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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 !!!

Wincustomize User Page Focus: Tiggz

Sunday, January 02, 2005 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Community

Maybe you have never seen a Tiggz skin, well here is your chance! Tiggs WinCustomize page is full of skins that you might want to put on you desktop. Tiggs current skin called GT3 is amazing and very nice to use on your desktop, especially if you like dark skins.

Take a look at it here:


I want to especially note the DX widget that allows you to change Windowblinds skins. SkinChanger by Tiggz, if I am not mistaken, can now run whether you have DesktopX running or not.




And it just keeps going! What was his very first skin?
GTcool by Tiggz for CoolPlayer

Coolplayer??? What is That???

Not to mention other skin firsts for Tiggs, in my honest opinion, was one of the few skinners who helped keep Object Bar (one of the best apps on WinCustomize) alive and skinned. With Tiggs Object Bar skin that matches the GT suite of skins, you now have a really cool functional start bar for your desktop.

I use it myself (with dark and green skins that is ) and find myself a little inspired to finish my own Object Bar theme.

Now if your looking for a lighter theme from this author, then take a look at Killer suite of skins


For Example:
Killer by Tiggz for WindowBlinds




Want some more color? Try a tasty blue Rubicon suite


For Example: Rubicon by Tiggz for Object Bar


Lastly, I want to show you this. I personally do not use Bootskins, but this one takes the cake. While it is in Black and White and may not have much else, I think the overall design deserves mention. Introducing GT2 for Bootskins



Some might say: Joe... it nice and all but... Then I would say: Look at it! Its really cool and it goes with the whole look of GT2. And it make great use of only having shades of gray.

So take a look at Tiggs WinCustomize home page. While your at it, take a look at Tiggz Deviant Art home page too. Browse around both of them, and remember to look at the recommendations and favorites!

Until the next WinCustomize User Page Focus, I'm joeknowledge/joetheblow

DoctorNick’s 2005 Skinning Resolutions

A list for one who wants to skin it all...

Thursday, December 30, 2004 by qrush | Discussion: Skinning

2004 was my first leap into this skinning business. For 2005 I plan to go in a much different direction...Here I’ll set a goal list for myself for this year, when I hope to really become a true SKINNER. :D Enjoy, and feel free to comment or critique as you please.

1) Make a WindowBlinds skin! (high quality, and with none of that trendy aero/longhorn/aqua or whatever the latest crap is now, of course) This means I have to actually sit down for a while and have some patience with Photoshop and CorelDRAW…not to mention SkinStudio.

2) Create some icons! I’ve drawn out a few, but I have some troubles putting my ideas into pixels. Can you smell a suite yet?

3) Post more on the WinCustomize and Skinning.net forums! I’m more active on the Stardock IRC, but I like the boards too. I mean, who doesn’t want to miss out on the WB/msstyle arguments and the other nonsense?

4) Put together some tutorials for ObjectDock Plus, ObjectBar 2, and hopefully some others as well. :D Maybe I should make a tutorial entitled “Annoying Users: The 7 Deadly Errors” after seeing all of the controversy that's taken place here over the past year.

5) Start to learn some Jscript so I can program DesktopX widgets. I’d love to try to play with Bungie.net’s Halo 2 XML stats!

6) Continue to help out some SDC_Guests on #SDCentral and help them on their path to skinning enlightenment…

7) Attend some more SkinStudio classes hosted Skinartistry’s Bones2112 and NightTrain2002! I’ve missed the past two weeks, but the one class I did go to I had a lot of fun! :CONGRAT:

8) Look into getting some new Trillian 3 skins…there’s a real shortage of them! (And new plugins, cmon Cerulean!)

Wincustomize User Page Focus: Hippy

Monday, December 27, 2004 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Community

Hippy is one of the greats of the skinning world. If you look at his skinning achievements you can see that he has done some great work. Take a look at the old school stuff like Futurist Yellow:
Futurist Yellow Icon Set

Very nice. It even has a cursor set included with the icons.

But lets not forget the new stuff that had been coming out from Hippy like:


Then there is Skintendo; a WindowBlinds skin. A skin that you just have to see for yourself. Not only that, it has all of these nice wallpapers made by Hippy that just go great with the WindowBlinds skin. Hippy has, actually, a few wallpapers that goes with his skins for WindowBlinds.

Hey, don't forget that Hippy is also one of those guys at Skinplant.com. He joined up with MikeB314 (the other Skinplant guy). They got some skins you might want to take a look at on the site to... EXCLUSIVE!!!!

So enjoy Hippy's wonderful user site. He might blog there once in a while, or upload a skin... maybe an update to on of the oldies...hmmmmm??? (Hidden request for a new update for a WindowBlinds skin... any one will do... as long as its old school ).

This story wasn't supposed to be this long and actually is longer. At the link you can read more about Skintendo and some nice matching cartoon/anime wallpapers to go with it.

Until the next WinCustomize User Page Focus, I'm joeknowledge/joetheblow

Working With Avalon Today: Getting Started With XAML

A quick look at XAML

Monday, December 27, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Software Development

Longhorn may not be here yet but you can start learning about XAML now.  XAML is a new mark-up language that Microsoft is developing that allows users to easily create user interfaces.

Stardock plans to incorporate XAML into DesktopX at some point to combine its power with DesktopX's native easy of development.  In the meantime, check out this article on it.

(update) External link fixed.

WinCustomize 2K5 Report

10 things for 2005

Thursday, December 23, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

 

January 3 is still the official public launching day of WinCustomize 2005 (i.e. the day we actually announce generally that WinCustomize has been re-done).  But obviously, with Christmas almost here and everyone going on vacation, we are getting close to the point where the site is as it will be when it's announced to the rest of the world (a week from this upcoming Monday).

So where do we stand? And what is left to do? 

1) Performance.  We have come a long way there. I think most people would now agree that WC2K5 is much faster than the old site. We just today added compression to more servers. 

There is still more to do on this end though. We need more servers. Our friends at deviantART use 60 servers to run their site. We don't have quite that many servers but we do use an awful lot. And they aren't cheap.  We will probably have a subscription drive next month to help get some more servers for the site.

2) Personal Pages. We just opened it up so that ANY current subscriber or Stardock customer can create their own personal page. Go HERE to create your own personal website.

3) The advocacy system is working now. So what is an advocate? Every time someone goes to your personal site or to one of your skins you get a point.  Non-skinners can become advocates too by RECOMMENDING skins they come across.  You recommend a skin, it shows up in your recommendations tab on your personal page. Then, if you go onto another site and provide a link to that skin, you get a point and the author of the skin gets a point. The same holds true with articles. Here are yesterday's top advocates

4) New Sections. We are going to be adding some new sections next year. The first new section will be Screen Savers.  Now, what about other sections such as Trillian or whatever? Here's the thing, WinCustomize only adds sections to apps that are reasonably popular already. It has to be a mutually beneficial relationship. It is expensive for us to have sections so there has to be a benefit to WinCustomize to have the section.

So the app has to either be really really popular already or it has to have a way of sending users here to get their skins.  Even if the program is fairly popular, we still want them to link to the library we create here so that we're not merely a free marketing channel for some program. We want to bring new users here and expose them to the wonderful world of Windows enhancing.

5) Forums. We really hope you like the new forum system. It is custom-made and probably the most advanced ASP.net forum system out there.  We highly encourage users to promote their new skins and themes in the "New releases" topic of the general forum.

The forums work opposite of those BBS systems other sites have.  In most BBS systems, you have to keep clicking and clicking all over to get to the "newest" stuff of each category.  In our system, the newest stuff floats to the top of the top most category. You can then get more and more specific as you weed down there.  It's a quasi-WinFS type forum system.

Example: A given BBS system might have a forum called "Windows Skinning". You click on that and you see posts for Windows Skinning but then you see some sub-categories called say "WindowBlinds" and "Winamp" and "Media Player".  If you want to know what's hot in there, you have to click on each one.

In our system, if you click on Windows Skinning, all the sub-topics posts will show up there based on last response.  You click on the sub-topics to find out more details on those sub-topics (i.e. things that may have scrolled off the top most forum).  We think this way, while different from other systems, is actually more scaleable as users can simply pick the level of detail they want rather than being overwhelemd (example: We could have a Tutorials->Wallpapers->Photoshop->Faces->Removing Blemishes->Age Lines, a user could simply hang out in the Tutorials->Wallpapers->Photoshop area and see all the Photoshop related tutorials. Or if their interest was purely Removing blemishes from images, they could hang out one level down - much more efficient).

6) Page Views. Since WinCustomize isn't ad-based, its entire system is designed to have fewer #s of clicks. We don't get paid by the page view so we have an incentive to make it easy for you to get to what you want with fewer clicks. Where we do add extra clicks is in the area that puts strain on the database (i.e. showing 50 skins per page or defaulting to showing comments or listing every skin an author has every made on a single page).

7) Moderators. With the site growing, we are going to be approaching people about becoming moderator/evangalists of the forums. They would be in charge of a particular topic on the forum and helping make it a fun place for users. We are just waiting until more moderator tools are developed before proceeding. This site is only possible thanks to the volunteer moderators who work very hard to keep this place going. Without people like Jafo, Paxx, Snowman, MikeB, Koasati, GoodMorphing, just to name a few this site would come to a screeching halt

8) Contests, Goodies, etc. . We have plans to start sending out more goodies, having more contests, etc.  The next contest will start in January and last for 60 days. It will be toolbar icons for WindowBlinds for the toolbar icons area.

9) WinCustomize Subscribers.  For 2005 we will be putting in more effort for WinCustomize subscribers to be able to get additional suites and skins and other goodies.  We also plan to provide more goodies for WinCustomize subscribers and skinners such as sneak previews of videos we plan on doing (video reviews of skins and themes and such). 

We also plan to commission some skins and themes that will only be available to subscribers that will be in the skin library.  If this works out, we'll be able to raise the download cap for non-subscribers from 50 megabytes to 100 megabytes. We're still playing around with this concept. 

10) Site skins, etc.  Yes, they will be coming back.  We plan to provide templates so that users can submit their own site skins to the site eventually but early next year the planet will be to provide roughly 5 different designs. These may only be available to subscribers. But you'll be able to pick between all kinds of different color combinations and looks and feels.

So that's where we're at.  2004 was an exciting year but 2005 looks like it will be even more exciting.  Our overall goal with the site is migrate to a system of rewarding subscribers rather limiting non-subscribers (i.e. we want to raise download caps and provide more features overall to more people).   We also hope to add a lot more sections.  If you are friends with the people at Trillian or any other major skinnable program that you'd like on here, let us know here.  All we require is that the site link to us in a signficiant way so that their users know that their skin library here exists. 

Will Apple flash iPod rock market?

Apple may be preparing a flash memory version of the iPod

Sunday, December 26, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: iPod

Apple appears to be preparing to release a flash memory version of the iPod.  The iPod is a media player device that has historically used micro-hard drives in their devices. The typical iPod has 20 gigabytes of space on it with the mini-iPod having 4 gigabytes (that's what I have).

A flash based iPod would likely make it smaller and lighter.

Apple was also not the first to offer hard-drive-based players when it debuted the first iPod in October 2001, but it now commands the lion's share of that market. In the U.S. retail market, the iPod accounted for more than 80 percent of sales in the 12 months ended this October, according to The NPD Group. That's up from about two-thirds market share in the same period a year ago and a 40 percent share in its first year.

Read the whole thing.

Is alpha transparency worth it?

What about vector graphics?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004 by Thomas Thomassen | Discussion: OS Customization

I'm seeing that the wish for alpha transparent skinning is increasing. d3adz0mbie recently wrote an article where he pushes on for alpha transparency because it'd be an easy solution to get new quality skins. While I'd very much like to see alpha transparency into WB I am not sure it'll automatically boost the quality of skins. I'd think that most likely we'll see a large amount of OSX skins with that title bar finally transparent, and Longhorn skins with transparent frames. Then a few refurbishing of existing skins to feature anti aliased edges and shadows. (Being able to integrate shadows into skins without WFX is another argument to get alpha transparancy into WB.)
However, do we really want the SD developers to spend much time and effort into forcing alpha transparancy into XP (and 2000?) when the next version in the Windows series codenamed Longhorn most likely allow this with allot less effort? True, Longhorn isn't expected until the end of 2006, but how long will it take to have it working without suffercating the computer? I personally would like to see other more usable features getting more attention. But of course, if it's something that doesn't take too much effort then by all means; Bring it on!

There is something I'd really like to see from Stardock. Something I wish for more than alpha transparancy. And that is support for vector graphics. Imagine being able to scale and stretch you graphics without any loss of quality. And in most cases the file sizes will be smaller as well. Imagine that a widget is a little bit too big for your taste; solution: just scale it up and it still looks smooth and crisp. It just appears to be that making a huge bitmap and then have the render engine scale it down is a bit of waste of resources and an awkward way to do it.
I'd like to see vector graphic handling in most of Stardock programs as I believe it'd allow for better individual control of the GUI. The ultimate would be able to scale up or down any window, but I don't see this happening until Longhorn. (Yes, I've seen the tiling feature in WFX, but it's not quite there.) I have have more faith in vector graphics to give skins a quality boost than simply alpha transparent window frames.

What's your thoughts?

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.

EU Penalties Against Microsoft Upheld

So long Windows Media Player

Wednesday, December 22, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Windows XP

In the not-so-good news for Microsoft category, the EU has upheld the ruling that Windows XP in Europe will not have Windows Media Player.

"The evidence adduced by Microsoft is not sufficient to show that implementation of the remedies imposed by the Commission might cause serious and irreparable damage," the draft Court statement obtained by Reuters said.

Personally, I find this to be a bad move for European consumers. While it's always tempting to stick the giant in the eye, it's not the giant who will suffer in this case. At this stage in OS development it is very handy for both businesses and consumers to assume that the base OS includes video playing and music playing as part of the OS that supports a specific format (WMV in this case on video).

Read the whole article.

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