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?
Reply #1 Tuesday, December 21, 2004 3:33 PM
but to get the proper effect of vector graphics, you'll need antialiasing of the the lines, which can only be achieved with the use of transparency So I'll say yes, vectors would be nice, but one step at a time.
Reply #2 Tuesday, December 21, 2004 4:13 PM
Id assume that most people want translucency in the window frames so they can smooth out the 'jaggys' on the corners.
Reply #3 Tuesday, December 21, 2004 5:39 PM
I think the reason Stardock haven't come up with vector support yet is becuase they're limited by the operating system. Everyone is forced to use bitmapped graphics to create skins and interfaces for Windows, that's why you don't see any other comapanies having skinning applications with vector support.
It's also a big reason why Longhorn is so eagerly awaited. A vectored interface will look a lot cleaner and sharper and should open up a whole new world of creativity, I think.

But I also think that alpha-blended image support is a worthy pursuit. I know of skinners who are refusing to release skins because they just don't want to have to settle for "jaggies" on their skins. I include myself in that group for a couple of skins.
If you're a serious skinnner you're as much an artist as a painter or a sculptor, so why would an artist settle or want to release a piece of art that is limited by the medium in which he is working. Most artists will often try various methods to try to surpass any shortcomings they see in the medium, in order to make their visions come to life in the way they visualized them.
Alpha-blending will raise the quality of new skins, that doesn't mean it will make new skinners better in the design aspect, only that the skins themselves will look better.
So I for one, encourage the pursuit of alpha-blending support for Windows skins. Vector support, on the other hand, I can wait for.
Reply #4 Tuesday, December 21, 2004 5:43 PM
Vectors would be realy nice indeed, but how many people use a vector program to make their graphics? How many actually know how to use Illustrator or Corel Draw? Most skinners/themers use Photoshop which can only save bitmap (raster) graphics. A lot also use PaintShop Pro, and I believe PSP can save in vector format, but what I don't know is if it's the same tools one uses in PSP to create vector or bitmap images and then it's just a matter of selecting an export format? It's just a guess, but I don't think so... It's probably a whole different way to draw/design in PSP when you want to work with vectors.
So anyway. I think it would be really nice to have truly scalable skins and objects, but it will probably take a while before the designers learn the new way of making them.
Reply #5 Tuesday, December 21, 2004 6:08 PM
You might be interested to know . . . WB did support vector stuff in alpha at one point. The idea was partially to improve performance. It never really worked out. Skinners (particularly of the artistic sort) were used to making images in paint programs and the restrictions of the vector format were too great. WB's performance with image moving also improved to the point where it might actually be slower to use vectors (remember, it's a lot better to pre-calculate stuff than to do it every time). So, skins nowadays are made using raster images, even if those images are made in vector packages and exported.

It may be that Longhorn will bring change, but remember that XP will be around for a long, long time - it is perhaps the first home-user OS that is stable enough to last the test of time, and considering Avalon will be back-ported, it may not be necessary for most people to move onto Longhorn. I personally think people who wait for vector skins to become popular will be waiting a long time.
Thomas Thomassen
Reply #6 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 2:02 PM
That is interesting.
It'll also be interesting to see if Longhorn can provide some good assistance to vector drawing. Am I wrong or isn't there vector support in Avalon? Avalon that will be availible to XP as well. You think there might be something there that can be tapped into?
Reply #7 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 3:48 PM
remember that longhorns new graphics engine will be realeased earlier, for XP. maybe things arn't as far off as they seem.

i can not WAIT for vector graphics in the windows interface. overall things would be sharper, edges smoother, and with transparency skinners could do funky things to their skins. as you said, vectors would also be faster. i can see how users would struggle learning how to draw in vectors, but once its been mastered it is much more effective - especially in interface design. (illustrator CS takes things up a few notches with texturing, shadowing, and 3d effects - without the artwork having to be rasterized). maybe a switch on WB.. draw vectors on, draw vectors off. when Winfx starts putting transitions on a window thats already vectored - well, you'd have faster, smoother window transitions. lots of options.
Reply #8 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 5:38 PM
I am a beginner to skinning, but have used Illustrator for a while.

As I see it, an increase in quality of anti-aliasing of the paths would be the answer to allowing one to use vector based graphics with the 72 ppi display limitation.

I have to agree that vector support would be nice if the "smoothing factor can be improved dramatically", until then it's Illustrator>Photoshop Mask>Raster graphic for me.

Just my 2 cents.
Reply #9 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 5:52 PM
I don't really see a use for vector graphics in Windowblinds. Other than the window borders, there's nothing that really gets stretched/tiled to the point of having to retain their shape, since tiling margins are perfectly adequate for that. I would love to see tga support for the borders though. It would open up WB to some new creative designs, or at the very least, nice rounded corners that are jaggy-free.
Reply #10 Wednesday, December 22, 2004 6:35 PM
So we can conclude already: yeah, it's worth it.
Reply #11 Thursday, December 23, 2004 10:09 AM
i always use alpha transparancy looks good on a tft

Reply #12 Thursday, December 23, 2004 11:54 AM
Mr Fubar, could you edit your post so that you have a link (a href="") to that image rather than an img tag? It is breaking this page in Firefox.
Thomas Thomassen
Reply #13 Thursday, December 23, 2004 4:26 PM
I don't really see a use for vector graphics in Windowblinds.

Not just WindowBlinds. I meant in genereal. For instance in DX so you could scale anything to any size.
Reply #14 Thursday, December 23, 2004 4:34 PM
No, I was reffering to the earlier bit about vectors in WB, a few posts before yours.
Reply #15 Friday, December 24, 2004 11:02 AM
pleeeeeaseee nooooooo alpha blended skins there are tons of people like me out there with graphics cards that just can't cut running WindowFX and the shadows and whatnot, all those alphablended windows slows our systems to a crawl. Net result of allowing alphablended skins is that few will take the extra effort to make designed-as-non-alphablended skins n as such skinning will be over for me and those like me mad cool yes but system demands for skinning for now are low, throw in blending and now you start bogging down even powerful systems when you get a ton of windows open. my 2cents anyways
Reply #16 Friday, December 24, 2004 12:12 PM
I like alpha transparency, bring it on.
Reply #17 Friday, December 24, 2004 3:44 PM
I doubt it's even possibly without the (expensive) use of layered windows as borders or changing the win32 gdi subsystem without breaking stuff.

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