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Cordelia's Corner for the Complete Noob: Part 3

How to Revert to the Standard Desktop

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization

Yesterday's article was a long, pedantic drone about installing the WindowBlinds program and downloading and installing skins for your computer. Today's article is about reverting to the original Windows skin, although why anyone would want to violate their computer in this way is beyond me. Now that I've been playing dress up with my computer for all of two weeks, the standard Windows style is tantamount to leaving my computer naked in a snowstorm, but hey, sometimes it has to be done, right?

 

You ready? Right click on the desktop. A menu pops up listing various exciting things you can do like "refresh". At the bottom you will find "properties". Click on that. This is the "Display Properties" dialogue window. Click on the "Appearance" tab. Go to the drop down menu that says "Windows and buttons". I am running Windows XP on my computer, so near the top of the list there is "Windows XP style". Click on it.

 

The preview shows me the shiny, boring - I mean blue! - Windows XP style. Click "Apply" and wait for a moment...and voila! Your computer is back to normal. [Computer shivers in the cold]. So simple even a noob like me can do it! Quickly now, before my poor computer gets a complex I'm throwing on a new skin...ah! Much better.

 

Daily Hint for the Noob: When you have WindowBlinds installed you can change your skin easily by going through these same steps. Once you have uploaded a few different skins, you can scroll through them just by using the Appearance tab in the Display Properties dialog box.

 

Tomorrow's Article: How to Make A Screen Shot

 

Correct my grammar and win a dirty hankie!!!

(Offer not valid in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres)

 

 

Cordelia's Choices 01-04-05

I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours!

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 by Cordelia | Discussion: OS Customization

Links to Cordelia

Here are some of my top picks in the various categories. There are always so many good choices it's hard to narrow it down to just a few. What are your favorites? Include a screenshot! Here are some of mine:

 

Skins:

Faberge by Pictoratus

Synthek by danilloOc

 

Wallpaper:

Dreamweb by teddybearcholla

the eye by teffumi

 

Screensavers:

This is a brand new category. Be sure and post your screensavers!

GoldPlanet by adni18

GAMP Designs by GAMP Designs

 

CursorXP:

Coax Coax by APB

MousePill by Woodbridge

X-Alien_2_[Grey] by JJ Ying

 

Progress Anims:

GANT Blue Animations by DPG

Ascension Animations by Pixel Pirate

 

Here is my current screenshot:

 

You can find all of these items and a few more on my recommendations page: Link.

Share some of your favorites!
 

WindowBlinds 4.5 Preview

A quick look at what's coming..

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: WindowBlinds

Ah customization of Windows. It's a gradual process.  Using the popular voice over IP chat program, Ventrilo, let's take that journey with WindowBlinds 4.5.

...In the beginning there was Windows classic. And it was good. Simple, fast clean.  Then Windows XP came and it came with a skin (known as "visual styles" when you're "skinning" the entire GUI).

And so the title bars and borders were changed. And it was still good. But not complete. For only theme-aware applications can be skinned by Microsoft's msstyles run through Windows XP.

But there was Stardock, who had been skinning the GUI of operating systems for many years. They had WindowBlinds.

WindowBlinds could skin even non-theme aware programs (i.e. most programs aren't theme aware). And so it was better.  But skinning more elements of the GUI also came at a performance cost that some noticed. 

So then Stardock came out with WindowBlinds 4.x. culminating with WindowBlinds 4.4 released in 2004. And its use of hardware acceleration and other features exclusive to Windows XP make WindowBlinds not just faster than the default Windows XP style (so fast that the high performance PC company, Alienware chose to bundle WindowBlinds with their computers) but on part with the original classic Windows interface.  Users could have their cake and eat it too.

And soon WindowBlinds 4.5 will be here. It has some very key features:

Hue/Saturation colorization. WindowBlinds had colorizing before but not like this. Before, you could apply a color to an entire skin. This worked on some skins quite well but on many skins not so well. Why? Because if you take a blue and yellow skin (For instance) and apply red to the whole thing, the entire thing looks..well washed out.

Hue shifting is different. You shift the colors of the skins rather than apply a color mask to them. This has the effect making skins look a lot more normal and interesting.

So a skin like VectorCell might look like this normally and we'll load up the Setup dialog of that Ventrilo program so you can see the dialog of a pretty busy looking window:

But with Hue and saturation shifting it could then be made to look like this:

Notice how natural it looks? It doesn't looked washed out. Even if you would never want a purple skin on your desktop, it now looks like it designed with purple in mind.

Or how about if you wanted to have it be a more vibrant blue?

You can have that too.  Or any other color you can think of. All looking as if the skin was always meant to have that.

But let's go with something harder. Something more challenging. How about some skin that has lots of colors?

Here's Faux-Toon. It has many colors. You could not colorize this with the old system because it would look very muddied with a single color grafted onto everything.

Not that we'd recommend this color combination but rather just as a demonstration of the difference between hue-shifting (a WindowBlinds 4.5 feature) and what you can imagine applying some arbitrary color to the entire thing.

Plus you have the fact that there's thousands of WindowBlinds skins out there:

And once last look at this dialog using the default Windows XP msstyle:

So in other words, if you want Windows XP to look like Windows XP consistently you will want WindowBlinds.

The Second new feature of WindowBlinds 4.5 is the ability for WindowBlinds visual styles to now include special styles just for the frames of Internet Explorer / Explorer browser windows. We don't have any examples done yet so we'll have to wait to show some screenshots. But you can probably imagine what skin authors will be able to do with this.  We may expand this further so that in a given skin, skin authors can define specific frames for specific programs within a single skin if they choose.

The Third new major feature of WindowBlinds 4.5 is the ability to have per-pixel alpha channels on the Start menu itself. Those of you who like very nice Start menus can imagine the cool stuff that can be done with this.  We don't have any skins done yet that show this off (we're working on them now).

The Fourth major change in WindowBlinds 4.5 which may get into 4.5 or have to wait until a minor update is the ability to have per-pixel alpha on menus.  Many skinners have requested this for years.

The Fifth major addition to WindowBlinds 4.5 (or it may get into a subsequent update depending on time) is support for the 64bit version of Windows.

Plus, there are tons of small tweaks and changes here and there to improve performance, fix bugs found/reported, etc.

So there you have it, WindowBlinds 4.5. It should be out in the next couple of weeks.  If you have Object Desktop you'll get this automatically.  You can purchase WindowBlinds or Object Desktop here.

Orbicons: The Tutorial

Create Your Own Orbicon Icons.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 by wstaylor | Discussion: Icons

I have made over 100 icons in the past 2 days. They all have the same idea in mind; glass orbs with an image referring to a program inside of the orb. For some reason I cannot stop making these little orbs. Now, I know that some of you are saying - "Orbs are very old..." or "We are tired of seeing orbs..." - but I say, "MAN! I wish I could stop making these things!"

This is where this article gets interesting: I am going to share with you just how I made these orb icons, so that you too might try and see whether or not you can stop making them. Yes, this is a tutorial for making Orbicon icons using Photoshop and Icon Developer. I hope it comes in handy for someone.

Step one: Open Photoshop and Icon Developer.

Step two: Find some image or logo that you would like to use for your icon. If you want to Google search images for the logo that will work as well. I like to use http://www.brandsoftheworld.com to find high resolution EPS (encapsulated post script) images for download. So I am going to use this site to find a logo for www.mozilla.org - the giant red dinosaur ( found here ) - and I am going to download the EPS of it and save it to disk.

Step three: Open the EPS file using Photoshop.

Should look something like this:

Just click OK on this dialog box.

Step Four: The next step will be to make the EPS file background transparent. The wonderful Magic Wand in the toolbar of Photoshop.

Notice that I have selected the Magic Wand and set the tolerance to (5) and chosen anti-alias and contiguous.

Then choose the white area around the mozilla.org dinosaur, and go to select and choose inverse. Push [ ctrl + X ] or go to Edit --> Cut and that will remove the dinosaur from the EPS file.

Next go to File --> New and set the background to transparent, click ok to the default size then go to Edit--> Paste and a new image with the red dinosaur will appear, with a transparent background.

Step Five: Now to begin making the Orb'd dinosaur. The easiest way I found to do this was to reduce the image size to 128x<128... meaning go to Image-->Image Size - and change the smaller number to 128 (constrain proportions selected)... this case being the height. Your dinosaur dimensions should be 146x128. Now go to Image--> Canvas Size and change that to 2 by 2 inches. The blank area around the dinosaur should be a lot bigger now. Now we will go to Filter--> Distort--> and Spherize. We will increase the slider to 100% and Press OK... then apply it 2 more times, by pressing [ ctrl + F ]. the dinosaur should look somewhat larger and kind of Orb'd. Go to Image--> Trim choose transparent pixels check all of the sides (top, bottom, left, right) and Press OK. Leave that image alone.

Step Six: To make the glassy orb: Go to File--> New set background to transparent and make the size 128x128. Then right click the Rectangular Marquee Tool and change it to Elliptical Marquee Tool (Figure1). Set its properties like the way I have them in the screen shot. Then zoom into the blank image (about 500%) and click the top left corner, so that a circle will be selected that touches each side of the square. Keep trying until you have a circle that is as big as the canvas.

Change the foreground color to white. and go to the Gradient tool, choose foreground to transparent and then choose the radial gradient. (Figure2)

Figure1 - click to zoom Figure2 - click to zoom

Then drag the radial gradient tool across the orb from bottom-right to top-left. Then go to Layer--> New and create a new layer. Now select another foreground color - this will be the color of your orb. Drag the Radial Gradient tool from top-left to bottom-right this time. I have chosen Red... Now go to Image and then Canvas and set it to 1x1 inches. Set your zoom back to 100%... Then right click the White to Transparent Layer and choose Blending Options. Choose Drop Shadow and set the Angle to 90... then choose Inner Shadow and uncheck global lighting set its Angle to 120 and set the Size to 30. (Figure3)

Figure3 - click to zoom

Next add the layer for the light glare on top of the orb. Go to Layer--> New and then with the Elliptical Marquee Tool create an oval shape over the orb... then go to Select--> Transform Selection and move that oval to position and make it the size you feel comfortable with (Figure4). Choose the gradient tool and select white as the foreground color... then drag the linear gradient from top to bottom - you can then move that oval around if you want. (Figure5)

Now We Have Our Orb

Figure4 - click to zoom

Figure5 - click to zoom

Step Seven: Add the mozilla.org dinosaur to the icon. Go back to your dinosaur and Press [ ctrl + A ] and then [ ctrl + C] to Copy the dinosaur... then go to your orb and press [ ctrl + P ] to Paste the dinosaur there. Then Free Transform the dinosaur, by Pressing [ ctrl + T ] - set the horizontal and vertical scale to 25% and center the dinosaur in the orb. (Figure6) - Then right click the dinosaur Layer and go to Blending Options - choose Drop Shadow and Press OK. Choose the Dinosaur Layer and set it to 80% Opacity. (Figure7)

Figure6 - click to zoom

Figure7 - click to zoom

Step Eight: Create the Icon. Now go to Image-->Trim... this will make the image back to a smaller size. Then go to File-->Save For Web and choose PNG-24 Then select the Image Size tab and uncheck Constrain Proportions and set the size to 128x128.(Figure8) Then Click Save.

Figure8 - click to zoom

Now We Have Our 128x128 PNG

Step Nine (Optional): Open Icon Developer and choose Convert Image to Icon. Choose ONLY XP Icons and click OK(Figure9). Then go to File-->Save As and name your Icon.

Now We Have Our 128x128 Icon

Download the Finished ZIP Here...

Step Ten (Optional): Zip your *.ICO and *.PNG file together and Upload it to the Misc Icons Section at Wincustomize.com.

You can see examples of my Orbicons over at http://wstaylor.wincustomize.com - ENJOY !!!

Wincustomize User Page Focus: Tiggz

Sunday, January 2, 2005 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Community

Maybe you have never seen a Tiggz skin, well here is your chance! Tiggs WinCustomize page is full of skins that you might want to put on you desktop. Tiggs current skin called GT3 is amazing and very nice to use on your desktop, especially if you like dark skins.

Take a look at it here:


I want to especially note the DX widget that allows you to change Windowblinds skins. SkinChanger by Tiggz, if I am not mistaken, can now run whether you have DesktopX running or not.




And it just keeps going! What was his very first skin?
GTcool by Tiggz for CoolPlayer

Coolplayer??? What is That???

Not to mention other skin firsts for Tiggs, in my honest opinion, was one of the few skinners who helped keep Object Bar (one of the best apps on WinCustomize) alive and skinned. With Tiggs Object Bar skin that matches the GT suite of skins, you now have a really cool functional start bar for your desktop.

I use it myself (with dark and green skins that is ) and find myself a little inspired to finish my own Object Bar theme.

Now if your looking for a lighter theme from this author, then take a look at Killer suite of skins


For Example:
Killer by Tiggz for WindowBlinds



Want some more color? Try a tasty blue Rubicon suite


For Example: Rubicon by Tiggz for Object Bar


Lastly, I want to show you this. I personally do not use Bootskins, but this one takes the cake. While it is in Black and White and may not have much else, I think the overall design deserves mention. Introducing GT2 for Bootskins



Some might say: Joe... it nice and all but... Then I would say: Look at it! Its really cool and it goes with the whole look of GT2. And it make great use of only having shades of gray.

So take a look at Tiggs WinCustomize home page. While your at it, take a look at Tiggz Deviant Art home page too. Browse around both of them, and remember to look at the recommendations and favorites!

Until the next WinCustomize User Page Focus, I'm joeknowledge/joetheblow

DoctorNick’s 2005 Skinning Resolutions

A list for one who wants to skin it all...

Thursday, December 30, 2004 by qrush | Discussion: Skinning

2004 was my first leap into this skinning business. For 2005 I plan to go in a much different direction...Here I’ll set a goal list for myself for this year, when I hope to really become a true SKINNER. Enjoy, and feel free to comment or critique as you please.

1) Make a WindowBlinds skin! (high quality, and with none of that trendy aero/longhorn/aqua or whatever the latest crap is now, of course) This means I have to actually sit down for a while and have some patience with Photoshop and CorelDRAW…not to mention SkinStudio.

2) Create some icons! I’ve drawn out a few, but I have some troubles putting my ideas into pixels. Can you smell a suite yet?

3) Post more on the WinCustomize and Skinning.net forums! I’m more active on the Stardock IRC, but I like the boards too. I mean, who doesn’t want to miss out on the WB/msstyle arguments and the other nonsense?

4) Put together some tutorials for ObjectDock Plus, ObjectBar 2, and hopefully some others as well. Maybe I should make a tutorial entitled “Annoying Users: The 7 Deadly Errors” after seeing all of the controversy that's taken place here over the past year.

5) Start to learn some Jscript so I can program DesktopX widgets. I’d love to try to play with Bungie.net’s Halo 2 XML stats!

6) Continue to help out some SDC_Guests on #SDCentral and help them on their path to skinning enlightenment…

7) Attend some more SkinStudio classes hosted Skinartistry’s Bones2112 and NightTrain2002! I’ve missed the past two weeks, but the one class I did go to I had a lot of fun!

8) Look into getting some new Trillian 3 skins…there’s a real shortage of them! (And new plugins, cmon Cerulean!)

Working With Avalon Today: Getting Started With XAML

A quick look at XAML

Monday, December 27, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Software Development

Longhorn may not be here yet but you can start learning about XAML now.  XAML is a new mark-up language that Microsoft is developing that allows users to easily create user interfaces.

Stardock plans to incorporate XAML into DesktopX at some point to combine its power with DesktopX's native easy of development.  In the meantime, check out this article on it.

(update) External link fixed.

Why would you use WindowBlinds - An MSStyle to WindowBlinds porter manifest.

If you're an msstyles author you may want to read it.

Monday, December 27, 2004 by Adam Najmanowicz | Discussion: Conversions

Very important: Recoloring/converting or altering icons or skins does not change the original author's copyright, nor does it make such skin yours! If you recolor/convert or alter a skin or icon that has not been made by yourself you may not upload or share the modified skin or icon without the original author's permission.

Working on enhancing the porting filter in the most recent months I've been working with various msstyles authors (and a lot of them either ported or allowed to port their msstyles). And almost always the first question that arises is - "What's the point? I can use Windows XP built in theming after all. What does it give me to release my style as a WindowBlinds skin?"

  1. WindowBlinds skins non-theme aware programs so all of Windows would have the style, not just theme aware ones.
  2. Users can mix and match toolbar and progress animations with it (yes there are other ways to do this but nothing as easy as WindowBlinds).
  3. You can change its color easily on the fly.
  4. For most people, it'll run significantly (i.e. noticeably) faster. Hardware acceleration!
  5. You can assign other mouse button operations to the title bar.
  6. You can easily add buttons that enhance the theme's functionality.
  7. You can apply advanced recoloring to it with SkinStudio.
  8. With minimum effort you can enable dropdown menus skinning after conversion.
  9. Setting SkinStudio use "maximum quality" option during conversion will make your menu bar skinned as it was a toolbar.
  10. Ability to integrate the skin with the font (the font is installed automatically as the skin is used). It comes with the skin in one WBA (WindowBlinds zipped skin) so there is no risk the theme will look weird if user forgets to install the font or just skip reading the readme where you advise him/her to.
  11. Ability to associate the skin with the toolbar icons so that they are automatically applied once you start using the skin. Same with Animations if the msstyles contains them as well. No need for them to use Additional programs as Y'Z toolbar or replace system files.
  12. User can set the Visual Style to be used for a single app while having another one fot the whole system.
  13. Users do not have to hack the dlls vital to their system systems functioning. This may not be important for you, but believe me it has raised concern more than once among our customers. That was why actually we decided to make the MSStyles converter. Our customers liked some of the msstyles but didn't want to hack their system files.
  14. On my ssytem (though you may have either confirm or an feel differently) WindowBlinds is more stable than Msstyles. Actually changing msstyles (And I'm changing both of them a lot) kills an application running on my system at least once a 4 changes of a theme. Will it be Firefox(a lot), my Bluetooth stack (more seldom) or my programing IDE(really, really popular at dying). It practically does not happen to WindowBlinds any longer. And being an msstyles author you most probably know very well what I'm talking about.
  15. There is no way you could make an Msstyle that a company like Nintendo, nVidia (or here), Marvel, ATI or Microsoft (or here) would pay you for. Those are just the few themes off a top of my head, but WindowBlinds skinners are making paid themes on a daily basis. The reason why you cannot sell your MSstyle to them is that there is no way for the user to apply the theme in a legitimate way. No - a hack is not legitimate even if some companies sell them). I'm sure you're in it for fun and not for money. That's cool, but making a few bucks now and then doing what you love is really nice, isn't it?

That's just 15 reasons that I think of first when someone asks me "Why WindowBlinds". If you're still undecided just download SkinStudio and you should be able to just double click on your .msstyles file (make sure you unzip it to a directory first) and have it imported in. SkinStudio is a free download that will not expire on you and will allow you to convert msstyles to WindowBlinds and edit your themes indefinitely!

Be aware that even though it's still not perfect (especially the Free version is rather old) there will be a new SkinStudio release right after the New Year (Jan 2005) that will significantly improve upon what it does now. Object Desktop subscribers may already enjoy some of the improvements. More to come!

I used elements of Brad's post from Neowin in my article - thanks for the inspiration Brad.

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

What's next for Google?

The coming Microsoft vs. Google battle

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

Do you know why we love the computer industry? Because only in the computer industry do we get to have hard core smack downs.  It's one big industry video game where Microsoft has to fight off various "bosses" as it climbs the ladder to tougher and tougher opponents:

Microsoft vs. IBM

Microsoft vs. Netscape

Microsoft vs. AOL

and now..

Microsoft vs. Google

Each time, the opponent is tougher, more seasoned and each time the restraints on Microsoft greater.  And Google is smart.  From the very start Google has been about the smartest, most clever company I've seen on the net. Almost all their ideas are brillian.  Clever search engine. Text ads, you name it, it's all been done with incredible intelligence. 

So can Microsoft's new search engine beat it out? I have my doubts. I've been trying out MSN Search and it doesn't compare at this point.  Here's a simple search: "Brad Wardell".  On MSN Search I get some interview on a gaming site as the # 1 pick. On Google I get my blog page. So whatever algorithm Microsoft is using, it hasn't quite come together yet.

And so far, Google has been benevolent.  The power that Google has is frightening. They could flatten almost any net based business (including ours) just by changing their algorithm a bit to push us off the first page on a number of things. Even as it their use of open directory, which is incredibly outdated, is a source of frustration to us.

So what's next for Google? Check out this article on Technology Review for a very lengthy and thorough analysis...




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