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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.

Cordelia’s Choices

Here are some of my favorites this week, what are yours?

Monday, December 20, 2004 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization

Some of you may have seen my previous article regarding criteria for rating skins Link. In it I talk about what I like to see in a good wallpaper or skin. It occurs to me that it’s not very nice to talk about swooning over the various downloadable (and free!) goodies that WinCustomize has to offer without sharing a few of my personal choices. Here they are:

Skins:
“Skinartistry” by, well, Skinartistry – just love this one. Running it right now in fact!: Link

don5318’s “Winter Blue” – Animated start panel and all! Happy Holidays!: Link

Wallpaper:
Currently running “Arrival of the Traders” by kenwas as my wallpaper: Link

Pretty “Phoenix Moon” by Boxx: Link

Widgets:
Here’s “Santa Mail 2004” by pjpowell that looks cute on your desktop, and also notifies you when you have e-mail: Link

Simple, minimalistic “etched Clock” by DHyral. Very nice!: Link


Icons:
Lovely “Cryo64 – Exodo” icons by Dariman: Link

“Red Glass Folders” by APB falls into the shiny category. I’m like a crow, drawn to anything shiny…: Link

Bootskins:
‘Tis the season…I’ve gotta have at least one Christmassey themed thing! Check out Christmas Days by Adni18: Link

Ahhh….I am outside and it is warm…I’m floating away…on the “Boats” bootskin by FilkoSE: Link


You can find all of these items and a few more on my recommendations page: Link. I'm still new so I don't have much there yet - I'm working on it! That's why I'm hoping you will all share your recommendations with me. What are your top favorites? You don’t have to choose the same categories I did, just share!

Oh and I should add a disclaimer: I'm married to the Mormegil, so I might be a teensy bit biased! You'll find him all over my recommendations page - but I'm trying to spread the love around!

Do Something Useful With Your CPU

Join the Stardock/WinCustomize.com Folding@Home team today!

Sunday, December 19, 2004 by GreenReaper | Discussion: Personal Computing

Does your computer sit there doing nothing most of the time? Worried that using a $1000 computer just for web-browsing is a bit wasteful? Are you thinking that SETI@Home or distributed.net may be fruitless endeavours? Well, you just might be interested in Folding@Home! Have your computer spend its time doing some useful calculations for medical research (see the FAQ) rather than letting those cycles go to waste, and download a client now!

I've made a Stardock/WinCustomize.com team - all you have to do is enter team ID number 41029 when asked by the Folding@Home client. And that's it! It will automatically get new blocks of work from the internet every so often and send results back, but you shouldn't have to touch it unless you want to. I chose to have it installed as a service, and the only way I know it's running is that CPU is at 100% or thereabouts all the time. It's all idle use, so it's not stealing the cycles from anything I want to run, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my computer is working on something useful . . . even when I'm asleep. Give it a go! :CONGRAT:

Keyboard for the poweruser

Friday, December 17, 2004 by Thomas Thomassen | Discussion: PC Hardware

Fireworks got a very nifty keyboard for you all you powerusers out there. It got no physical keys, just a big pad that you can use to type, control the mousecursor or do gestures on.

It plugs into the USB port and can (on most systems) be used side by side with your existing keyboard and mouse of you aren't ready to get rid of it yet. Very portable as it can be folded up.

You can get it in QWERTY and DVORAK layout as well as a few international layouts.

The price is currently $339.00, but it's the ultimate keyboard of keyboards.

This item is defiantly going on my next item to get for my computer. A bit annoying that I invested in a Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse last year when I bought my computer.

More info

The State of Skinning 2004

A look at the year in skinning

Saturday, December 18, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

DesktopX 2.4 improves widget support

New version supports configurable widgets

Thursday, December 16, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: DesktopX

Software developer Stardock has released a significant update to DesktopX today.  The world's most popular widget enabling program has found competition growing from programs such as Konfabulator, Avedesk and others.

While those programs do not support DesktopX's ability to build complete desktops and distribute them, they do support a robust "widget" architecture. Widgets in the desktop customization market are mini-programs that are designed to reside on your desktop. Where the desktop was once the exclusive home to icons, widgets (and DesktopX objects) allow users to extend the desktop functionality of Windows.

DesktopX widgets can be brought to the front with a function key (default is F9) or hidden entirely until needed (default is F10). But DesktopX widgets were previously not very configurable by end users. If a user wanted to change the color or tweak the shadow or even the Z-order, the user had to load DesktopX, import the widget, make the changes, and then re-export them.  With version 2.4, users can go to the properties of the DesktopX widget and change them directly.

"One of the key advantages DesktopX has over other widget-enabling programs is that DesktopX widgets are EXEs that can be run without running DesktopX.  However, many users requested the ability to be able to modify how those widgets functioned without having to import them into the DesktopX environment.  We consider 2.4 really the start on this journey," said Brad Wardell, Product Manager of DesktopX at Stardock. "Future versions will add labeling, and plugin configurability right into the context menu. Eventually a DesktopX widget will have all the advantages of a stand along program while using a fraction of the memory and resources that a typical stand alone program uses."

DesktopX 2.4 is a free download. Stardock provides an enhanced version that supports premium widgets as well as the ability to export content as widgets.  The enhanced version is available stand alone or as part of Stardock's overall suite of desktop enhancement utilities called Object Desktop.

Visit www.desktopx.net to get the new version of DesktopX.

 

MPAA targets core BitTorrent, eDonkey users

The MPAA strikes again

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

The Motion Picture Association of America launched a new legal campaign Tuesday targeting the BitTorrent and eDonkey file-swapping networks, two technologies widely used to trade movies online.

Ratcheting up its previous online antipiracy efforts, the Hollywood group is working with law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe to target and arrest individuals who play a critical role in the functioning of each type of network.

Full article: [Here]

 

Google wins in trademark suit with Geico

Keyword generated ads do not violate trademarks

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

Google scored a big legal win Wednesday when a federal judge ruled that its use of trademarks in keyword advertising is legal.

Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Google's motion to dismiss a trademark-infringement complaint brought by Geico. The insurance company had charged Google with violating its trademarks by using the word "Geico" to trigger rival ads in sponsored search results. Geico claimed the practice diluted its trademarks and caused consumer confusion.

The judge said that "as a matter of law it is not trademark infringement to use trademarks as keywords to trigger advertising," said Michael Page, a partner at Keker & Van Nest, which represented Google.

The ruling is a triumph for Google in that it derives as much as 95 percent of its advertising revenue from keyword-triggered ads, which appear next to Web search results. Trademarks play a central role to the sale of such ads because people often use Web search to find products and services with common, trademarked brand names such as Nike or Geico.

The ruling also could inform similar trademark-infringement cases online, legal experts say. For example, Google is being sued by American Blind and Wallpaper for trademark infringement by its keyword ad program.

Read the whole thing: CNET's News.com

Microsoft goes after PeopleSoft customers

PeopleSoft's acquisition of Oracle triggers competitive response..

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Windows Software

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