WindowBlinds comes to Vista

Customizing your new Vista...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 by Frogboy | Discussion:

Vista Preview

 Our story so far...

In 1999, software developer Stardock released a program called WindowBlinds 1.0. It allowed users of Windows 95, 98, and NT to "skin" the way Windows looked and behaved. It not only could make Windows look better, it could make it more functional by adding more buttons and controls to the Windows GUI.

The screenshots below may cause pain. But back in 1999, it was this or the default Windows look.

In 2001, Microsoft released Windows XP which had "Luna".

Microsoft applied the "Luna" skin using a built in engine called uxtheme. Some users figured out how to crack the digital signing protection in uxtheme to allow for other skins to be applied (some companies actually charge money for this).

Stardock followed up with a new version of WindowBlinds (version 4.0 by this point) which continued to add new things that it could skin.

WindowBlinds 4.0 had significant advantages in features over the built in skinning system in Windows XP such as the ability to skin non-theme aware applications (most programs even now aren't fully theme aware so you get a mish-mash of "classic" and Luna in them) and WindowBlinds could add more controls to the UI, have irregularly borders, independently sized frames and title bars, animation, etc. 

But the downside was that all those goodies came with a price in performance.  While WindowBlinds was the same speed as the Windows XP engine while running the same skin, most WindowBlinds skins tended to skin more things. WindowBlinds 4 and the XP engine were, from an architectural point of view, nearly identical.

That changed with WindowBlinds 5.

WindowBlinds 5 - faster faster faster

WindowBlinds 5 was a major departure in that it was the first version to truly make use of hardware acceleration. WindowBlinds 4 and the XP skinning system both did everything in software using GDI calls.  WindowBlinds 5 made use of DirectX to begin leveraging the performance of 3D cards which in turn allowed WindowBlinds skins to run faster than classic could in many cases (let alone Luna).

Moreover, this 3D acceleration allowed WindowBlinds 5 to have alpha blended borders -- glass.

But now there is a whole new Microsoft OS with a whole new system. And the new look on Vista (the default look) is VERY good -- Aero.

 WindowBlinds on Vista in action

Version 5.5 of WindowBlinds has been designed to enable Windows Vista to become skinnable.  This is no easy task for a number of reasons. The biggest reason has to do with the new Desktop Window Manager (DWM).  While technically WindowBlinds could have hacked its way to work on Vista, it was important that WindowBlinds work natively on Vista and that means using the new 3D composited desktop. By using the DWM you get hardware acceleration and a ton of other possible effects. 

The second challenge was making visual styles (skins) made for Windows XP work on Windows Vista without parts missing.  So Stardock developed "Smart Skinning" in which graphical elements in XP skins are translated to take care of new parts in Windows Vista.

The new configuration window

The new configuration dialog has been designed to be easier to use and adhere to the new Windows Vista UI guidelines. 


WindowBlinds 5.5 should run as fast or faster than the default "Aero" skin thanks to using some of the caching features of the DWM that Aero currently doesn't use. This should be particularly noticeable when moving windows around.  Aero is already plenty fast and at this point, where everything is accelerated, performance is no longer really a factor in skinning. But it is worth noting that the days of "slowing your system to a crawl" that was so common in the earliest days of skinning should be long gone at this point.


Compatibility is still being worked on in this beta. This has mostly to do with the sheer number of different skins that have to be tested.  WindowBlinds supports 3 different skin formats with thousands of different skins.  And many new applications, like the new Office, do some pretty..unusual things (if there ever was a program not designed to be skinned it would be the new Office apps but as you can see in the screenshot, we're doing it). 

Since this is being ready more so by technical users than most things we release, let's be specific: Compatibility has to do with the skins. For example, what if a given skin's title bar is really thin. How will it be handled by the new Office which assumes title bars of a certain height?  What if they made their start menu in such a way that it gets in the way of the new search field or the new buttons Microsoft added?While most experienced users would simply choose a different skin, we feel it important to make sure that skins, even ones made years ago, function properly on Vista or at least don't cause any problems.

A new life for visual styles

Thousands of WindowBlinds visual styles exist and work on Windows Vista.  However, thousands of msstyles were made too. They won't work on Windows Vista. The good news is that they can work vai WindowBlinds after being converted by SkinStudio (a free download). Once SkinStudio has been installed and associated with .msstyles, users can double click on one and convert it over.

Windows Vista includes Aero, a bold new look.  But for users feeling a little retro, they can still make Vista resemble great designs of the past.  OS/2, MacOS, Msstyles, and of course the Windows XP look itself.


Question: Will WindowBlinds 5.5 support the new blur effects?

Answer: The goal of WindowBlinds 5.5 is primarily to get skinning working on Windows Vista and support existing XP skins.  It is adding new features to the skinning format to support Windows Vista elements. Subsequent versions will begin to add support for different kinds of 3D effects such as blurring that skinners can make use of. 

Question: What versions of Windows Vista will WindowBlinds work on?

Answer: All of them. Even ones that don't include Aero. As long as your video card supports the DWM (any reasonably decent video card) you'll be able to get the full power of WindowBlinds 5.5.

Question: Will WindowBlinds 5.5 support Windows XP?

Answer: Yes. Stardock will be continuing to make new versions of WindowBlinds for XP users for a very long time.

Question: I've tried WindowBlinds and I don't like the visual styles for it. Are you going to make better skins?

Answer: We don't make the skins. We make the software. At least, historically. That is changing though. Recently we launched a new group called Stardock Design whose job is to create phenomenal looking skin suites.  There are thousands of different WindowBlinds skins out there plus there are thousands of msstyles out there that can be used with WindowBlinds. Just look for ones that suit your tastes.

 Getting WindowBlinds on Vista...

Right now, the only way to get WindowBlinds on Windows Vista is to have Stardock Object Desktop.  You can get that at Object Desktop includes over a dozen different programs that improve the user experience of Windows.  In January, Stardock expects to make WindowBlinds 5.5 available as a stand-alone download.  Current owners of WindowBlinds 5 can upgrade to Object Desktop here.

Get it now at...


Reply #1 Thursday, November 16, 2006 5:19 AM
Will existing 5.x buyers have to pay for the update/upgrade?
Reply #2 Thursday, November 16, 2006 5:50 AM
Will existing 5.x buyers have to pay for the update/upgrade?

Though I am not sure about those who have purchased WB as stand-alone product but ODNT Users must be able to beta test WB 535 (beta)
Reply #3 Thursday, November 16, 2006 9:23 AM
In some ways I wish you would do what MS don't and scrap the backwards compatibility. I understand why you aren't, but it would be nice to see what WB could do on Vista without being constrained by older formats.

Same goes for MS really. One day eh?
Reply #4 Thursday, November 16, 2006 5:54 PM
In some ways I wish you would do what MS don't and scrap the backwards compatibility. I understand why you aren't, but it would be nice to see what WB could do on Vista without being constrained by older formats.

Same goes for MS really. One day eh?

Well from what it says above I don't think that making WB backward compatible hampers its abilities any, other than simply extending the time it takes to start taking advantage of new stuff. I mean to put it crudely, I don't see how making some skin that has a very thin titlebar play nice with the new Office prevents WB from taking full advantage of the blur effect, right?

Anyway, I have two questions:
1) When will WB 5.5 come out for XP?
2) This one's a bit OT but it's Vista related so I'll ask - How will ObjectBar play with Vista's native sidebar? Will it be able to skin it? Will it be able to accept sidebar gadgets?
Reply #5 Thursday, November 16, 2006 9:04 PM
Installed WindowBlinds on Vista last night and it's great, tho I got a bit of a scare when my screen went all hazy for a few monents during a skin change. Also, Windows Explorer had to close momentarily, but once the skin had applied all returned to normal ....but much, much nicer to look at with 'VistaBlinds' in operation. A truly fantastic job Stardock.

Also installed WindowFX and it too works in Vista....only thing it was a bit sluggish at first and I needed to update my graphics card drivers to take full advantage of its effects/potential. It's great now, but Vista probably requires upwards of 1.5gb of Ram for WFX to run smoothly.

When will WB 5.5 come out for XP?

Using the same version that I installed in Vista on XP Pro right now.......

WindowBlinds version : WindowBlinds 5 (5.1 (build 81 x86))

WindowBlinds is installed correctly on this PC

WindowBlinds appears to be activated on this PC

You have one monitor in total.

(SyncMaster 910V/910M/913V/915V) 1 is attached to NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GS

Wblind.dll 2006/10/09 10:24:20
Wblind64.dll 2006/10/09 11:51:37
Wbsrv.dll 2006/11/15 20:05:19
Wbconfig.exe 2006/11/15 19:39:02
Wbload.exe 2006/03/13 18:54:14
Wbhelp.dll 2004/09/18 16:37:07
Wbui.dll 2005/12/06 22:29:06
Tray.dll 2006/04/28 18:26:49

....and very nice it is too. Things are looking UP & UP for Stardock, Vista and all us lucky OD subscribers.
Reply #6 Friday, November 17, 2006 2:42 AM
WooT! Finally Vista look nice!

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