Friday, July 18, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Whether you work in a traditional office environment or have your own home office setup, having your Windows desktop working at maximum efficiency is a key step in being as productive as possible. Stardock makes a bunch of great desktop customization and enhancement apps, and while they all offer a benefit to the desktop, I wanted to write about the ones I think are a huge benefit to your productivity as well.
I have used these applications in my home office for years, and I can say without a doubt they help keep my desktop organized and keep my workflow going.
Fences is really one of those must-have tools for your desktop. It’s been very popular since it was first introduced and millions of users use it to keep their desktop icons clean and organized. Fences gives you the ability to create shaded areas on your desktop that hold your icons so you can keep them organized and your desktop clutter-free. Multiple fences can be created and their size and shape can be adjust to fit on your desktop just how you like them.
ObjectDock puts an animated dock on your desktop where you can launch applications, file shortcuts, folders, and more. The dock can be customized with custom backgrounds and icons, the size and position can be changed, and effects can also be applied. In addition, ObjectDock also supports docklets which are mini-apps that can display information like the weather, calendar, clocks, and more. ObjectDock also has tabbed docks which makes it easy to organize apps and shortcuts by using sorting them into different tabs. It’s a fantastic way to have quick access to frequently used items.
If you have lots of running applications on your Windows desktop then Tiles is an app that can help you greatly. Tiles puts a customizable sidebar on your desktop which contains multiple pages that let you manage your running tasks and application windows. You can switch between pages by swiping your mouse or using the keyboard, and Tiles even supports multi-touch displays.
Monday, July 07, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Stardock has several apps under $5 that are designed to make Windows 8/Windows 8.1 easier to use and to restore lost features such as the Start menu. Below is a quick overview of each app and what it can do to enhance your Windows 8 experience.
The start menu in Windows 8 was removed, and in the 8.1 update, Microsoft brought the start button back. Unfortunately, their start button DOES NOT bring the Start Menu with it, it launches the Windows 8 Menu. Start8 returns the missing Windows 8 start menu and brings additional features like customization, pinning of desktop and Metro apps, unified search, and more.
Start8 was listed in the "PCWorld Top 100 BEST" list, covered by USA Today, Forbes, CBS News, the Wall Street Journal and more!
There are some cool and useful Modern UI apps available for Windows 8. The problem is, these apps take up the entire screen when opened, which is annoying when running an app like the weather app. ModernMix takes those apps using the Modern UI (Metro) and puts them in desktop windows so you can easily re-size, switch back and forth through running applications, and easily close out of them.
Windows 8 limits your start screen customization options to only a few provided background images and a few pre-defined color schemes. Decor8 removes these limitations and provides the freedom to personalize your start screen with your own images and colors.
Launch8 is an application for the Windows 8 Start screen which places a stationary dock on the Start screen. The Launch8 dock stays in place while you scroll through the Start screen and lets you quickly launch applications right from the dock. You can add apps to the dock by dragging and dropping so you’ll always have quick access regardless of where you have swiped through your Start screen.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: OS Customization
I’ve had some questions come in from Facebook and the WinCustomize forums about some of the additional features of WindowBlinds regarding textures and backgrounds, so I wanted to write a post going into more detail about it. These are all features that aren’t really difficult to use, but if you are a new user you just might not be familiar with where everything is and how they work.
If you are completely new to WindowBlinds 8, let me recommend you also take a read through the WindowBlinds 8 Walkthrough: The New User Interface.
Colors, Transparency, and Fonts
On most WindowBlinds skins, you’ll see tabs on the right of the WindowBlinds interface for Style, Color, Texture, and Background. Clicking one of those expands the section with all the available options for that particular feature. We’ll start out with selecting Color, and that will bring up the coloring options in WindowBlinds. Using this option you can change the color of a WindowBlinds skin by selecting a color and using the sliders to adjust it even further. You can just the brightness and saturation, and there’s also options to adjust the range and primary skin colors. Of course you can also stick with WindowBlinds smart recoloring which will give you excellent results. Note that some skins will accept color changes better than others depending on their design.
Next we have the Transparency option which gives you the ability to change the transparency of the start menu, task bar, window frames, and context menus (Windows 7 only). Just adjust the sliders to the amount of transparency you want, and apply the changes to see them in use. For Windows 7 users, you also have the option to force blur effects.
The last option in the Color tab is for fonts. Here you can override the font that is defined in the skin, and you also have the option to adjust the size of the fonts.
Textures is another feature available in WindowBlinds that gives users the ability to add textures to a WindowBlinds skin. When adding a texture, it can dramatically change the way a skin looks depending on what type of texture image is used. There are a bunch of textures included, and it’s fairly simple to create and add your own so you can customize a skin to your personal liking.
We even have a WindowBlinds Texture gallery on WinCustomize.com where people can download textures other people have made and shared.
There’s two sections under Backgrounds. One is for wallpaper and the other is for Explorer Backgrounds. With WindowBlinds 8 you can set which desktop wallpaper is used right from WindowBlinds, and it also has a random wallpaper changer where you can set WindowBlinds to automatically change the wallpaper at designated times. Have it change the wallpaper every morning, every hour, each time you login, and other settings you can choose from.
Explorer Backgrounds is something people often ask about, and here is where you can set them. By choosing one of the texture images they will apply to the background of your explorer windows. Just like the other textures mentioned before, you can create them and download additional ones from WinCustomize. WindowBlinds also gives you the option to adjust the active and inactive window opacity for explorer windows.
Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: OS Customization
Animated wallpapers were introduced to Windows back in the Vista days, and has since been continued with the DeskScapes app created by Stardock. By using DeskScapes, you can have beautiful animated wallpapers on your Windows 8 and Windows 7 desktops. DeskScapes also lets users manage both animated and static wallpapers, add effects, and more. You can get a more detailed of what DeskScapes does with this article found here.
There are thousands of animated wallpapers, also called Dreams, available for download on WinCustomize.com. Most of these are created by users of DeskScapes, and although there’s a variety of methods used to make the actual animation in the wallpaper, you will need to use DreamMaker to package your videos so you can use and share with others. DreamMaker is an app that is included with DeskScapes that helps you with that process.
DreamMaker can be found in the DeskScapes directly on your PC, usually in C:\Program Files (x86)\Stardock\DeskScapes8. Just run the DreamMaker.exe and you can begin assembling your .dream file.
There’s four types of animated wallpapers you can create and then package with DreamMaker.
- Single Video File – This is just a simple animated wallpaper made from a video file. You would need either a wmv or avi file for this.
- Triggered Video – This uses a video, but you can set triggers for that video to play at a certain time.
- Dynamic Content – This is for dynamic .dream content
- Hybrid Content – This is an animated wallpaper that can use both static images and animated content. More about that here.
Remember, DreamMaker only packages your content and makes it ready for distribution and use with DeskScapes. You still need to create your own content with video clips, 3D rendering applications, etc. The forums on WinCustomize is a great resource to ask questions and get advice on way to do this.
Once you have all the files for your .dream ready, we can begin. In DreamMaker you will see it has 3 tabs that we will be working with. The first tab is the Dream Information where you will enter the name of your Dream and a description of it. You will also need to add a thumbnail image (.jpeg, .PNG, no larger than 256x256) that represents your animated wallpaper.
Next is the Dream Contents tab. This is where you will select which type of .dream you are creating (see overview above). One you select the type of .dream you are making, you can select and add all the necessary files needed for that particular animated wallpaper.
The last tab is where you enter the Author Information. Here you can enter the author’s name, website, any copyright info, and a box for any additional information you want to include.
All you have to do now is click the Create .Dream button, and your animated wallpaper will be packaged into a .dream file, and will then be ready for use.
Sharing Your Animated Wallpaper .Dream Files
Now that you have your .dream file ready, you can either keep for yourself or share it with others so they might enjoy it as well! WinCustomize.com is where thousands of other animated wallpapers are available for the public to download, and it’s easy to join and get your wallpaper added.
Note: When sharing an animated wallpaper, it must be created by you or have the necessary permissions included to distribute. See more about that here.
It’s free to join and upload your animated wallpaper to WinCustomize.com. If you already have a Stardock account, you can simply use the same login credentials as they work across all Stardock sites. Next, head over to the upload page, enter all the information and upload your files. WinCustomize has a moderation process, so after a short time the .dream file will appear on the site and will be available for download.
Thursday, May 01, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
If you are a subscriber to Object Desktop, it gives you a bunch of great applications like WindowBlinds, DeskScapes, Start8, ModernMix, and more. We also make a download and update manager specifically for Object Desktop users so you can easily manage the apps available to you with your subscription. I wanted to give you a look at Object Desktop Manager, and how you can take full advantage of it.
You can find the download to Object Desktop Manager in your Stardock account. Here you can also download your apps individually if you need to do so. Just download and install the app and enter your Stardock account credentials.
Installing and Updating Apps
Installing and updating your Object Desktop apps is the main focus of Object Desktop Manager. Once ODM is setup you will see a list of all the applications available for you to download and install. All you have to do now is check which apps you want and click the install button. The installation will proceed and you’ll just follow a few prompts, and soon you will have all these cool apps ready for your desktop.
Updating app is very similar. As you can see in the screenshot below there’s an update for ModernMix, so I just need to check the box on that and install. When a new update is available Object Desktop Manager can notify you via the system tray, and you can even configure ODM to download the updates.
Managing Your Object Desktop Apps and Subscriptions
Not sure if you have a particular app installed? Need to uninstall it for some reason? No problem. Just click ‘Installed’ at the top of the ODM app and you’ll see a list of all the apps you currently have installed. You can even launch the software from here or uninstall apps from here as well.
Clicking the ‘Subscriptions’ link you can see your Object Desktop subscription information like your expiration date and product key. If you have a subscription to WinCustomize.com, you can also see the expiration date for that too. From here you can press the Extend button and be taken to our store to renew/extend your subscription.
The default settings in Object Desktop Manager will work for most users, but if you need to change some of the configuration you can do that in the settings window. Just click the gear icon in the upper-right of ODM and click Settings. Here you can configure a variety of other settings like showing beta versions of app, launching ODM at Windows start, update check time and auto-downloading of updates, file locations, and more.
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Fences has been one of the most popular desktop organization apps since its introduction several years ago. It has nearly 5 million downloads on Download.com alone and has been recommended by many publications including Lifehacker, PCWorld, and more.
If you aren’t familiar with what Fences does, let me give a brief explanation. If you have a desktop full of icons they can quickly add up and become an unorganized mess in a hurry. Fences lets users create shaded areas on the desktop which contain groups of icons which you can organize inside these areas.
There’s lots of other cool features in Fences that can help you to keep your desktop organized, and here are 3 of my favorite tips to get the most out of using Stardock’s Fences.
Use Rules for Sorting
This is an awesome feature that I think some users might overlook when setting up Fences. You can setup rules in Fences which will help you with sorting and auto-organizing icons. By default, any new icons appearing on your desktop just go right to the desktop. By using a rule, you can set it up to where a certain type of icon will be placed in a fence that you define.
For instance, you can create a rule that will place all new image icons into a fence you have created just for that purpose. You can choose from a variety of types for your rules such as images, documents, folders, web links, and more. You can also set name-based and time-based rules as well.
Customize the Appearance
We like customization, and there’s quite a few ways you can customize your fences. My personal favorite ability is being able to adjust the transparency of a fence. This works great when trying to blend in with a desktop wallpaper I might be using. Fences also allows you to adjust the color by using sliders, and you can also adjust the label text, size, and font used.
Another cool trick is that you can hide a fence by right-clicking the fence, and setting it’s opacity to 0. With that set, the fence and its icons will be hidden until you mouseover the fence.
Create Folder Portals
Do you have a favorite folder you access al the time and want an easier way to interact with it? With Fences you can create a Folder Portal that you can access the contents of any folder right on your desktop. Setting up a portal is nearly the same as setting up a regular fence, but you’ll just need to select the folder to you want to access.
Friday, March 14, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: OS Customization
The ability to customize your Windows desktop has been around for quite some time now, and there's never been a better time to jump in and start making Windows look and work how you want it to. We've previously talked about how Stardock has several $5 apps to make Windows 8 more usable, and today we're going to take it a step further with some other customization and enhancement apps that are just $10.
Lets take a look at some of the best and most popular desktop customization apps that you can use to completely change the look and feel of Windows 8 and Windows 7.
WindowBlinds is the flagship application in the Object Desktop suite, and has been downloaded more than 18 million times on Download.com alone. WindowBlinds lets Windows users change the entire look of Windows by applying skins to the user interface. There are thousands available for download on sites like WinCustomize.com which offers a huge variety of skins in just about every color and design you could possibly imagine.
Users can even customize skins further by applying colors, textures, and by adjusting the transparency of different parts of the user interface. If you are using Windows 8 and the popular Start8 application to bring back the start menu, then WindowBlinds will also skin the start menu to match the rest of the skin.
TIP: Object Desktop includes all the apps we talked about today.
DeskScapes is another popular app, and it also goes along perfectly with other apps such as WindowBlinds. DeskScapes brings animation to your desktop by using videos and animated pictures as your desktop background. You can also customize your own background wallpaper with effects, and also includes support for multiple monitors.
TIP: Create your own animated wallpapers with the DreamMaker app included with DeskScapes.
WindowFX is a another cool product that really enhances your desktop experience by adding over 30 animated effects to your desktop windows and over 20 that can be added to your start menu. Animations can be applied to such things like open and closing windows, moving windows, and more.
Other features including the ability to automatically resize windows, hide labels on desktop icons, and use a focus feature to highlight open windows.
TIP: Many of the animations can be configured with different animation styles
Tuesday, March 04, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
This is something I’ve talked about many times before, but it always deserves repeating and a reminder every once in a while. When you purchase a subscription to Object Desktop you get a great deal on a whole suite of the best desktop enhancement and skinning applications available.
Included with your subscription is:
- and more!
As long as your subscription is active, you will always get updates to the latest versions and any new apps that are added during that time. While most people renew for many years, some also let their subscriptions lapse or just subscribe for one year at a time. When your subscription is no longer active, you will no longer have access to new updates, but you will still have the apps you had during your subscription to use.
However, it is very important that you backup and archive those apps for future use. If you are using the Object Desktop Manager app, it will save your downloaded files to a folder on your hard drive.
Typically, they will be here: C:\Users\YourName\Downloads\Stardock
You can specify that location in the ODM preferences.
Even if you have the Object Desktop Manager installed and use it, I also recommend downloading the individual files from your Stardock account and making a second backup with those. You can access your downloads here.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: OS Customization
There are a lot of Object Desktop users out there, and while there are some great resources available for skins and themes like WinCustomize.com, but some people just want a custom theme pack that can give them a new desktop look. We have a bunch of premium themes designed and built by the top skin artists available, and they include a premium WindowBlinds skin, icon package, wallpapers, and useful desktop gadget. When you purchase a premium theme, you will receive a .zip file that contains all related files you will need.
As mentioned, you will need Object Desktop or at least the major components like WindowBlinds and IconPackager which is needed to apply skins and icon packs. The description of each theme will let you know exactly what you need, and these premium themes are designed for Windows 7/Vista/XP.
While you can browse through all the great premium themes at the link above, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites that I think you will also like.
This is one of my favorites. I mean who doesn’t like pirates, right? This theme includes a pirate-themed visual style complete with a pirate flag, matching wallpapers and pirate icons which will give your boring desktop a completely new look.
As the name implies, this theme is all about the Spring season with vibrant colors that is sure to get your out of the Winter rut and ready for a warmer season. This theme includes a WindowBlinds skin, icon pack, custom wallpaper, and a desktop gadget.
This has been one of the more popular premium themes over the years. One of the reasons could be the awesome animated start menu with a fire-breathing dragon on top! Like the others, this theme comes with all the components you need to makeover your desktop with the likeness of a mythical creature.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Start8 from Stardock has made computing life much easier for users of Windows 8 since it was first released. Start8 brings back the start menu to Windows 8 along with other functionality that gives users a more familiar and enjoyable user experience.
Start8 is very easy to use, but I always like to write about tips that maybe some people might not know about, but should.
Start8 Works with WindowBlinds
WindowBlinds is another application from Stardock that most will probably be familiar with. It gives users the ability to apply one of thousands of skins available that change the look and feel of your Windows desktop. The topic of Start8 and WindowBlinds working together has come up several times recently, so I wanted to detail how they work well together.
A WindowBlinds skin will typically include a skinned start menu and start button to match the overall skin. Using both of these apps you can have a completely skinned and customized desktop with a full start menu on Windows 8. You can also choose in the WB settings to either use the start button provided with the WindowBlinds skin, or use the buttons in Start8. Either way, you have control over the look.
Use a Custom Start Button
As I mentioned above, Start8 has the ability to use custom start buttons. There are several already included, and there are many available to download from the Start8 gallery on WinCustomize.com. In the Start8 configuration, under Style, just click the ‘Custom Image’ box and you can select your custom image to use.
Creating your own start button is super simple. We even have a free tool available to easily create them. Download it here.
Use Advanced Tweaks in Start8
This is probably something a little less known, but Start8 also has an Advanced Tweaks setting which gives you some additional features. Some of these include enabling/disabling for different users, showing hidden items in the Programs list, limited the scope of search results, and more.
You can access these by opening Start8Tweak.exe which is in your Start8 application directory.