Microsoft's Built-in Pop-up Blocker...My Current Pop-Up Blocker
Friday, January 7, 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?
How to Revert to the Standard Desktop
Wednesday, January 5, 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)
Create Your Own Orbicon 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 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
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 !!!
A quick look at what's coming..
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: WindowBlinds
Ah customization of Windows. It's a gradual process. Using the popular voice over IP chat program, Ventrilo, let's take that journey with WindowBlinds 4.5.
...In the beginning there was Windows classic. And it was good. Simple, fast clean. Then Windows XP came and it came with a skin (known as "visual styles" when you're "skinning" the entire GUI).
And so the title bars and borders were changed. And it was still good. But not complete. For only theme-aware applications can be skinned by Microsoft's msstyles run through Windows XP.
But there was Stardock, who had been skinning the GUI of operating systems for many years. They had WindowBlinds.
WindowBlinds could skin even non-theme aware programs (i.e. most programs aren't theme aware). And so it was better. But skinning more elements of the GUI also came at a performance cost that some noticed.
So then Stardock came out with WindowBlinds 4.x. culminating with WindowBlinds 4.4 released in 2004. And its use of hardware acceleration and other features exclusive to Windows XP make WindowBlinds not just faster than the default Windows XP style (so fast that the high performance PC company, Alienware chose to bundle WindowBlinds with their computers) but on part with the original classic Windows interface. Users could have their cake and eat it too.
And soon WindowBlinds 4.5 will be here. It has some very key features:
Hue/Saturation colorization. WindowBlinds had colorizing before but not like this. Before, you could apply a color to an entire skin. This worked on some skins quite well but on many skins not so well. Why? Because if you take a blue and yellow skin (For instance) and apply red to the whole thing, the entire thing looks..well washed out.
Hue shifting is different. You shift the colors of the skins rather than apply a color mask to them. This has the effect making skins look a lot more normal and interesting.
So a skin like VectorCell might look like this normally and we'll load up the Setup dialog of that Ventrilo program so you can see the dialog of a pretty busy looking window:
But with Hue and saturation shifting it could then be made to look like this:
Notice how natural it looks? It doesn't looked washed out. Even if you would never want a purple skin on your desktop, it now looks like it designed with purple in mind.
Or how about if you wanted to have it be a more vibrant blue?
You can have that too. Or any other color you can think of. All looking as if the skin was always meant to have that.
But let's go with something harder. Something more challenging. How about some skin that has lots of colors?
Here's Faux-Toon. It has many colors. You could not colorize this with the old system because it would look very muddied with a single color grafted onto everything.
Not that we'd recommend this color combination but rather just as a demonstration of the difference between hue-shifting (a WindowBlinds 4.5 feature) and what you can imagine applying some arbitrary color to the entire thing.
Plus you have the fact that there's thousands of WindowBlinds skins out there:
And once last look at this dialog using the default Windows XP msstyle:
So in other words, if you want Windows XP to look like Windows XP consistently you will want WindowBlinds.
The Second new feature of WindowBlinds 4.5 is the ability for WindowBlinds visual styles to now include special styles just for the frames of Internet Explorer / Explorer browser windows. We don't have any examples done yet so we'll have to wait to show some screenshots. But you can probably imagine what skin authors will be able to do with this. We may expand this further so that in a given skin, skin authors can define specific frames for specific programs within a single skin if they choose.
The Third new major feature of WindowBlinds 4.5 is the ability to have per-pixel alpha channels on the Start menu itself. Those of you who like very nice Start menus can imagine the cool stuff that can be done with this. We don't have any skins done yet that show this off (we're working on them now).
The Fourth major change in WindowBlinds 4.5 which may get into 4.5 or have to wait until a minor update is the ability to have per-pixel alpha on menus. Many skinners have requested this for years.
The Fifth major addition to WindowBlinds 4.5 (or it may get into a subsequent update depending on time) is support for the 64bit version of Windows.
Plus, there are tons of small tweaks and changes here and there to improve performance, fix bugs found/reported, etc.
So there you have it, WindowBlinds 4.5. It should be out in the next couple of weeks. If you have Object Desktop you'll get this automatically. You can purchase WindowBlinds or Object Desktop here.
I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours!
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization
Here are some of my top picks in the various categories. There are always so many good choices it's hard to narrow it down to just a few. What are your favorites? Include a screenshot! Here are some of mine:
Faberge by Pictoratus
Dreamweb by teddybearcholla
the eye by teffumi
This is a brand new category. Be sure and post your screensavers!
GoldPlanet by adni18
GAMP Designs by GAMP Designs
Coax Coax by APB
MousePill by Woodbridge
X-Alien_2_[Grey] by JJ Ying
GANT Blue Animations by DPG
Ascension Animations by Pixel Pirate
Here is my current screenshot:
You can find all of these items and a few more on my recommendations page: Link.
Share some of your favorites!
Sunday, January 2, 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
A list for one who wants to skin it all...
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!)
Monday, December 27, 2004 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: CommunityHippy 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
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.
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.