WindowBlinds 15 years in pictures

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 by Frogboy | Discussion: OS Customization


WindowBlinds 1.0 was released in November 1998! Since then, it’s gotten over 100 MILLION downloads!  Over on CNET’s version 8 has received over 18 million downloads. 

It was the first program to enable users to customize the look and feel of the Windows GUI.  15 years later it is still going strong. Let’s take a look at its evolution in pictures.

Version 1

Changed window frames, menu bars.







Yea, this was the config UI we had..cough..


Version 2

Adds per-window skinning, semi-transparent explorer windows, skin colorizing



Desktop light sourcing


WindowBlinds gets into retail!


WindowBlinds used to send data back to us on what skins people had. We took this out because users were unhappy about their “privacy” (anonymous data being sent). Seems quaint now.


WindowBlinds skins supported adding buttons and other objects into the frames (such as this stock ticker).


Remember AOL? Their client was a huge pain the skin correctly. Also, look at the BeOS skin.



MacOS’s “Aqua” look for its newly launched MacOS X helped make WindowBlinds incredibly popular for Windows users who suddenly recognized how ugly Windows NT/2000 were.


In fact, making Windows look like other, less ugly, OSes was a big deal.


Version 3

Designed with Windows XP in mind, 3.0 was the first version that could skin every part of the Windows GUI. The competition had stiffened as Microsoft had released uxtheme.dll that, once hacked, allowed people to create GUI skins freely. WindowBlinds thus had to provide significant value-add to justify $20.



The quality of the skins had to really go up to compete with the bland but free uxtheme skins.


Third-parties began licensing WindowBlinds for marketing purposes (Nvidia here)




(The Microsoft XBox team here – one wonders what the Windows team felt about this at the time)



Sometiems it was just a matter of making Windows XP look a bit nicer than Windows XP defaulted to.


Other times it was about reminding power users just how gimped the Windows XP “Luna” UI made Windows.


Version 4

Version 4 was the point where WindowBlinds “won” the contest versus uxtheme.dll in that it could not only do everything it could do and more but version 4 made use of DirectX draw acceleration to make WindowBlinds substantially faster (i.e. noticeably faster) than using Windows XP without it.

However, this popularity would come at a price – the quality of the average skin submitted became substantially lower. WindowBlinds skins acquired the reputation for being ugly, gaudy, fat.



WindowBlinds 4 added a lot of neat controls for controlling how coloring worked. 





Version 5

The era of Aero had arrived. Microsoft was finally taking the aesthetics of Windows seriously and created a new glassy looking UI called Aero.  WindowBlinds 5 was designed to support per-pixel alpha blending, toolbar button changing, progress animation improvements, animated per-pixel Start menus, title bars, etc.


Aero all the time


Our own take on Aero

However, the problem Stardock and its community faced was that a “complete” skin was a significant amount of labor. Thus, a lot of the most talented skinners began finding other things to spend their time on. It wasn’t “fun” anymore.



Version 6

WindowBlinds 6 added the ability to apply effects such as Gaussian blurs to skins in real-time. However, the biggest change came in the new configuration because it was becoming clear that the number of high quality new skins was dwindling (while the user base continued to increase). The new config allowed end users to heavily modify their skin library.


That dragon is fully animated and so is the title bar.


The new config allowed users to do all kinds of crazy things to their skins and then save them as a sub-style


The official World of Warcraft skin got a second life with WindowBlinds 6


The Elemental skin for WindowBlinds 6


Version 7

It is with some irony that WindowBlinds 7 was ready in time for Windows 7 (the versions being the same was coincidence).  WindowBlinds 7 introduced a new type of skinning format called UIS0 which allowed users to just modify the existing Aero skin.  This made WindowBlinds a lot more popular for people who liked Aero but wanted a bit nicer look and feel to it.


A new, simpler and just as powerful config window.


Stardock began contracting professionals to make skins to ensure that there were some good, new, benchmark skins available.


Mac inspired skins remained popular


So with UIS0, you could apply a texture and color to the existing Windows 7 Aero making it look, imo, much nicer.


Version 8

Version 8 was mostly about getting WindowBlinds to work on Windows 8. Microsoft essentially gimped the underlying window theming system they had – they killed Aero! No Aero, no UIS0.  They replaced it with the stripped down UI seen in Windows 8 and 8.1.


Once again, a new and improved configuration UI.





WindowBlinds 8 is still very new, what but the challenge going forward is coming up with new and interesting ways to skin the Windows GUI that make it attractive for new users!  Visit to learn more about WindowBlinds!

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Reply #1 Wednesday, November 13, 2013 6:24 PM

I'm sure there are a lot of members who were unfamiliar with Windowblinds' history.  Thanks, Brad ....

Reply #2 Wednesday, November 13, 2013 7:50 PM

^^^^What Jafo said^^^^I got on board at version 6.

Reply #3 Wednesday, November 13, 2013 8:52 PM

Awesome info thank you for sharing...


Reply #4 Wednesday, November 13, 2013 9:57 PM

Nice reminder! I love WindowBlinds more than DX, and we all know that's a lot! 

Reply #5 Thursday, November 14, 2013 1:16 PM

Version 4 for me.

Reply #6 Thursday, November 14, 2013 2:44 PM

I was a newcomer when Allan Bond's "Capsula" entranced me... version 1.

Reply #7 Thursday, November 14, 2013 3:03 PM

I showed up when version 4 was so popular.  Got WindowBlinds first and within 30 days I had an ObjectDesktop and WinCustomize subscription.  This place is somewhat like Hotel California, you find your way in but you can never leave.   

Reply #8 Thursday, November 14, 2013 4:04 PM

I got here in 2004. Whatever version it was then, probably WB4.

Reply #9 Thursday, November 14, 2013 4:46 PM

When I was doing this, I definitely noticed that there was a trend where the quality of new skins has dropped. I'm not even sure how we change that.

Reply #10 Thursday, November 14, 2013 5:03 PM

When I was doing this, I definitely noticed that there was a trend where the quality of new skins has dropped. I'm not even sure how we change that.


On Win8, WB is pretty much dead air unless you want to use Start8.

Start8 is great but it is not forward thinking.

Find a way to customize the native 8 interface without forcing people to step back to the old technology. For many, it is handy but it is not practical.


Reply #11 Thursday, November 14, 2013 5:42 PM

When I was doing this, I definitely noticed that there was a trend where the quality of new skins has dropped. I'm not even sure how we change that.

What causes that is the new versions' more extensive skinning capacity.  Back with the V1 vintage...when WB was literally just that...for dressing the window frames people could get really 'anal' with per-pixel settings for their graphics resulting in 'cleaner', classier results.

Eventually the OS and WB's ability to do all sorts of stuff meant it had become a 'Jack of all trades and master of none' as far as skinner involvement was concerned....either patience ran out...or skill-sets for stuff like animations, etc.

Phoon is right too.  Win 7 looks too 'OK' to have the same incentive to want to skin it. [Ignoring 8 - it's plain shit]...but both 7 and 8 are open to potential radical shell mods that could be skinnable [and appealing].  I think so much effort attention is going into curing function anomalies that 'form' is taking a poor second place - even this site [WC] is an example of that - a skinnable site was [still is] more logical and enticing...

Reply #12 Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:27 PM

Win 7 looks too 'OK' to have the same incentive to want to skin it.

Indeed Jafo! I had forgotten that aspect. Aero was so appealing that there really wasn't an overwhelming need to skin it as was the case with XP.


I find the interface of Win8 to be very functional for me (after the learning curve was passed ) and thus will not revert back to the old methods. However, the "tiles" need to be addressed, even MORE so with 8.1 since you can't change the damn tile background color to be uniform across the board. ( that is the sole reason I went back to 8 by the way.. ).

So, again, IMO the only way you are going to see forward progression with WB is to address that issue.


Side Note: Please don't take my observations as bitching. I love your products Brad. If I didn't, I wouldn't have stuck around for 12 years now with continued renewals. 

It saddens me that I don't have the necessity to use them though as I once did.

Reply #13 Friday, November 15, 2013 7:12 AM


When I was doing this, I definitely noticed that there was a trend where the quality of new skins has dropped. I'm not even sure how we change that.


only competition breeds excellence. you have about 15 skinners left, and even the worst skin gets "great job" comments. so what do you expect?

you will not get anybody in graphics industry to give WindowBlinds skinning a try if it requires to learn SkinStudio. most people value their time too much to give that a try. so what you would have to do is to make the whole thing more accessible.

create a mockup PSD. with all the elements that WB can skin in it. keep it as simple as possible, no animations or other fancy stuff. the only thing that is needed for a skinner to do is editing the graphics & texts in it. and to define the scale type and margins, these should be part of the layer titles, like: TaskbarButton Tile 4,4,20,15

when you get SkinStudio to import this PSD, you have a winner. if a skinner wants, he can go further and add the fancy stuff, but he should not need to do that.

so all it takes to create a WB skin is to edit a PSD file? great, count me in. you can then start contests at Dribbble, DeviantArt, Behance, etc. to get more people into skinning.

Reply #14 Friday, November 15, 2013 12:50 PM

Moshi makes a valid point, take xion for example. Although I find that SKS isn't that difficult to learn to use. I personally find it easier than the xion method but I guess that's because I haven't taken the time to learn it. I can say that given the amount of time required to create a blind doesn't help with productivity although I personally like to pay attention to detail I just find that the limitations really hold back the creativity skinners could provide. Also when skinners receive lack of feedback how can they improve? It's not very motivating when a skinner releases a blinds they've spent days or even weeks on to receive little to no feedback on the good and bad points of the blind. Take my blinds, the cell for example. A few folk suggested improvements but for now I haven't had the time to take a second look. I had spent a long time trying to perfect the details and create clean graphics to give it a really nice and pleasant appearance. It just leaves skinners a little to be desired. Just to note I hope it receives a feature after I've revised certain aspects of the blind. Anyway! Great topic


Excuse any typing errors its quite a different feeling typing this on a tablet lol.

Reply #15 Sunday, November 17, 2013 4:04 PM

I agree, being able to pull elements straight from a layered art file (photoshop or even would make things simpler - you can mock up your look, then just plug the bits in with layer import and clipping options. I recall the function exists to do this with a static image - but that means cutting the bits from a 'merged' image - layers would help keep all the opacity etc.

Reply #16 Thursday, December 5, 2013 5:19 PM

What a nice memory. Thanks for this time summarization, Frogboy. I started up with WB4 first but I wish I got familiarised with it even earlier. IMHO and I guess I am not the only one to think that way, the true GOLDEN YEARS of skinning were until Vista arrived. There was a lot of joy. A plenty of in fact. And then it slowly became a bit worse. Yet with 7 it seemed like the old golden echos had arised again but with win 8 coming in... I don´t know... Personally I am still on win 7 and until I am being driven by some major factors to leave it  I am not giving 8 a go. Or let´s put it in another way. I tried, I got burnt, as a skinner. I understand the attitudes of win 8 "lovers" or "haters" but this OS I rather pass. But that was not my point to be speaking of windows. My point is very pure. I just start worrying of Windowblinds. I feel like it won´t be as the same as once was.  

Reply #17 Monday, January 6, 2014 2:41 PM

I have been a wincustomize user since 2007

Member Since: 12/25/2007 - So this is year 7 for me. I've seen the great work put through here over the years and I have to say it's been awesome to see it all happen. Good work to everyone who has put effort into this.

Reply #18 Monday, January 6, 2014 7:21 PM

Somewhere around version 7 for me. Ya I am a late comer but its so good!  

Reply #19 Monday, January 6, 2014 9:14 PM

BlindJAFO 3 started it for me.  Probably version 2, since I joined 7/01.

My wife's still pissed at the amount of time I spent skinning back in the day, buffing graphics literally a pixel at a time.  But a complete skin is now such a daunting prospect, even for professional skinners like essorant I would think.  My hat's off to all active WB skinners, knowing what's involved in time and attention to detail - lord knows they do beautiful work.

Not really surprising that the number of uploaded skins has dropped off, though.  I have several unfinished skins that will stay that way, I'm afraid, as well as some published skins that will stay stuck at version 5.  Until I win the lottery, have time on my hands and my skinning finger starts to itch again.  The irony is that Win7 skins so beautifully when skinned correctly.

Reply #20 Monday, January 6, 2014 10:15 PM

BlindJAFO 3 started it for me. Probably version 2, since I joined 7/01.

Glad it started it for someone.  My stuff remains largely forgotten [which is a good thing]...

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