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Wincustomize User Page Focus: Hippy

Monday, December 27, 2004 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Community

Hippy 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

WinCustomize 2K5 Report

10 things for 2005

Thursday, December 23, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

 

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. 

Will Apple flash iPod rock market?

Apple may be preparing a flash memory version of the iPod

Sunday, December 26, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: iPod

Apple appears to be preparing to release a flash memory version of the iPod.  The iPod is a media player device that has historically used micro-hard drives in their devices. The typical iPod has 20 gigabytes of space on it with the mini-iPod having 4 gigabytes (that's what I have).

A flash based iPod would likely make it smaller and lighter.

Apple was also not the first to offer hard-drive-based players when it debuted the first iPod in October 2001, but it now commands the lion's share of that market. In the U.S. retail market, the iPod accounted for more than 80 percent of sales in the 12 months ended this October, according to The NPD Group. That's up from about two-thirds market share in the same period a year ago and a 40 percent share in its first year.

Read the whole thing.

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?

So are widgets killing skinnable programs?

The fall of the mini-programs

Wednesday, December 22, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Customization Software

Long before widgets, in the sense that we know them today, existed there was skinning. A skin is a collection of graphics designed to replace the user interface of a particular program. The first major skinnable program was Winamp.  Skinnable programs became very popular for awhile.

During that time, we saw small, skinnable programs come out. These programs did one thing but they were skinnable.  Programs like Colorpad, Beatnik, Boxnote, Coolplayer, eNotes, EZPop, SkinCalc, XXCalc, Kewlpad, and countless other programs all let users have skinnable programs that did a small but specific thing.

And then came the widgets. Programs like DesktopX and Konfabulator came along. They have the advantage of usually using less overhead than a stand alone program does on a given widget as well being able to provide the functionality of all the skinnable stand-alone programs.

Widgets, currently, do have one downside - it is hard for end users to customize the way they look.  Programs like XXCalc may be able to do only one thing but users could then apply dozens of skins for them.  By contrast, today's widget programs are somewhat harder to make new skins for since each widget is its own thing. 

Regardless of the respective merits, what we have seen is a decline in the # of new skinnable stand-alone programs. The widget enabling programs seem to have taken much of the momentum away from these programs.  Programs like WindowBlinds, which can skin every standard GUI'd application on the computer, probably didn't help them either.

Which brings us to where we're at - widgets or custom mini-programs? Are we better off with widgets or skinnable mini-programs?

Here are some examples (some screenshots courtesy of Customize.org) -- you be the judge:

Mini Program

DesktopX equivalent

Konfabulator

N/A


(coolplayer)


(skincalc)


 


(ezpop)

N/A


 

Don't judge any of the 3 by the screenshots since I mainly just went and found ones that I thought looked nice but your tastes may vary. The point is to show that for every popular stand-alone skinnable program there is usually some sort of widget equivalent to them.  Now whether the widget equivalent is better is a matter of debate.

There very well could be other reasons why we have seen stand-alone skinnable programs become less popular. And there are notable exceptions - Rainlendar (a skinnable calendar) and SysMetrix (a skinnable system resource meter) are very popular. 

Let us know what you think either way.

EU Penalties Against Microsoft Upheld

So long Windows Media Player

Wednesday, December 22, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Windows XP

In the not-so-good news for Microsoft category, the EU has upheld the ruling that Windows XP in Europe will not have Windows Media Player.

"The evidence adduced by Microsoft is not sufficient to show that implementation of the remedies imposed by the Commission might cause serious and irreparable damage," the draft Court statement obtained by Reuters said.

Personally, I find this to be a bad move for European consumers. While it's always tempting to stick the giant in the eye, it's not the giant who will suffer in this case. At this stage in OS development it is very handy for both businesses and consumers to assume that the base OS includes video playing and music playing as part of the OS that supports a specific format (WMV in this case on video).

Read the whole article.

Cordelia’s Choices

Here are some of my favorites this week, what are yours?

Monday, December 20, 2004 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization

Some of you may have seen my previous article regarding criteria for rating skins Link. In it I talk about what I like to see in a good wallpaper or skin. It occurs to me that it’s not very nice to talk about swooning over the various downloadable (and free!) goodies that WinCustomize has to offer without sharing a few of my personal choices. Here they are:

Skins:
“Skinartistry” by, well, Skinartistry – just love this one. Running it right now in fact!: Link

don5318’s “Winter Blue” – Animated start panel and all! Happy Holidays!: Link

Wallpaper:
Currently running “Arrival of the Traders” by kenwas as my wallpaper: Link

Pretty “Phoenix Moon” by Boxx: Link

Widgets:
Here’s “Santa Mail 2004” by pjpowell that looks cute on your desktop, and also notifies you when you have e-mail: Link

Simple, minimalistic “etched Clock” by DHyral. Very nice!: Link


Icons:
Lovely “Cryo64 – Exodo” icons by Dariman: Link

“Red Glass Folders” by APB falls into the shiny category. I’m like a crow, drawn to anything shiny…: Link

Bootskins:
‘Tis the season…I’ve gotta have at least one Christmassey themed thing! Check out Christmas Days by Adni18: Link

Ahhh….I am outside and it is warm…I’m floating away…on the “Boats” bootskin by FilkoSE: Link


You can find all of these items and a few more on my recommendations page: Link. I'm still new so I don't have much there yet - I'm working on it! That's why I'm hoping you will all share your recommendations with me. What are your top favorites? You don’t have to choose the same categories I did, just share!

Oh and I should add a disclaimer: I'm married to the Mormegil, so I might be a teensy bit biased! You'll find him all over my recommendations page - but I'm trying to spread the love around!

Do Something Useful With Your CPU

Join the Stardock/WinCustomize.com Folding@Home team today!

Sunday, December 19, 2004 by GreenReaper | Discussion: Personal Computing

Does your computer sit there doing nothing most of the time? Worried that using a $1000 computer just for web-browsing is a bit wasteful? Are you thinking that SETI@Home or distributed.net may be fruitless endeavours? Well, you just might be interested in Folding@Home! Have your computer spend its time doing some useful calculations for medical research (see the FAQ) rather than letting those cycles go to waste, and download a client now!

I've made a Stardock/WinCustomize.com team - all you have to do is enter team ID number 41029 when asked by the Folding@Home client. And that's it! It will automatically get new blocks of work from the internet every so often and send results back, but you shouldn't have to touch it unless you want to. I chose to have it installed as a service, and the only way I know it's running is that CPU is at 100% or thereabouts all the time. It's all idle use, so it's not stealing the cycles from anything I want to run, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my computer is working on something useful . . . even when I'm asleep. Give it a go!

Keyboard for the poweruser

Friday, December 17, 2004 by Thomas Thomassen | Discussion: PC Hardware

Fireworks got a very nifty keyboard for you all you powerusers out there. It got no physical keys, just a big pad that you can use to type, control the mousecursor or do gestures on.

It plugs into the USB port and can (on most systems) be used side by side with your existing keyboard and mouse of you aren't ready to get rid of it yet. Very portable as it can be folded up.

You can get it in QWERTY and DVORAK layout as well as a few international layouts.

The price is currently $339.00, but it's the ultimate keyboard of keyboards.

This item is defiantly going on my next item to get for my computer. A bit annoying that I invested in a Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse last year when I bought my computer.

More info

The State of Skinning 2004

A look at the year in skinning

Saturday, December 18, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

With the end of the year upon us, it's time for this year's "The State of Skinning" message. At least in terms of how we see it.  For the nearly million new registered users who may be reading this, I should probably provide a little background before going into the meat of this.

Skinning is a general concept of changing the way your computer's interface looks and feels. And in the beginning, there were two websites dedicated to this. One was called Customize.org and the other Skinz.org.  When the Dot-Com hype collapsed, the advertising revenue that powered much of the Internet disappeared taking those sites with them.  At the time, the only significant general customization site around was the new deviantART.com.  So Stardock decided that it couldn't exclusively rely on third party sites for providing the content its software customers wanted. The result was the launch of WinCustomize in March of 2001. 

Eventually, Customize.org and Skinz.org returned but under new owners and much about them has changed since then. Other sites have come as well and the problem other skin sites have run into is money. That is, if the website gets too popular, it becomes too expensive to maintain.  WinCustomize.com receives a monthly grant from Stardock plus it gets income from people who subscribe to the site.  We have remained exclusively customization site.  Our friends at deviantART took the path of becoming a general art site. They do have a healthy customization section though that I recommend you check out.

And that's where we are today. So how did this year go?

The Lawsuit

Well, the year started out with a nasty lawsuit that I think permanently changed the community.  Developer TGT Soft filed a lawsuit a week before last Christmas demanding that Stardock allow it to use its IconPackager .iptheme format without having to license it. Needless to say, we weren't too happy about that. We felt it went to a core issue of skinning - if you want to use someone else's "stuff" you need their permission to do it. Several months later the suit was settled out of court and TGT Soft ended up having to license the format for Stardock (the details of which are confidential per the settlement). So it was good news, in our view, for the skinning community.

The GUI Olympics

There was also the GUI Olympics this year. It had Winamp, IconPackager, and WindowBlinds as the 3 sponsored programs.  ATI helped out a lot and it was a great success. But there won't ever be another one. Why? Because the US Olympic committee demanded that we not use the phrase Olympics so future ones will have to be called GUI Championships (one lawsuit is enough per year thanks ).

Triumph of Rainlendar / SysMetrix

2004 was also a year of consolidation. Widgets got talked about a lot and the net effect is that the widget programs gobbled up the user base of a ton of small one purpose programs. There's still a Beatnik section on WinCustomize.com. And it still gets new submissions. But the widget programs (DesktopX, Kapsules, etc.) have taken a bite out of the momentum of specialty programs because they can do so much. But there were two notable exceptions to this - SysMetrix and Rainlendar.  SysMetrix lets people build system monitors really easily. And Rainlendar is a really nice skinned calendar program. The widget programs haven't touched them.

Year of the Widget

But while those exceptions have thrived, there's no denying that 2004 was the year of the widget. Konfabulator came out for Windows with much anticipation. DesktopX 2.x made widget creation very easy. Avedesk rose to become a popular program. Samurize (which Stardock hosts) grew in popularity. Kapsules came into existence and made headway (and its developer will be a full time Stardock developer here in Michigan starting in January).   You can see what they're all about in the Widget Wars article.  But the jury is out whether widgets are going to become mainstream. I can tell you that right now, they're most definitely not mainstream. They're like where skins were in 1999. Consider these numbers: Konfabulator, with a perfect storm of publicity (News.com, slashdot, etc.) has a download count (non-unique users) on its widgets whose mean is around 1500.  DesktopX's widgets have a mean download on new stuff of around 500 and the other widget enablers considerably less than that (when there are download counts to measure).  By contrast, a typical new WindowBlinds skin can get 2000 downloads in an afternoon. So the widget detractors (i.e. the people who get on me for covering widgets so much) have a point - they've gotten much more publicity than their popularity warrants.  That said, I still love em. Still gonna make them. And still think they're the next "big thing" in customization.

WindowBlinds Victorious

More time than I would like to admit goes into monitoring download statistics on various content on various sites as well as the creation of new content for various programs. It's graphed out. It's analyzed. It's projected. Some skin sites are less accurate than others in terms of their downloads (some sites increment downloads on a skin if you just look at it funny on the page. Other sites only count completed downloads. And still other use cookies and account tying so that even if you re-download a skin it will only count that as 1 download total -- that's what WinCustomize does).

So I can say that while it was a close thing in 2001 and 2002, this past year WindowBlinds skins became far more dominant than msstyles in terms of # of new skins made as well as (to the best we can tell) number of active users.  There's some good msstyles out there but 2004 wasn't a good year for them. It's as if the msstyle community collectively decided that Longhorn and "Royale" were "good enough".  That isn't to say there weren't some good msstyles made -- there were. But they were far far more uncommon than in 2001/2002 (decline started in 2003 and accelerated in 2004).  And next year Longhorn will show up and msstyles won't work on there (if there's a "msstyle" format on Longhorn it'll be a new format entirely almost certainly).

So the lynchpin of what makes WinCustomize.com so popular grew in popularity in 2004. Partially sparked by the GUI Olympics, 2004 saw a lot more creativity in skins as well as simply "more" skins over 2003.

Critical mass for Object Desktop

2004 was the year that Object Desktop's user base soared at an astounding rate.  Our basic belief on this is that enough of the programs that make up this suite of desktop enhancement utilities matured to the point of being ready for the mass market that people started buying it in higher numbers than before.

The Docks

Some people really hate commercialism in skinning. But one thing that can't be denied - free things tend to disappear and non-free things tend to keep being developed.  There were 3 docks at one point..  All 3 very good programs.  All 3 freeware.   One of the 3 free ones got a letter from Apple and disappeared. The other stopped being updated. We got a letter too but we have lawyers. 

But ObjectDock came out with a "Plus" version this year. And updates for it have continued. In fact, ObjectDock Plus now rivals WindowBlinds in terms of sales popularity. The tabbed dock is here to stay.  The free one will continue to be free and continue to be updated. But it's clear from user screenshots that having tabs on the dock is the way to go.

WinCustomize 2K5

For months it was in development. And this month it finally was launched. The first major overhaul of WinCustomize.com since its original launch back in 2001. The first two weeks were very bumpy. Which is why the official announcement won't go out until this Monday.  But things have improved greatly since then and each day new features and tweaks get made to it. 

The results have been good.  According to Site Meter, the site was averaging around 440,000 visitors per day.  Now it's already up to 540,000 visitors per day average. That's 100,000 more visitors per day!

Paying the bills

WinCustomize is still very dependent on that monthly Stardock grant.  But WinCustomize subscriptions have made the difference.  Without subscribers, there would have been no WinCustomize 2K5 which cost around $90,000 just in IT costs so far.  We'll probably have another subscription drive in January to help buy some new servers to help keep the site growing.  The way the new site was coded will save us substantially on hardware and enable the site to grow much faster without straining the resources so much.

So what's next?

I can't predict what 2005 will be like. The Longhorn beta will show up in late Spring and we'll know how that impacts skinning.  In theory, Longhorn should be a huge windfall for customization. It includes a compositor which means you can do a lot more visual stuff that is hardware accelerated.  So that could be very exciting if they keep is open enough for third parties to get in there and expand on what's there.

I think you'll see more premium suites. The demand for these is very high. Natural Desktop (www.naturaldesktop.com) has done incredibly well. So has Aquarium Desktop. So I think you'll see an increase in these kinds of things next year.

I think 2005 will be a very exciting year because of Longhorn bringing interest and the community features on WinCustomize helping people participate in more ways.

Widgets will grow more popular I think. With ObjectBar 2 supporting widgets being embedded in bars, I think that'll have a big impact.

So that's where things stand from our perspective. Tell us what you think is going to be big in 2005. 




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