Tuesday, March 27, 2018 by Island Dog | Discussion: OS Customization
Each week on WinCustomize we feature a skin made by one of the creators from our community. We've decided to take that idea a bit further and spotlight the creators themselves!
I wanted to start this off with one of our top skinners and long-time member, Tom, also known here as LightStar!
He was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions so we could get to know him a little bit more.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in “skinning”?
Well, I am originally from Westland, MI, and spent 22 years in the military. I then worked for a local college (where I earned my degree from) as a Computer/Network Technician and then for the State of Indiana as a Director of Technology at a Department of Corrections facility. I was forced to retire early because of a disability I incurred while serving in the military that had progressed to a point where I could not work anymore.
While I was still working though, I was at home one night and saw a skin design for Windows XP on the Internet that inspired me to start doing designs on my own. Back then I was developing MSStyle skins for a company called TGTSoft and their StyleXP software, but when Windows 7 came out, the owner decided to shut the business down. So for a while I continued designing for Windows XP, but soon found out about Stardock’s fantastic WindowBlinds software and decided it was perfect for what I wanted to do and started developing skins for it. At first I did a lot of porting of my prior MSStyle designs to WindowBlinds in order to learn using SkinStudio, and eventually starting developing WindowBlinds skins from scratch, which I continue to do to this day and I truly enjoy it!
You’ve created an almost countless amount of WindowBlinds skins. Do you have a favorite?
To tell you the truth, I have done so many WindowBlinds skins - 272 to be exact - that it would be really hard to pick a single skin. But some of my favorites are my 1942, Art of War, Aurialis, Aztec, Black Sails, Digi Slots, Empire, Flash Punk, Future Life, Medieval and Neon Nights skins, just to name a few. There are so many others too!
Could you tell us about your creative process when designing a skin? Do you have a vision of the design beforehand, or does that evolve during the actual design process?
Initially I get inspired by something I see, or an idea, it could be anything... just some colors, a shape, etc. From that point the first thing I design is the start menu, after that I work the other areas based on the shape and color of the start menu. I try to do virtually all of my designs to be highly functional, but at times I add a little bit of “glitz”. When completed, I look at all areas of the skin, sometimes down to the per pixel level, and make adjustments as necessary. Before releasing though I have my good friend RedneckDude take a look at the skin, be it a free or Master Skin, to have him check for any issues.
From start to finish, how long does it typically take you to create an entire WindowBlinds skin?
It usually takes me anywhere from 40 to 80 hours or more to create a skin initially, and another 4-6 hours , depending on its complexity. I virtually spend most of my day designing, 7 days a week.
Skinning obviously takes a good amount of time out of your schedule. Do you have any other hobbies or interests besides skinning?
Skinning is pretty well all that I do now, I really enjoy doing it. I used to have a hobby of metal detecting which I also really enjoyed, and I found some really cool things, but due to physical limitations I had to give that up.
Other than that, spending time with my family is a must when I can! I also enjoy helping the poor and needy when I can. To tell you the truth, that is where most of my income from selling my Master Skins goes, and it feels so good to help!
Thanks for being a valuable member of WinCustomize and for taking the time to speak with us this week! You can see all of LightStar's skins here.
Keep an eye out for more member spotlights!
Keep all your essays, references, music streaming, and more organized and easy to navigate!
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 by Tatiora | Discussion: Personal Computing
As much as it pains me to admit it, I’ve been out of college for awhile now - 10 years in April, to be precise. Still, I have fond memories of Ren Faire, campus life, apartment living, and a community of close friends. The less fond memories include apartment living (two sides to every coin!), tuition, and those sleepless nights of crunchtime because I forgot about (or procrastinated on, let’s be real here) a paper that was due the next day.
I was a writing major at Grand Valley State University here in Michigan and sometimes I was working on as many as three or four pieces at once. Each concept required different resources and references, and I was using a single monitor on an old Dell desktop. Although it’s been awhile since I’ve been a student, I think I can remember back far enough to know how much easier life would have been if I’d been able to utilize Groupy.
Obviously not everyone works the same way, but I personally need music of some kind while I’m writing. Usually, I try to suit the sound to whatever it is I’m working on, so sometimes that means specific lists on iTunes, but when I’m feeling flexible I use a streaming service like YouTube, Pandora, or Spotify.
It would have been nice to be able to utilize Groupy to keep, for example, the Spotify app in a group so I could tab to it easily without having to minimize or maximize the window to switch a song or check a playlist.
I also would often save and use reference images to spark ideas or practice writing descriptions, so I definitely wish I’d have been able to keep multiple file explorer windows together for things like that.
I imagine that students in other majors would make even more use out of the program than I would have -- my needs at the time were pretty basic (and, admittedly, still are). I have always utilized multiple chat programs (IRC and AIM back in the day, Skype and Discord now) and keeping those all contained together would have (possibly - let’s not dream too big here) made me a lot more organized.
Groupy would have helped me manage my spreadsheets full of character biographies, backgrounds, and connections. I really just love how neat and organized I can keep my desktop with the tabs; no digging through windows and min/maxing the wrong one 10 times before I find what I need.
My desktop currently – Discord, Skype, web browser, file explorer, and LiveWriter, all neat and contained.
Groupy may not have been around in my college days, but I utilize it both at work and at home daily now. My needs are simple and the software is definitely capable of benefitting the people who juggle programs and tasks a lot more than I do. Share your experiences with Groupy or show me your screenshots in action – I’d really like to know how other people use it, too.
Not sure about Groupy yet? Try it FREE and bring the power of tabs to your desktop!
These customizations will make you GREEN with envy...see what I did there?
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 by Tatiora | Discussion: Personal Computing
St. Patrick's Day is almost here! I thought I'd celebrate by sharing some of my favorite Dreams, wallpapers, and skins from WinCustomize. There aren't a ton of shamrocks and leprechauns specifically, so I tried to keep the heart of the holiday in my mind as I selected these. You'll see Irish landscapes, a lot of green, and everyone's favorite beverage of choice for St. Patrick's day, too.
What's better than the ruins of a castle beside the sea? Maybe a fully functional castle beside the sea? Still, the view is marvelous.
Ireland Seaside Castle by rlphwshr
Ah, the forests of the Emerald Isles. This peaceful Dream with drizzling rain is one of my favorites.
Irish Forest by rlphwshr
This skin absolutely... rocks. Okay, yeah, I'll admit that wasn't particularly funny, but at least the skin is cool.
Shamrock (Master Skin) by LightStar
A little bit of old school green flare is in this "magical" skin.
Leprechaun Majik by Vampothika
Of course, I had to include this one. I know too many people who run to the nearest pub on St. Patty's day. Amazing if they can get a seat!
Beer by Klaatu Berada
This skin might make you green with envy. ...yeah, just, uh, check out the skin and ignore my puns. That's what everyone else does.
Lime Green by don5318
Happy St. Patrick's day!
Browse other awesome customizations over at WinCustomize
Tuesday, February 20, 2018 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
For many of us who work with computers all day, it can get a bit boring to look at the same bland desktop all day long. While Windows has made some improvements to the user interface over the years, it's still the same as everyone else's in your home or office. I like to customize things, especially items I use often, and my PC is no exception.
You can customize your desktop as much or as little as you would like with a variety of custom themes and skins found at WinCustomize.com. I wanted to give a quick rundown on how you can make your desktop unique using customization apps available from Stardock.
Change the entire user interface with WindowBlinds
WindowBlinds has been the ultimate customization app for Windows for many years and has been download millions of times. WindowBlinds lets you change the entire user interface to one of the thousands of custom skins that are available on WinCustomize. These skins can be customized further by changing the color, transparency, and texture to suit your style. If you're aWindows 10 user, then using Start10 along with WindowBlinds will also give you the ability to change the Start menu to match the rest of the skin.
Animate your desktop wallpapers with DeskScapes
DeskScapes lets you have cool animated wallpapers right on your desktop. It has over 40 special effects that can be applied to wallpapers in order to take your customization even further. You can apply your images and videos to be the desktop wallpaper and can use any animated wallpaper as your PC screensaver.
Change your desktop icons with IconPackager
Want to change all the icons on your PC at once? IconPackager uses an entire package of icons to change nearly every one at the click of a button. You can also change the icons individually, but there are thousands of icon packs available that can apply a matching set across your entire Windows PC. These bundled packs of custom icons can also be customized and recolored from within IconPackager. This is great for matching the color scheme of other skins you might be using.
All of these applications are individually available for your Windows PC, but you can get them all (and more!) with a low-cost membership to Object Desktop. While you're a member, you'll get free updates, access to all betas, and any new apps for one year. In addition to the apps listed above, Object Desktop suite includes:
Visit the Object Desktop site for more information!
Busy doesn't have to mean crazy - our marketing manager shares how Groupy helps her keep organized
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 by Tatiora | Discussion: Personal Computing
Our core marketing team here at Stardock consists of a small group of very dedicated, very busy people. Because of how many products on both the software and game side we handle on a daily basis, an organizational system is absolutely integral to our success.
Katie, our marketing operations manager, is the glue that holds our team together. Because of her diverse skill set, she tackles a lot of different tasks for our team, including keeping all of us and our individual assignments on track!
Because of how much Katie does during her workday, Groupy has become an essential part of keeping her organized. Several simultaneous tasks spread out across 2 computers and 3 monitors was tough to keep track of before (though she managed!), but she’s found that combining her tasks into tabbed groups helps make everything a lot easier to find.
“I keep all of my Adobe programs in one group, explorer windows in another, and then my email, calendars, and Producteev in another,” she told me. Groupy is especially useful for people with fewer monitors, since it cuts down on the space that all of the open windows take on the desktop. Here’s an example of how Katie’s monitors look:
Multiple file explorer windows in a single group makes it easy to keep different files open for easy access without having to click through a bunch of windows. Katie also has her email, calendar, and task management software grouped together on that same monitor.
On her second display, she keeps her web browser tabs together on their own, while keeping Photoshop, premiere and other Adobe products grouped together using Groupy.
Groupy has changed the way a lot of us organize and manage our tasks during our busy days. I don’t have to juggle nearly as much as Katie does, but Groupy has still helped to streamline the way I work so that I can flip through tasks more efficiently and waste less time trying to find what I’m looking for.
Have you tried Groupy yet? If you have, we’d love to hear about how you use it! Share your screenshots and experiences in the comments below.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Valentine’s Day is approaching and this is another good opportunity to add some related skins and themes to your Windows desktop. One of the great things about holidays is that WinCustomize usually has a great selection of ways to spruce up your desktop, from WindowBlinds skins, animated wallpapers, cursor themes, and more.
The best way to get the ultimate desktop experience is with Object Desktop. This is our suite of desktop enhancements and includes apps like WindowBlinds, DeskScapes, Fences, Groupy, Start10, IconPackager, and much more.
You can see many of the Valentine’s Day inspired skins here on WinCustomize, but I wanted to feature some of our favorites.
DeskScapes and Start10 are all included with our Object Desktop suite. If you want to go a step further with your Valentine's customization, you can get CursorFX and get some more custom downloads from WinCustomize.com.
Tuesday, January 30, 2018 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
Every year or so I take a look at my reoccurring monthly expenses and see what I don’t really use or need any longer. One of the biggest expenses I was tired of paying each month was the cable TV bill. I have thought about completely cutting cable before but always backed away for some reason, but it was time to finally make the cut. I was paying nearly $150 a month for cable and internet which was just ridiculous considering we just didn’t watch TV like we used to. About $10-15 of that was device charges for the cable boxes we had to have on each TV. My kids are in college and/or working so they are hardly home to watch TV. Even when they are they have their own subscriptions to things like Netflix or Hulu, so I found no real reason that cable was something needed in our household.
But before I actually made the call to the cable company and went internet-only, I had to look for some type of way for us to watch the few shows that we regularly watch. There are just a few series we watch, but it’s something we enjoy so I had to do a bit of research on streaming services. We have Netflix, but that is something I actually cancelled with the cable. Their selection of TV shows has become minimal, and although we enjoy some of their original programming, we can just get a month at a time and binge watch something like Stranger Things and then cancel. After reading and researching I decided to give DirectTV Now a try, which was a good choice because if I prepaid for a month they would also send me a free Amazon Fire Stick, so no reason not to give it try.
So with that decided I called Bright House and cancelled my cable service. They of course tried to offer me all types of deals to keep it, but I eventually talked them into giving me a deal on 300mbps internet while threatening to leave for a competitor. So I ended up getting internet-only service for nearly half of what I was paying with cable and internet.
After the first couple of days we realized we made a good decision. We didn’t miss cable at all, and all the shows we wanted to watch were available on streaming services. Even with the added cost of a streaming service, we were still saving quite a bit of money each month compared to cable, so we had no regrets about cutting the cord. Now DirectTV Now was another issue. I cancelled the renewal within the first week. The app was terrible to use, the audio on several shows we wanted to watch didn’t work, and it was supported on very few devices we wanted to use. I switched over to Sling TV and we have been using it ever since. It ended up being cheaper and we can choose the package which has the channels we want. We can use it on our TVs with an Xbox One, Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV, and we can use it on our iOS devices. I definitely recommend it!
I also started using Hulu as there’s some shows just on there that my wife likes to watch, and I also subscribed to CBS All Access so I can watch the new Star Trek: Discovery. They are both inexpensive options so they make great additions to something like Sling TV.
One of my favorite things about using these streaming services is I can also use them on my PCs. All the ones I use have apps in the Microsoft Store which I can download to my PCs. I even have a streaming fence setup on my desktop using Stardock Fences to keep them organized right on my desktop!
So we got rid of cable for just about a year, and while finishing this article up I was really trying to find some downsides to cutting the cord. The thing is I really can’t think of any. We’re saving money, have just as much or more video content available, and it’s easier to watch on a variety of TVs and mobile devices. If you’ve been thinking about cutting the cord, then I would recommend it. Do a bit of research first, but I think you will be pleased with the options you have to watch your favorite content, and save a bit of money while you’re doing it.
Wherein Kristy continues to try and build her first PC...to relatively favorable results.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 by Tatiora | Discussion: Personal Computing
All you really need to know is that some n00b decided to build a PC (pssst, that n00b is me!) and here’s the conclusion of the grand adventure! If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
First things first: we cleared the living room. This meant rolling up my rug to reduce any potential for static, vacuuming the floor well to make sure it was clean, and locking my cat Miza up in my bedroom (who did NOT appreciate that, by the way). Once we got everything tidy, I started bringing out the parts and ripping the plastic bagging off of my case.
Ah, the case… this was once again a subject of differing opinions among my friends. I probably should have listened to Brian when he suggested a full size case - but those things are HUGE, and I didn’t want anything that big if I didn’t absolutely have to have it. So I purchased a mid-size case, which still fits everything - but it’s definitely snug, and putting it together in such tight quarters made an already anxiety-ridden job for me even more stressful.
The first thing Gus taught me to do was how to “shuck” a hard drive. Best Buy had a great sale on 8TB Western Digital external hard drives during the time I was hardware hunting, so I learned how to open the casing and pull it out so I could put it in my computer. That definitely ticked off the “storage space” requirement that I had, and then some! I used this video as a guide, and it really ended up not being too difficult.
There was a moment or two when Gus thought he’d instructed me to get the wrong cooling system and that it wasn’t going to work with my cpu. Once we looked up a video online and realized we weren’t looking at the right way to install it, I got over my mini-heart attack and things got a little easier from there.
Well, ok, not easier. Just...less stressful? No, not that either. At any rate, the build went on!
So. Can we just talk for a minute about the feeling one experiences when preparing to attach the cooling system to their processor? If you haven’t done it yourself (or have done it so many times by now that you’re numb to the terror), allow me to sum it up for you in .gif form:
I think I may have shed about 5 pounds from nervous sweating. Okay, that was a gross - and exaggerated - detail. I also thought when I clicked down the little handle to hold it all into place that I was going to break something - I didn’t, but the fear was extremely real.
Then there were the cords. Oh my goodness, THE CORDS. There were so many! Lots of cords and connections in such a little space can get really frustrating really fast (did I mention that I should have listened to Brian?), so Gus had to be a little more hands on during this part so that we weren’t there ALL night.
After a bit of plugging, un-plugging, shuffling, and reshuffling, we finally got everything pieced together and carried the tower into my office, where we plugged it in for the “moment of truth.” I cannot even begin to describe my elation when the lights came on and I hear the familiar sound of a computer powering up. Oh hey look, here’s another .gif:
All seemed to be well with my new computer - at least, it was on the hardware side. Then, it came time to load the software...
I should note that at this point in the building process, we’ve passed 12am and are ebbing into the 12:30am mark. Gus and I are night owls, so this isn’t exceptionally late for us, but it certainly puts the nearly two hours we spent fighting to get the software to load into perspective.
Because I had recycled the hard drives from my previous PC, we had to do some things to the partitions in order to make the OS load. I’ll admit that I’m still not 100% sure what the issue was or what Gus was trying to do here, but it was a very long time of staring at command lines and error messages.
Finally, we found this little video that showed us what we needed to do in order to get the error messages to stop...which was simply to remove the driver disc for my motherboard. That’s it. That’s literally it. Two hours of fighting and it was just because of that. It’s a wonder that my computer didn’t end up flying through my office window when Gus finished. Lucky for me, we were able to show restraint.
At last, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:30am, we finished loading all of the software and I hopped on to test a few things...and then proceeded to stay up until almost 4am playing Overwatch because I was just so enamored with the fact that I was finally able to play it again. Newsflash: I still suck at the game and die a lot, but at least I do it without lag! Woo!
As I mentioned above, my PC runs wonderfully. What do you know, you really CAN make them better, stronger, and faster. I didn’t have any issues installing my programs - Fences, Groupy, and Start10 were the first things to go on my computer - and so far it runs every game my older PC couldn’t.
I am definitely glad that I chose to have this experience. I feel like I walked away with a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have before, plus it was actually really fascinating to see how everything goes together! That said, I don’t think I’m especially keen to build my next one. I admire my friends who enjoy building for the fun of it, but it’s too stressful and time consuming for me - I’d rather just pay someone else to do it so that it shows up on my doorstep ready to go.
This new computer can run all of my Stardock games really smoothly now, too, so maybe you’ll find me online and in the fray in Fleet Battles or Ashes a little more often. I’ll definitely be streaming more in my spare time, too (what’s spare time?), so if you’d like to follow me on Twitch you can find me here. I’ve been really wanting to re-visit the Monkey Island games...
Thanks for reading!
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 by Island Dog | Discussion: Object Desktop
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing
We've introduced a new app: Groupy! I think PC users are going to find the ability to group their apps into tabbed windows very useful in their daily workflow. Groupy works similarly to how you use tabs in web browsers, but now you can do the same with applications like Explorer windows, Excel spreadsheets, Adobe apps, and just about anything else.
It’s really easy to setup and use Groupy, so here’s a quick guide on how to get started!
Setting up Groupy
Start off by downloading Groupy from your Stardock account here. Once you go through the installation and start Groupy, you'll see the configuration window. Here, you can adjust a variety of options. Changing these settings is optional - you can just skip to the section below if you're ready to get started.
The Visuals tab in the Groupy configuration is where you can adjust items like the tab position, window icon, color settings, and other visual options.
The Settings tab is where you can change when and what windows Groupy combines, as well as how you'd like to switch and move tabs.
The Grouping tab is where you can set Groupy to combine windows automatically and adjust other group settings.
It really can’t get any easier to use Groupy. Just click and drag a window on top of another window that you want to group. That’s it! If you want to remove a window from a group just drag the tab back off.
Groupy is available individually for your Windows PC, but you can get that and more with a low-cost membership to Object Desktop. While you're a member, you'll get free updates, access to all betas, and any new apps for one year. You’ll also get access to other great programs like Fences, Start10, DeskScapes, WindowBlinds, Multiplicity, and more!
Visit the Object Desktop site for more information.