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Object Desktop: The Year in Review

A look back at 2004

Sunday, January 16, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: OS Customization


2004 Year in review..

Our story so far...

Object Desktop is a suite of programs that lets users customize the way Microsoft Windows looks, feels, and functions.  As the capabilities of Windows changes, so does Object Desktop.  It was originally released in December 1999 and has evolved dramatically since then. 

When a user purchases Object Desktop, they get everything already on it plus everything we create for it during the subsequent year. If a user wants to keep getting new updates and new features, they can re-subscribe to ObjectDesktop.net to continue getting new updates (if you don't renew you keep everything you already have).

Since updates during the year are a big deal to users who are considering renewing their access to ObjectDekstop.net, what comes out in a given year is worth talking about.

A Guided Tour of what's been improved...

2004 has been a turning point in Object Desktop's career.  It was the year when many elements of it finally came together: Mature programs, documentation, and support.

Stardock Central

For example, when Object Desktop first came out, users had to get their updates through a program called "Component Manager". This program "did the job" but was kind of clunky in use and many users had frustrations in terms of backing up and having to constantly re-download things.

Stardock Central completely replaces it.

Stardock Central.

What Stardock Central does is combine forums, chat, downloading, and other features all together into a single program. And when users download updates, they only download the parts they don't already have. Instead of 10 megabyte downloads they may only have 100K downloads.

WindowBlinds

For users of WindowBlinds (and IconPackager,) 2004 was the best year ever. WindowBlinds 4.4 runs rings around the bundled Windows XP visual style engine both in terms of performance and in memory use even as it skins a lot more parts of the Windows GUI.

And IconPackager has had a renaissance this year as great new icons have come out for it this year. The GUI Olympics really delivered some fantastic new skins and icons.

Below are some screenshots from this year.

 

 

And in icons..

This year WindowBlinds also added some new features such as progress animations and toolbar icon changes:

Progress Animations

Toolbar icons.

Not only did WindowBlinds 4.4 add support for changing toolbar icons in Internet Explorer and Explorer as well as support for changing progress animations, it also was 40% faster in many areas than previous versions of WindowBlinds.  Most users should notice an immediate performance boost when moving from the included Windows XP look and feel to WindowBlinds.

Learn more on WindowBlinds at www.windowblinds.net.

 

 

SkinStudio

SkinStudio 4.4 came out this year and it supports the new WindowBlinds features such as toolbar creation and progress animations but it also added the ability to create more advanced shellstyles (Windows explorer task panels). 

For instance, normally in Windows the explorer task panels on are on the left side. But now with WindowBlinds 4.4, you can have them on the top:

See how the task panels are on the top of the window? SkinStudio supports this.

SkinStudio also makes it easy to make use of the Microsoft .msstyles format. So those .msstyles that are out there can be used just like any other skin format if you have SkinStudio installed. It's totally seamless. And what's nice is that WindowBlinds will run msstyles faster and on more programs than if they were using Microsoft's skin applying system.

SkinStudio in action

SkinStudio's home page it www.skinstudio.net.

 

Keyboard LaunchPad

For users looking to dramatically increase their productivity, there's The Keyboard LaunchPad. This is a relatively new addition to Object Desktop that allows users to assign a hot key to pretty much anything they might want to do.

Actions such as clipboard contents, website URLs, program launching and more.  We here at Stardock use it a lot for saving clipboard contents (canned replies for instance and saved screenshots). We also use it to navigate to very common websites and support sites. This program doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves even though it's one of the most useful programs ever made.

Theme Manager

Theme Manager is the successor to WinStyles. It provides the single point access to all the Object Desktop GUI customization programs (plus other programs as well) for changing skins, themes, icons and wallpapers and more.

You can use Theme Manager to just change your icons. Or you can build your own "suites" of skins/themes/icons together that create an entire desktop. Think of a suite as a desktop screenshot that has all the stuff included in it to get back to that screenshot. 

 

DesktopX

One of the biggest stories for Object Desktop this past year has been DesktopX 2.x.  DesktopX spent its first couple of years of existence as being a kind of neat technology experiment.  It was this year, however, that DesktopX really became very useful for even casual users.

With DesktopX you can still build entire desktops, but it's become very popular for creating mini-applications called widgets.  In fact, Stardock used DesktopX to create the user interface in The Political Machine and is currently using it to create the screens for Galactic Civilizations II.  It's phenomenal technology.

Widgets are basically little programs that exist on your desktop. They can be as simple as clocks or as complex as a game. They have less overhead than a stand alone program tends to have which makes them ideal for doing things like playing music, monitoring system resources, displaying local weather, providing news feeds, etc.

With DesktopX 2.2, widgets can now be activated with a hot key. So even if you have them covered by a bunch of windows, you can easily bring them to top with the press of a button.

Photo Album of DesktopX for 2004

IconX

IconX was born because as icon quality has increased, the ability to get the most out of those icons was limited.

Here's the deal: In Windows you can set your icon size globally. That is a problem because if you want to have nice big icons on your desktop, you also get huge icons everywhere else.

IconX lets you have huge icons just on your desktop if you want as well as all kinds of cool effects such as zooming icons (icons grow when you put your mouse over them), sound effects, shadows, and other goodies. And it lets you also have .PNG files as icons as well as make images into thumbnails if they're on your desktop.

The same is true of icon labels which can be really big and thick -- just on your desktop.

WindowFX

WindowFX plodded towards 3.0 this year -- slowly. But it did gain a pretty remarkable new feature that is waiting until 2005 to fully be explored: Scaleable windows:

When turned on, a user can hold down the shift key while minimizing a program to put it into scaled window mode.  For users with limited real-estate, this can be quite useful.  Or for people who want to casually monitor chat or other things but not have it eat up too much space, it's very useful for that as well.

New Programs of Object Desktop in 2004

IconDeveloper

Object Desktop also added icon creation support with IconDeveloper. IconDeveloper is designed to make it easy to take images and turn them into icons.

When it comes to making icons, IconDeveloper really does make it easy for people to create and adjust icons all at once.  Stand-alone programs of this nature cost $30 and IconDeveloper is just another program that is part of Object Desktop.

Learn more of it at www.icondeveloper.com.

RightClick

RightClick is a new program that went into beta at the tail end of 2004. It is a very straight forward program - it replaces the right-click desktop menu.

It can automatically inherit your WindowBlinds visual style and have all kinds of useful functionality in it (including embedding widgets!). 

People who have started running it have found it extremely useful.

RightClick could be used to let power users do away with their actual Windows start bar if they want (it even supports having the system tray in it).  It can also be set to have a hot key to bring it up. So unlike the "real" desktop right click menu, RightClick can be brought up even if there are windows obscuring the Windows desktop.

 

Coming Attractions in 2005...

 

WebExplorer (tentative name)

Stardock is working on an Internet Explorer based web browser. It's basically Internet Explorer with a tabbed based interface. That's it. Nothing fancy. It's not going to try to reinvent the web browser as we know it. We simply want users to be able to have a tabbed base Internet Explorer.

 

Enhanced File Dialog

This new feature will extend most common Windows file dialogs to have a lot more features.

All kinds of customization will become possible to the standard Windows file dialog.

Screenshots of it in action:

 

 

PowerTune

PowerTune is a significant departure from the whole "customization" portion of Object Desktop and back to the utility aspects. The idea behind PowerTune is relatively straight forward - it's getting too complicated to keep your PC optimized.

There are some great utilities out there that can help optimize your PC but they usually cost quite a bit and are usually overkill in terms of features.  The main features of PowerTune will include:

  • Duplicate File Finder/Remover

  • Advanced Disk Space Recovery

  • Temporary Internet file manager

  • Registry Repair/Clean

  • Windows Task List extensions

  • Windows memory, CPU, and video performance optimization

  • Windows stability analysis and monitoring

This isn't a complete list but the general idea is to allow power users as well as casual users keep their systems running well without having to spend very much effort doing it.  PowerTune is due in late 2005 in beta form.

ControlCenter 2 / ObjectBar 2

ControlCenter and ObjectBar are slowly being merged together. The idea is to make it easier for people to have virtual desktop managers that are easier to use and more productive than at present. The beta is already available of ObjectBar 2.

Conclusions

Object Desktop has come a long way since its inception.  And it continues to get better and better over time.  The existing key features such as WindowBlinds, DesktopX, IconPackager and so forth have become more robust and more fully featured. And new features add new value and abilities to the package as a whole. We hope you like the direction we're going and the improvements we've already put into it.

We also think it is probably the world's best software deal.  For $49.95 a user gets all these things plus everything we make for an additional year.  Imagine the user who purchased Object Desktop in say 2003 and decided to renew their access to get new programs and updates for the year 2004 for $34.95.  The new programs and updates listed they would have received as part of that! That's less than $3 per program and update.

 Object Desktop
Object Desktop     [download only]
Get all of Object Desktop now and everything created and updated for it for an entire year after!
$49.95
Object Desktop CD
Get all of Object Desktop now and everything created and updated for it for an entire year after!
$49.95
  Object Desktop Renewal
Renew your access for an additional year to new Object Desktop updates and new programs.
$34.95
  Object Desktop Upgrade
Upgrade from one of the components below to Object Desktop.
$34.95

Hue Changing in WindowBlinds 4.5

Screenshot of it

Thursday, January 13, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: WindowBlinds

WindowBlinds 4.5 is nearly ready for release. One of the highlights is the new hue changing colorization system.

Just move some sliders and the colors of your skin change. Works very well.

To enable this, you have to go to the WindowBlinds config, click on colorization and then turn it to HSL coloring. I don't know if I'll ever go back to the other system.

"It sure is great to get out of that bag!" - Mac (1984)

Apple Comes Full-Circle

Wednesday, January 12, 2005 by Zoomba | Discussion: Macintosh

Yesterday was the kick-off of the annual MacWorld Expo. As is tradition, Apple Guru Steve Jobs starts it off with a keynote speech talking about many things Mac-related, with the most anticipated part being the announcement of new products for the upcoming year. In 2001 we saw the iPod and iTunes explode onto the market, taking the MP3 market by storm. 2002 was the new iMac with the monitor on an arm. 2003 was the new line of Powerbooks... sleek, fast, sexy.

2004 was big though... maybe bigger than any other year for new product announcements. This year, Apple finally achieved with the Mac something it had been trying to do since 1982. Make the Macintosh affordable. They did this with the Mac mini, a tiny 2.9lbs machine that has everything you could want in a mini computer... and it's only $499. Yes that's right, Apple, the company known for selling hardware only the richest of the rich could consider owning, has released a full-featured computer for just a hair under $500.

Personally, I think this is the best business decision Apple has ever made, especially now considering how well they did with OS X. I'm a closet Mac fan. Though I am too young to remember the momentous launch of the Mac (I was 2 years old in 1984), by the time I was 5, I was crashing my dad's Mac that he brought back from work every night with great glee (I accidentally formatted his hard drive once too). I used Macs almost exclusively from 1987 until 1997 when our aging Mac LC3 (25MHz baby!) was just too sluggish and outdated (not to mention at this point in time, the Mac was at deaths door and no one was releasing software for it). Then we bought a 200MHz HP. This thing did stuff I could only dream of when using the Mac... plus it had a command line interface! I could salvage the computer even after the user interface went to hell! This shift in computing mindset was amazing, and for a time I discarded my mac roots altogether, becoming a PC snob. Linux, Windows, anything with a CLI that could run on x86 architecture was all I cared about. The Mac was a dieing brand in my mind. Sure, I supported them at school and at work for years (you wouldn't believe how rare it was, and in some cases still is, to be equally comfortable troubleshooting under both MacOS and Windows), but I didn't use them if I didn't have to. Then came MacOS X. It was UNIX, only it looked damn good. It just oozed the good design Apple is known for (the first generation iMac and the hockey puck mouse being the exception). But most importantly, IT HAD A CLI!!! I had direct access to the system for the first time on Apple hardware. Rejoice! I wanted one sooo badly now, but there was no way a poor college student could afford one.

This past year, after graduating and finding myself a job that pays a fair bit, I found I could finally afford one. So I bought a 15" Powerbook with a bit of extra RAM for about $2500. Pricey, but worth every penny IMO. I use it as a secondary machine (my Dell XPS is still my main since I do a LOT of gaming) and for whenever I travel anywhere for more than a few days. It's especially great now that I have my parents house setup with wireless connected to their cablemodem. Whenever I have to visit now, I have high-speed Internet from anywhere in their house... it's nice being able to play World of Warcraft (bless you Blizzard for making all of your games cross-platform) while sitting in bed.

Now, you can get one for pennies practically! No more will people be able to say "Well, I'd love to own one, but I just can't afford it." It's 6.5" (L) x 6.5" (W) x 2" (H) and weighs in at 2.9lbs. True it doesn't come with a monitor or anything like that, but with a $10 DVI -> VGA converter, you can use whatever monitor you currently have, or pick up a cheap CRT at WalMart.

Combine the Mac mini with iPod/iTunes and the music broadcast ability from the higher-end AirPort (wireless router) and what you have is a stylish and very powerful home media solution. Now you can either have an ugly beige tower hidden behind your TV and stereo system, or you can have a polished, shiny Mac sitting in front, glowing and looking all impressive. I think this is going to be the next big home computer appliance to have.

The original Macintosh was supposed to cost $500, but as design went on and they realized that to pull off what they wanted to (i.e a completely GUI driven system) the base cost of the hardware pushed it well beyond that price point (at the time, the Sony 3.5" disk drive that came in the Mac cost $30 each at bulk... now you can get one individually for $10 most places). Now, 20 years later, they've finally done it. They've made a computer that is powerful, user friendly, and within the price range of anyone looking to buy a computer.

I think this product may launch Apple back into the PC market with a real bang. I'd love to see them gain some serious market share from this move over the next few years.

"

The perils of Googling oneself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 by dharmagrl | Discussion: Internet

I was lacking anything else constructive to do (well, that's not entirely true but that's what I'm going to tell y'all) so I Googled my screen name this morning. Link

Yeah...not a really good thing to have done.

My illusion of being the only Dharmagirl on the planet were shattered.  There are a few of us...and some of us seem to be into some pretty kinky stuff.

There's the Dharmagirl who's listed herself in a adult personal ad site.  Looking at this one was scary at first because she's the same age as me -my first thought was that I'd pissed off someone who had enough personal info on me to create an ad like that using my details - but then I read further and saw that she's in NY state and only has 2 kids, whereas I'm in the midwest and have 3.

There's the Dharmagirl who's registered in the BDSM chatroom.  I have to say that while my personality might suggest otherwise at times, I'm certain I'm not into bondage and domination sex.....and I sure as hell aint submissive.

Then there's yet another Dharmagirl listed at yet another bondage site.  What is it with chicks named Dharma liking getting tied up and beaten?  I'm seeing a trend here, and I don't like it. 

Next comes the Dharmagirl who registered with a Des Moines animal welfare site...now that's more like me.  I could see myself doing that.  This one gave me some hope that not all dharmagirls were kinky sex fiends.

There's another Dharmagirl who has a blog that shows up on Google.  I couldn't open the link to go see what she's like.....I'll keep trying though.

My final visit (and the one that made me want to stop looking for more) was to dharmagirl.com .  Yeah....not really me either.  Cool if you're looking for porn, I guess......but the less said about that, the better.

So, I'm not the only dharmagirl...and most of the other Dharma's are into some questionable sexual practices.

I just hope no-one gets us confused......

 

Icon-A-Day, Icon #1, Closed folder.

A Icon a day Keeps the Creative Block away. (I hope)

Saturday, January 08, 2005 by mormegil | Discussion: OS Customization

An Icon a day Keeps the Creative Block away. (I hope)   

    As some of you may have noticed, and gotten mad at me for, I have not had a new free Iconpack out for quite some time. This is not so much because I have been doing Premium Suites, it's because I just have not been able to find any time. Since I have started working at Stardock, over a year ago now, I have been doing a lot of fun stuff at work. Making video game UI's, Skins, and 3D. This has been sapping the amount of creativity I have left when I get home. Not to mention my cursed time sucking addiction of Halo 2.

    This brings me to the point of this blog. Starting today, I am going to find some time every day to make one (1) Icon. This will give us a new complete Iconpack in about 60 days.

Here is my plan.
    1) Design 1 Icon a day, starting with the folder. (Can't help but do this)
    2) Post that Icon in the
Misc Icons section over on wincustomize. This way anyone who wants to can get the Icons as they are made, and not have to wait for the completed pack.
    3) Post a short blog on the making of each Icon. This hopefully will allow for feedback from users, and help make the pack better.

With that lets get started.
 

Icon 01 (Closed folder)

   The folder is always one of the hardest Icons to do. It sets the style for the entire pack of Icons. I tend to spend the most time on the folder Icon, but I am going to force myself to crank this one out. Because this is the first article in this series I am going to show a bit more of the "making of" than I will have time to do in the future.
   I am going to be using CorelDraw to do all the designing in this pack; if you want you can get a free trial copy at
www.corel.com. If you are more comfortable with other graphics programs hopefully you will be able to get the basics of what I am doing and translate it into that programs tool set.
   One last thing; I am going to be referring to a lot of tools and techniques over the life of this blog series and I won't have time to describe them in these articles. I will try and do some individual tutorials on how I use each tool and technique as time goes by, if requested.
 
Step 1:

Using the Rectangle Tool, I Draw a 1.28 x 1.28 box. I use this to make sure to keep my Icon in a square aspect, and so the Icon dose not become stretched or distorted when I make it.
Then I create another rectangle and, using the Mesh fill tool, "Sculpt" it into the back side of my folder.

Step 2:

Using the Mesh fill tool I go in and do some detail. In this case I am adding in some bevels and gradients. I am winging this, so I think I will go ahead and make the back black. I am going to go with a metal and composite look for this. I am doing a lot of this in the Galactic Civilizations GUI, and am in that kind of mood. Plus maybe in the process of making this pack I can use some of the ideas in the game screens, and vice versa.
 

 
Step 3:

I want some texture in all of these Icons because I am in that kind of mode at the moment, plus it is a simple technique that can make for a nice rich feel. I don't have a lot of time for these Icons, and I will be using allot of the more popular looks.
So using the interactive transparency tool, I take a copy of the back of the folder. Change it to 30% black and add a stretched wave texture, setting the transparency to Multiply.

Step 4:

Now following the same steps as in Step 1, I use another rectangle and the Mesh tool to mold it into the shape I want the folder front to be.
As in Step 2, I use the mesh fill tool to give the folder front some detail.

Step 5:

Now I use the same steps as in Step 3 to make transparent texture over the front part of the folder.
Then I draw some of the obligatory white glare on the front of the folder and the tab. Then use the Interactive Transparency tool to fade it out from top to bottom. Giving us that Shiny look.

Step 6:

Now I just draw a black shape that I can use to pull a drop shadow off of for my shadow. I am having to do the shadow this way because I want it to look slanted back, and I don't want the standard shadows.
The only trick here is to set the shadows opacity to 100% so I can do something with it in the next step.

Step 7:

Now I break the shadow apart from the shadow shape I drew and delete the shape. Then using the Interactive Transparency tool I fade the shadow out. Also using Arrange I send the shadow to the back of the folder.

Step 8:

I see a lot of people do a reflection of their icon in their screen shots, but I thought it might be fun to try and do it in all the Icons of this pack. So lets do it.
To do this I simply copy the elements of my folder, Flip, Move,  and Skew them into the location I want. Then convert them into a bitmap (24 bit RGB).

Step 9:

Now to get that reflected look, I can simply crop the created bitmap to fit inside my guide box, and using the Interactive Transparency tool fade it out.

Finished Icon image.




Download the finished Icon.

Now I use IconDeveloper, or other Icon program, to create the Icon. There are several other tutorials out there telling you how to do that so I will make you look them up. For this pack, in the interest of not limiting what we can design, I have decided to only do 32 bit Icons for Windows XP.

So there we go, Icon # 1 is done. You can download it here if you want to play with it.

Tomorrow. I will do the Default File Icon. This is another of those Icons that sets the mood of the entire pack.

And don't forget to check for all the Icon-A-Day icons as they get made, in the
miscellaneous Icons Gallery at Wincustomize.com

Icon-A-Day, Icon #2, Default File

The most unappreciated Icon in the pack.

Sunday, January 09, 2005 by mormegil | Discussion: Icons

 

Icon 02 (Default File)

     After the Folder icon, the Default File icon, tends to be the most important icon in a pack. (At least for me). It is at the same time one of the easiest and one of the hardest icons in an Iconpack. It takesn very little time to draw, but you may end up doing it 50 times, trying to find something that has not been done 1000 times before. The icon below took maybe 15 minutes to do, less time than it is taking me to write this.
   Now that I said all that, I came up with the style for this icon set in one try. Mostly as a "Hey, I wonder if I could pull that off" experiment. What I have decided to try and pull off is a Glass icon set, or Plastic icon set, depending on how you look at it. All the file icons will be transparent glass plates, with a colored band on the top, the band may change depending on the type of Icon. Also the glass will allow us to have any file "Overlays" that I place on the icons to have a reflection in the surface of the file. At least that is the plan.
   This is the Default Icon, so it is pretty damn plain, but I am pretty excited to see how the rest of the icons come out. Now lets get started.
 
Step 1:

Using the Rectangle Tool, I draw a 1.28 x 1.28 box, same as in the last icon. Then I draw another rectangle; that will become my file icon.

Step 2:

I give the rectangle a white to light grey gradient, and then using the Interactive Transparency tool I make it fade from slightly transparent on the top and bottom, to about 50% transparent in the center.
Because this is glass and my page is white I put a throw away shape in a darker color behind my Icon so I can see it. I will delete it later.

Step 3:

Now I copy the rectangle 3 times and Crop the copies so I can get my edges - one Grey and one white - and send them to the back. This is to give the glass some depth.
Then I place another 2 rectangles on the top - one transparent blue, and one white - to make my band.

Step 4:

Now I copy the shape of the page and pull a light drop shadow off it. I also copy the edges separately and pull a shadow off them. This gives us that glass shadow look.
I also fade them out in the same way I did in yesterdays folder shadow.

Step 5:

Now using the same steps as yesterday I make the reflection of the icon below.



Step 6:

Lastly we add the "Glare", drawing the glare on with white shapes and fading it out with the Interactive Transparency tool.

And our finished icon should look something like this.

Note: I realized at the end of this that I had the colors of the inside of the glass reversed, so I flipped the two trimmed shapes so the black is on the top left and the white is on the bottom right.



Download Finished Icon Here

Well that about wraps it up for the Default File. Let's hope my gamble that this will look good when we get more of them will pay off. Tomorrow I think we will do the open folder, or the Default Document icon. Tune in then to find out.

Read other Icon-A-Day Articles.
Icon # 1

And don't forget to check for all the Icon-A-Day icons as they get made, in the miscellaneous Icons Gallery at Wincustomize.com

SkinPlant 2005

Skinning that soothes the savage desktop

Saturday, January 08, 2005 by Essencay | Discussion: New Releases

Coming to your PC in all it's vivid glory...SkinPlant has a new website design and to commemorate, compliment, oh hell, just to make your desktop look freakin' cool is a whole batch of new skins from MikeB314 one of the SkinPlant Boyz. The sweet suite surrounds your desktop with eye-pleasing colors and elegant and simple designs that will have you living with these skins for a very long time. If you've got the time on your hands after decking out the desk with these skins, head on over to SkinPlant , check out the new site and while you're there pony up for a premium suite or two....you won't be sorry.

First up for Cursor XP...

Click on Image to go to skin

Ooo La La....Logon from heaven...

Click on Image to go to skin

Jammin' WinMedia...

Click on Image to go to skin

A little paper and paste...

Click on Image to go to skin

The grand finale...

Click on Image to go to skin

Now everybody, fire up their new desktop and go "Oooo....Aaaah"

Pop Goes The Weasel....Pop-Up Blockers

Microsoft's Built-in Pop-up Blocker...My Current Pop-Up Blocker

Friday, January 07, 2005 by Essencay | Discussion: Windows XP

'Round and 'round the cobbler's bench the monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun Pop! Goes the weasel
A penny for a spool of thread. A penny for a needle
That's the way the money goes, Pop! Goes the weasel
A half a pound of tupenny rice. A half a pound of treacle
Mix it up and make it nice, Pop! Goes the weasel.
Up and down the London road, In and out of the Eagle
That's the way the money goes, Pop! Goes the weasel
I've no time to plead and pine, I've no time to wheedle
Kiss me quick and then I'm gone, Pop! Goes the weasel


Remember the bad old days when browsing the net could be a nightmare with the amount of popups you encountered and trying to find a decent free popup blocker was a chore? Well not anymore. Now the question to ask yourself is...did I de-activate all the other pop-up blockers installed on my PC so that I can control what is being blocked? Seems everyone is jumping on this ride including Microsoft.

Right now on my PC I have 4 pop-up blockers installed. XP's SP2 added one to IE6. MSN Toolbar has one built-in. Earthlink's TotalAccess has one built-in (this is the one I used when pop-up blockers where scarce), and Norton's Internet Security 2005 added the fourth. So if you're wondering why your favorite site that uses pop-ups no longer pops check to see if one of the many possible pop-up blockers you may have installed (Google's Toolbar comes to mind) on your computer isn't blocking it. Best bet is to uninstall, if you can, or disable all but one.


My current favorite for IE6 is the one that SP2 added. Whenever it comes across a new site with popups it gives you a convenient visual warning to allow you to configure it, as well as blocking the pop-up. What's yours?

Cordelia's Corner for the Complete Noob: Part 3

How to Revert to the Standard Desktop

Wednesday, January 05, 2005 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization

Yesterday's article was a long, pedantic drone about installing the WindowBlinds program and downloading and installing skins for your computer. Today's article is about reverting to the original Windows skin, although why anyone would want to violate their computer in this way is beyond me. Now that I've been playing dress up with my computer for all of two weeks, the standard Windows style is tantamount to leaving my computer naked in a snowstorm, but hey, sometimes it has to be done, right?

 

You ready? Right click on the desktop. A menu pops up listing various exciting things you can do like "refresh". At the bottom you will find "properties". Click on that. This is the "Display Properties" dialogue window. Click on the "Appearance" tab. Go to the drop down menu that says "Windows and buttons". I am running Windows XP on my computer, so near the top of the list there is "Windows XP style". Click on it.

 

The preview shows me the shiny, boring - I mean blue! - Windows XP style. Click "Apply" and wait for a moment...and voila! Your computer is back to normal. [Computer shivers in the cold]. So simple even a noob like me can do it! Quickly now, before my poor computer gets a complex I'm throwing on a new skin...ah! Much better.

 

Daily Hint for the Noob: When you have WindowBlinds installed you can change your skin easily by going through these same steps. Once you have uploaded a few different skins, you can scroll through them just by using the Appearance tab in the Display Properties dialog box.

 

Tomorrow's Article: How to Make A Screen Shot

 

Correct my grammar and win a dirty hankie!!!

(Offer not valid in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres)

 

 

Orbicons: The Tutorial

Create Your Own Orbicon Icons.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005 by wstaylor | Discussion: Icons

I have made over 100 icons in the past 2 days. They all have the same idea in mind; glass orbs with an image referring to a program inside of the orb. For some reason I cannot stop making these little orbs. Now, I know that some of you are saying - "Orbs are very old..." or "We are tired of seeing orbs..." - but I say, "MAN! I wish I could stop making these things!"

This is where this article gets interesting: I am going to share with you just how I made these orb icons, so that you too might try and see whether or not you can stop making them. Yes, this is a tutorial for making Orbicon icons using Photoshop and Icon Developer. I hope it comes in handy for someone.

Step one: Open Photoshop and Icon Developer.

Step two: Find some image or logo that you would like to use for your icon. If you want to Google search images for the logo that will work as well. I like to use http://www.brandsoftheworld.com to find high resolution EPS (encapsulated post script) images for download. So I am going to use this site to find a logo for www.mozilla.org - the giant red dinosaur ( found here) - and I am going to download the EPS of it and save it to disk.

Step three: Open the EPS file using Photoshop.

Should look something like this:

Just click OK on this dialog box.

Step Four: The next step will be to make the EPS file background transparent. The wonderful Magic Wand in the toolbar of Photoshop.

Notice that I have selected the Magic Wand and set the tolerance to (5) and chosen anti-alias and contiguous.

Then choose the white area around the mozilla.org dinosaur, and go to select and choose inverse. Push [ ctrl + X ] or go to Edit --> Cut and that will remove the dinosaur from the EPS file.

Next go to File --> New and set the background to transparent, click ok to the default size then go to Edit--> Paste and a new image with the red dinosaur will appear, with a transparent background.

Step Five: Now to begin making the Orb'd dinosaur. The easiest way I found to do this was to reduce the image size to 128x<128... meaning go to Image-->Image Size - and change the smaller number to 128 (constrain proportions selected)... this case being the height. Your dinosaur dimensions should be 146x128. Now go to Image--> Canvas Size and change that to 2 by 2 inches. The blank area around the dinosaur should be a lot bigger now. Now we will go to Filter--> Distort--> and Spherize. We will increase the slider to 100% and Press OK... then apply it 2 more times, by pressing [ ctrl + F ]. the dinosaur should look somewhat larger and kind of Orb'd. Go to Image--> Trim choose transparent pixels check all of the sides (top, bottom, left, right) and Press OK. Leave that image alone.

Step Six: To make the glassy orb: Go to File--> New set background to transparent and make the size 128x128. Then right click the Rectangular Marquee Tool and change it to Elliptical Marquee Tool (Figure1). Set its properties like the way I have them in the screen shot. Then zoom into the blank image (about 500%) and click the top left corner, so that a circle will be selected that touches each side of the square. Keep trying until you have a circle that is as big as the canvas.

Change the foreground color to white. and go to the Gradient tool, choose foreground to transparent and then choose the radial gradient. (Figure2)

Figure1 - click to zoom Figure2 - click to zoom
Then drag the radial gradient tool across the orb from bottom-right to top-left. Then go to Layer--> New and create a new layer. Now select another foreground color - this will be the color of your orb. Drag the Radial Gradient tool from top-left to bottom-right this time. I have chosen Red... Now go to Image and then Canvas and set it to 1x1 inches. Set your zoom back to 100%... Then right click the White to Transparent Layer and choose Blending Options. Choose Drop Shadow and set the Angle to 90... then choose Inner Shadow and uncheck global lighting set its Angle to 120 and set the Size to 30. (Figure3)

Figure3 - click to zoom

Next add the layer for the light glare on top of the orb. Go to Layer--> New and then with the Elliptical Marquee Tool create an oval shape over the orb... then go to Select--> Transform Selection and move that oval to position and make it the size you feel comfortable with (Figure4). Choose the gradient tool and select white as the foreground color... then drag the linear gradient from top to bottom - you can then move that oval around if you want. (Figure5)

Now We Have Our Orb

Figure4 - click to zoom

Figure5 - click to zoom

Step Seven: Add the mozilla.org dinosaur to the icon. Go back to your dinosaur and Press [ ctrl + A ] and then [ ctrl + C] to Copy the dinosaur... then go to your orb and press [ ctrl + P ] to Paste the dinosaur there. Then Free Transform the dinosaur, by Pressing [ ctrl + T ] - set the horizontal and vertical scale to 25% and center the dinosaur in the orb. (Figure6) - Then right click the dinosaur Layer and go to Blending Options - choose Drop Shadow and Press OK. Choose the Dinosaur Layer and set it to 80% Opacity. (Figure7)

Figure6 - click to zoom

Figure7 - click to zoom

Step Eight: Create the Icon. Now go to Image-->Trim... this will make the image back to a smaller size. Then go to File-->Save For Web and choose PNG-24 Then select the Image Size tab and uncheck Constrain Proportions and set the size to 128x128.(Figure8) Then Click Save.

Figure8 - click to zoom

Now We Have Our 128x128 PNG

Step Nine (Optional): Open Icon Developer and choose Convert Image to Icon. Choose ONLY XP Icons and click OK(Figure9). Then go to File-->Save As and name your Icon.

Now We Have Our 128x128 Icon

Download the Finished ZIP Here...

Step Ten (Optional): Zip your *.ICO and *.PNG file together and Upload it to the Misc Icons Section at Wincustomize.com. :)

You can see examples of my Orbicons over at http://wstaylor.wincustomize.com - ENJOY !!!

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