10 things for 2005
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.
What about vector graphics?
Tuesday, December 21, 2004 by Thomas Thomassen | Discussion: OS Customization
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?
The fall of the mini-programs
Wednesday, December 22, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Customization Software
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:
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.
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.
Here are some of my favorites this week, what are yours?
Monday, December 20, 2004 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization
“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
Currently running “Arrival of the Traders” by kenwas as my wallpaper: Link
Pretty “Phoenix Moon” by Boxx: Link
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
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
‘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!
Join the Stardock/WinCustomize.com Folding@Home team today!
Sunday, December 19, 2004 by GreenReaper | Discussion: Personal Computing
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:
Friday, December 17, 2004 by Thomas Thomassen | Discussion: PC Hardware
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
New version supports configurable widgets
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.
The MPAA strikes again
Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing
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]