles were made available to everyone running XP, and not just those who were aware of applications like WindowBlinds. Allowing you to skin notepad, calc.exe and every other windows "accessory" with a matching theme.

which brings me to another issue.. matching themes. With so many skinnable programs..it began to be a task to have a matching desktop, if you used a skin created by treetog for example..and you used tyme, but his theme only skinned beatnik. users seemed to be more interested in the theme that skinned they're application of choice. and with the number of skinnable applications growing..often providing the same functions; it pretty much became impossible to create a theme that covered all of alternative calcs, notepads, ect.


I believe matching themes is still an issue today..if you look at the DX object section for example, you will find many objects that have the exact same function..but are different simply because of its theme.


anyway..thats my take on it all.
jier
Reply #10 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 6:02 PM
Citizen dmense = me
jier
Reply #11 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 6:02 PM
.. double post.. my fault.
craeonics
Reply #12 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 6:30 PM
I think jier may have a point there with the matching theme issue. Windowskinners might have played their part in it all, but I don't think they were decisive. Trouble is, in a lot of apps, the skinnability was just a gimmick to make them popular. It doesn't really work that way. In the end, people do prefer functionality and the skinnable apps tended to have less of that.

Ergo, no, I don't think widgets have anything to do with it.
Draginol
Reply #13 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 9:27 PM

I think Jier/dmer is on to something there.

People want a consistent desktop and it got pretty hard to put together a consistent set of skins when there were so many different programs.

Solosturm
Reply #14 Thursday, December 23, 2004 1:36 AM
Actually, as an amature programmer of 13 + years, i have made this program (called simply Clock) that is just that, a desktop clock, that supports skinning. A few users over at WinMatrix have even made skins for it. As much as i love widgets, i hope that this wil one day fal in with the rainlender - systemetrix apps.

(this is a poster that i made on winmatrix)


Solo
jier
Reply #15 Thursday, December 23, 2004 4:21 AM
Not to discourage you at all Solo, but the issue at hand is exactly that... Why download a "simple clock" when there already is one in the corner of the screen ( dont get me wrong.. I have created not 1, but 2 skinnable clocks in my day..so ive heard this all myself )

but the fact is..in order for your program to match the theme of the users desktop, a additional skin would need to be created for your program..and then why not beaknik, and why not tyme, and why not all the others..

the amount of downloads your program will receive today..vs in 2001 is probably less than half. simply becase of the reasons mentioned in this post, and my post above.
Frogboy
Reply #16 Thursday, December 23, 2004 1:06 PM

Not to mention it is sooo much easier to create a skinned clock or whatever with a widget enabling program.

I can literally take one of the original images from the WindowBlinds skin or whatever and turn it into a DesktopX widget in less than 5 minutes and it would work with everyone who has DesktopX.

Solosturm
Reply #17 Sunday, December 26, 2004 12:37 PM
i have been wanting to do a widget, but there is no IDE for it, i mean, it would be nice if there was a visual aspect for designing it, i know that most of the people write there widgets in notepad.
dmense
Reply #18 Monday, December 27, 2004 4:34 PM
Actually, desktopX provides a interface for developing widgets. very similar to visual basic once you get into it.
MarkCamp
Reply #19 Sunday, January 16, 2005 2:51 AM
I agree with the theme thread of discussion. You can't get a uniform theme with skinnable applications from different vendors. WinCustomize provides a standard to skinning as Windows does to operating systems ... and look what happened to Windows.

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