The WinCustomize User Focus Articles
Monday, January 17, 2005 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Community
Yangge has made countless icons and icon sets for those who visit on WinCustomize as well as elsewhere and those icons seem very desirable to the public considering the download count awards on his WinCustomize front page. If you like the glassy look then you will like this colorful icons.
Take a look at some of the recent uploads:
- NotePad by yangge for Misc. Icons
- Desktop X by yangge for Misc. Icons
- Aqua2004 by yangge for IconPackage
- xToon by yangge for IconPackager
- Black Apple System by yangge for IconPackager
Yangge has a few follower as well if the information on his Stats page is correct. Is it ok for people to stalk you? Man! Even mormegil has taking a liking to this guy.
Yangge has contributed in other ways as well. Comment on skins uploaded by other people is a good way of helping or encouraging other skinners and the like to be involved and keep skinning. Encouragement is always a good thing.
Until the next WinCustomize User Page Focus, I'm joeknowledge/joetheblow
Fed up over problems stemming from viruses and spyware, some computer users are giving up or curbing their use of the Web.
Monday, January 17, 2005 by joeKnowledge | Discussion: Internet
SOURCE: LA Times
No More Internet for Them
A look back at 2004
Sunday, January 16, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: OS Customization
2004 Year in review..
Our story so far...
Object Desktop is a suite of programs that lets users customize the way Microsoft Windows looks, feels, and functions. As the capabilities of Windows changes, so does Object Desktop. It was originally released in December 1999 and has evolved dramatically since then.
When a user purchases Object Desktop, they get everything already on it plus everything we create for it during the subsequent year. If a user wants to keep getting new updates and new features, they can re-subscribe to ObjectDesktop.net to continue getting new updates (if you don't renew you keep everything you already have).
Since updates during the year are a big deal to users who are considering renewing their access to ObjectDekstop.net, what comes out in a given year is worth talking about.
A Guided Tour of what's been improved...
2004 has been a turning point in Object Desktop's career. It was the year when many elements of it finally came together: Mature programs, documentation, and support.
For example, when Object Desktop first came out, users had to get their updates through a program called "Component Manager". This program "did the job" but was kind of clunky in use and many users had frustrations in terms of backing up and having to constantly re-download things.
Stardock Central completely replaces it.
What Stardock Central does is combine forums, chat, downloading, and other features all together into a single program. And when users download updates, they only download the parts they don't already have. Instead of 10 megabyte downloads they may only have 100K downloads.
For users of WindowBlinds (and IconPackager,) 2004 was the best year ever. WindowBlinds 4.4 runs rings around the bundled Windows XP visual style engine both in terms of performance and in memory use even as it skins a lot more parts of the Windows GUI.
And IconPackager has had a renaissance this year as great new icons have come out for it this year. The GUI Olympics really delivered some fantastic new skins and icons.
Below are some screenshots from this year.
And in icons..
This year WindowBlinds also added some new features such as progress animations and toolbar icon changes:
Not only did WindowBlinds 4.4 add support for changing toolbar icons in Internet Explorer and Explorer as well as support for changing progress animations, it also was 40% faster in many areas than previous versions of WindowBlinds. Most users should notice an immediate performance boost when moving from the included Windows XP look and feel to WindowBlinds.
Learn more on WindowBlinds at www.windowblinds.net.
SkinStudio 4.4 came out this year and it supports the new WindowBlinds features such as toolbar creation and progress animations but it also added the ability to create more advanced shellstyles (Windows explorer task panels).
For instance, normally in Windows the explorer task panels on are on the left side. But now with WindowBlinds 4.4, you can have them on the top:
See how the task panels are on the top of the window? SkinStudio supports this.
SkinStudio also makes it easy to make use of the Microsoft .msstyles format. So those .msstyles that are out there can be used just like any other skin format if you have SkinStudio installed. It's totally seamless. And what's nice is that WindowBlinds will run msstyles faster and on more programs than if they were using Microsoft's skin applying system.
SkinStudio in action
SkinStudio's home page it www.skinstudio.net.
For users looking to dramatically increase their productivity, there's The Keyboard LaunchPad. This is a relatively new addition to Object Desktop that allows users to assign a hot key to pretty much anything they might want to do.
Actions such as clipboard contents, website URLs, program launching and more. We here at Stardock use it a lot for saving clipboard contents (canned replies for instance and saved screenshots). We also use it to navigate to very common websites and support sites. This program doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves even though it's one of the most useful programs ever made.
Theme Manager is the successor to WinStyles. It provides the single point access to all the Object Desktop GUI customization programs (plus other programs as well) for changing skins, themes, icons and wallpapers and more.
You can use Theme Manager to just change your icons. Or you can build your own "suites" of skins/themes/icons together that create an entire desktop. Think of a suite as a desktop screenshot that has all the stuff included in it to get back to that screenshot.
One of the biggest stories for Object Desktop this past year has been DesktopX 2.x. DesktopX spent its first couple of years of existence as being a kind of neat technology experiment. It was this year, however, that DesktopX really became very useful for even casual users.
With DesktopX you can still build entire desktops, but it's become very popular for creating mini-applications called widgets. In fact, Stardock used DesktopX to create the user interface in The Political Machine and is currently using it to create the screens for Galactic Civilizations II. It's phenomenal technology.
Widgets are basically little programs that exist on your desktop. They can be as simple as clocks or as complex as a game. They have less overhead than a stand alone program tends to have which makes them ideal for doing things like playing music, monitoring system resources, displaying local weather, providing news feeds, etc.
With DesktopX 2.2, widgets can now be activated with a hot key. So even if you have them covered by a bunch of windows, you can easily bring them to top with the press of a button.
Here's the deal: In Windows you can set your icon size globally. That is a problem because if you want to have nice big icons on your desktop, you also get huge icons everywhere else.
IconX lets you have huge icons just on your desktop if you want as well as all kinds of cool effects such as zooming icons (icons grow when you put your mouse over them), sound effects, shadows, and other goodies. And it lets you also have .PNG files as icons as well as make images into thumbnails if they're on your desktop.
The same is true of icon labels which can be really big and thick -- just on your desktop.
WindowFX plodded towards 3.0 this year -- slowly. But it did gain a pretty remarkable new feature that is waiting until 2005 to fully be explored: Scaleable windows:
When turned on, a user can hold down the shift key while minimizing a program to put it into scaled window mode. For users with limited real-estate, this can be quite useful. Or for people who want to casually monitor chat or other things but not have it eat up too much space, it's very useful for that as well.
New Programs of Object Desktop in 2004
Object Desktop also added icon creation support with IconDeveloper. IconDeveloper is designed to make it easy to take images and turn them into icons.
When it comes to making icons, IconDeveloper really does make it easy for people to create and adjust icons all at once. Stand-alone programs of this nature cost $30 and IconDeveloper is just another program that is part of Object Desktop.
Learn more of it at www.icondeveloper.com.
It can automatically inherit your WindowBlinds visual style and have all kinds of useful functionality in it (including embedding widgets!).
People who have started running it have found it extremely useful.
RightClick could be used to let power users do away with their actual Windows start bar if they want (it even supports having the system tray in it). It can also be set to have a hot key to bring it up. So unlike the "real" desktop right click menu, RightClick can be brought up even if there are windows obscuring the Windows desktop.
Coming Attractions in 2005...
WebExplorer (tentative name)
Stardock is working on an Internet Explorer based web browser. It's basically Internet Explorer with a tabbed based interface. That's it. Nothing fancy. It's not going to try to reinvent the web browser as we know it. We simply want users to be able to have a tabbed base Internet Explorer.
Enhanced File Dialog
This new feature will extend most common Windows file dialogs to have a lot more features.
All kinds of customization will become possible to the standard Windows file dialog.
Screenshots of it in action:
PowerTune is a significant departure from the whole "customization" portion of Object Desktop and back to the utility aspects. The idea behind PowerTune is relatively straight forward - it's getting too complicated to keep your PC optimized.
There are some great utilities out there that can help optimize your PC but they usually cost quite a bit and are usually overkill in terms of features. The main features of PowerTune will include:
Duplicate File Finder/Remover
Advanced Disk Space Recovery
Temporary Internet file manager
Windows Task List extensions
Windows memory, CPU, and video performance optimization
Windows stability analysis and monitoring
This isn't a complete list but the general idea is to allow power users as well as casual users keep their systems running well without having to spend very much effort doing it. PowerTune is due in late 2005 in beta form.
ControlCenter 2 / ObjectBar 2
ControlCenter and ObjectBar are slowly being merged together. The idea is to make it easier for people to have virtual desktop managers that are easier to use and more productive than at present. The beta is already available of ObjectBar 2.
Object Desktop has come a long way since its inception. And it continues to get better and better over time. The existing key features such as WindowBlinds, DesktopX, IconPackager and so forth have become more robust and more fully featured. And new features add new value and abilities to the package as a whole. We hope you like the direction we're going and the improvements we've already put into it.
We also think it is probably the world's best software deal. For $49.95 a user gets all these things plus everything we make for an additional year. Imagine the user who purchased Object Desktop in say 2003 and decided to renew their access to get new programs and updates for the year 2004 for $34.95. The new programs and updates listed they would have received as part of that! That's less than $3 per program and update.
Screenshot of it
Thursday, January 13, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: WindowBlinds
WindowBlinds 4.5 is nearly ready for release. One of the highlights is the new hue changing colorization system.
Just move some sliders and the colors of your skin change. Works very well.
To enable this, you have to go to the WindowBlinds config, click on colorization and then turn it to HSL coloring. I don't know if I'll ever go back to the other system.
Apple Comes Full-Circle
2004 was big though... maybe bigger than any other year for new product announcements. This year, Apple finally achieved with the Mac something it had been trying to do since 1982. Make the Macintosh affordable. They did this with the Mac mini, a tiny 2.9lbs machine that has everything you could want in a mini computer... and it's only $499. Yes that's right, Apple, the company known for selling hardware only the richest of the rich could consider owning, has released a full-featured computer for just a hair under $500.
Personally, I think this is the best business decision Apple has ever made, especially now considering how well they did with OS X. I'm a closet Mac fan. Though I am too young to remember the momentous launch of the Mac (I was 2 years old in 1984), by the time I was 5, I was crashing my dad's Mac that he brought back from work every night with great glee (I accidentally formatted his hard drive once too). I used Macs almost exclusively from 1987 until 1997 when our aging Mac LC3 (25MHz baby!) was just too sluggish and outdated (not to mention at this point in time, the Mac was at deaths door and no one was releasing software for it). Then we bought a 200MHz HP. This thing did stuff I could only dream of when using the Mac... plus it had a command line interface! I could salvage the computer even after the user interface went to hell! This shift in computing mindset was amazing, and for a time I discarded my mac roots altogether, becoming a PC snob. Linux, Windows, anything with a CLI that could run on x86 architecture was all I cared about. The Mac was a dieing brand in my mind. Sure, I supported them at school and at work for years (you wouldn't believe how rare it was, and in some cases still is, to be equally comfortable troubleshooting under both MacOS and Windows), but I didn't use them if I didn't have to. Then came MacOS X. It was UNIX, only it looked damn good. It just oozed the good design Apple is known for (the first generation iMac and the hockey puck mouse being the exception). But most importantly, IT HAD A CLI!!! I had direct access to the system for the first time on Apple hardware. Rejoice! I wanted one sooo badly now, but there was no way a poor college student could afford one.
This past year, after graduating and finding myself a job that pays a fair bit, I found I could finally afford one. So I bought a 15" Powerbook with a bit of extra RAM for about $2500. Pricey, but worth every penny IMO. I use it as a secondary machine (my Dell XPS is still my main since I do a LOT of gaming) and for whenever I travel anywhere for more than a few days. It's especially great now that I have my parents house setup with wireless connected to their cablemodem. Whenever I have to visit now, I have high-speed Internet from anywhere in their house... it's nice being able to play World of Warcraft (bless you Blizzard for making all of your games cross-platform) while sitting in bed.
Now, you can get one for pennies practically! No more will people be able to say "Well, I'd love to own one, but I just can't afford it." It's 6.5" (L) x 6.5" (W) x 2" (H) and weighs in at 2.9lbs. True it doesn't come with a monitor or anything like that, but with a $10 DVI -> VGA converter, you can use whatever monitor you currently have, or pick up a cheap CRT at WalMart.
Combine the Mac mini with iPod/iTunes and the music broadcast ability from the higher-end AirPort (wireless router) and what you have is a stylish and very powerful home media solution. Now you can either have an ugly beige tower hidden behind your TV and stereo system, or you can have a polished, shiny Mac sitting in front, glowing and looking all impressive. I think this is going to be the next big home computer appliance to have.
The original Macintosh was supposed to cost $500, but as design went on and they realized that to pull off what they wanted to (i.e a completely GUI driven system) the base cost of the hardware pushed it well beyond that price point (at the time, the Sony 3.5" disk drive that came in the Mac cost $30 each at bulk... now you can get one individually for $10 most places). Now, 20 years later, they've finally done it. They've made a computer that is powerful, user friendly, and within the price range of anyone looking to buy a computer.
I think this product may launch Apple back into the PC market with a real bang. I'd love to see them gain some serious market share from this move over the next few years.
I was lacking anything else constructive to do (well, that's not entirely true but that's what I'm going to tell y'all) so I Googled my screen name this morning. Link
Yeah...not a really good thing to have done.
My illusion of being the only Dharmagirl on the planet were shattered. There are a few of us...and some of us seem to be into some pretty kinky stuff.
There's the Dharmagirl who's listed herself in a adult personal ad site. Looking at this one was scary at first because she's the same age as me -my first thought was that I'd pissed off someone who had enough personal info on me to create an ad like that using my details - but then I read further and saw that she's in NY state and only has 2 kids, whereas I'm in the midwest and have 3.
There's the Dharmagirl who's registered in the BDSM chatroom. I have to say that while my personality might suggest otherwise at times, I'm certain I'm not into bondage and domination sex.....and I sure as hell aint submissive.
Then there's yet another Dharmagirl listed at yet another bondage site. What is it with chicks named Dharma liking getting tied up and beaten? I'm seeing a trend here, and I don't like it.
Next comes the Dharmagirl who registered with a Des Moines animal welfare site...now that's more like me. I could see myself doing that. This one gave me some hope that not all dharmagirls were kinky sex fiends.
There's another Dharmagirl who has a blog that shows up on Google. I couldn't open the link to go see what she's like.....I'll keep trying though.
My final visit (and the one that made me want to stop looking for more) was to dharmagirl.com . Yeah....not really me either. Cool if you're looking for porn, I guess......but the less said about that, the better.
So, I'm not the only dharmagirl...and most of the other Dharma's are into some questionable sexual practices.
I just hope no-one gets us confused......
The most unappreciated Icon in the pack.
|Icon 02 (Default File)|
After the Folder icon, the Default File icon, tends to be the most important icon in a pack. (At least for me). It is at the same time one of the easiest and one of the hardest icons in an Iconpack. It takesn very little time to draw, but you may end up doing it 50 times, trying to find something that has not been done 1000 times before. The icon below took maybe 15 minutes to do, less time than it is taking me to write this.
Now that I said all that, I came up with the style for this icon set in one try. Mostly as a "Hey, I wonder if I could pull that off" experiment. What I have decided to try and pull off is a Glass icon set, or Plastic icon set, depending on how you look at it. All the file icons will be transparent glass plates, with a colored band on the top, the band may change depending on the type of Icon. Also the glass will allow us to have any file "Overlays" that I place on the icons to have a reflection in the surface of the file. At least that is the plan.
This is the Default Icon, so it is pretty damn plain, but I am pretty excited to see how the rest of the icons come out. Now lets get started.
Using the Rectangle Tool, I draw a 1.28 x 1.28 box, same as in the last icon. Then I draw another rectangle; that will become my file icon.
I give the rectangle a white to light grey gradient, and then using the Interactive Transparency tool I make it fade from slightly transparent on the top and bottom, to about 50% transparent in the center.
Because this is glass and my page is white I put a throw away shape in a darker color behind my Icon so I can see it. I will delete it later.
|Step 3: |
Now I copy the rectangle 3 times and Crop the copies so I can get my edges - one Grey and one white - and send them to the back. This is to give the glass some depth.
Then I place another 2 rectangles on the top - one transparent blue, and one white - to make my band.
Now I copy the shape of the page and pull a light drop shadow off it. I also copy the edges separately and pull a shadow off them. This gives us that glass shadow look.
I also fade them out in the same way I did in yesterdays folder shadow.
Now using the same steps as yesterday I make the reflection of the icon below.
Lastly we add the "Glare", drawing the glare on with white shapes and fading it out with the Interactive Transparency tool.
|And our finished icon should look something like this.
Note: I realized at the end of this that I had the colors of the inside of the glass reversed, so I flipped the two trimmed shapes so the black is on the top left and the white is on the bottom right.
Well that about wraps it up for the Default File. Let's hope my gamble that this will look good when we get more of them will pay off. Tomorrow I think we will do the open folder, or the Default Document icon. Tune in then to find out.
A Icon a day Keeps the Creative Block away. (I hope)
Saturday, January 8, 2005 by mormegil | Discussion: OS Customization
An Icon a day Keeps the Creative Block away. (I hope)
As some of you may have noticed, and gotten mad at me for, I have not had a new free Iconpack out for quite some time. This is not so much because I have been doing Premium Suites, it's because I just have not been able to find any time. Since I have started working at Stardock, over a year ago now, I have been doing a lot of fun stuff at work. Making video game UI's, Skins, and 3D. This has been sapping the amount of creativity I have left when I get home. Not to mention my cursed time sucking addiction of Halo 2.
This brings me to the point of this blog. Starting today, I am going to find some time every day to make one (1) Icon. This will give us a new complete Iconpack in about 60 days.
Here is my plan.
1) Design 1 Icon a day, starting with the folder. (Can't help but do this)
2) Post that Icon in the Misc Icons section over on wincustomize. This way anyone who wants to can get the Icons as they are made, and not have to wait for the completed pack.
3) Post a short blog on the making of each Icon. This hopefully will allow for feedback from users, and help make the pack better.
With that lets get started.
|Icon 01 (Closed folder)|
The folder is always one of the hardest Icons to do. It sets the style for the entire pack of Icons. I tend to spend the most time on the folder Icon, but I am going to force myself to crank this one out. Because this is the first article in this series I am going to show a bit more of the "making of" than I will have time to do in the future.
I am going to be using CorelDraw to do all the designing in this pack; if you want you can get a free trial copy at www.corel.com. If you are more comfortable with other graphics programs hopefully you will be able to get the basics of what I am doing and translate it into that programs tool set.
One last thing; I am going to be referring to a lot of tools and techniques over the life of this blog series and I won't have time to describe them in these articles. I will try and do some individual tutorials on how I use each tool and technique as time goes by, if requested.
Using the Rectangle Tool, I Draw a 1.28 x 1.28 box. I use this to make sure to keep my Icon in a square aspect, and so the Icon dose not become stretched or distorted when I make it.
Then I create another rectangle and, using the Mesh fill tool, "Sculpt" it into the back side of my folder.
Using the Mesh fill tool I go in and do some detail. In this case I am adding in some bevels and gradients. I am winging this, so I think I will go ahead and make the back black. I am going to go with a metal and composite look for this. I am doing a lot of this in the Galactic Civilizations GUI, and am in that kind of mood. Plus maybe in the process of making this pack I can use some of the ideas in the game screens, and vice versa.
|Step 3: |
I want some texture in all of these Icons because I am in that kind of mode at the moment, plus it is a simple technique that can make for a nice rich feel. I don't have a lot of time for these Icons, and I will be using allot of the more popular looks.
So using the interactive transparency tool, I take a copy of the back of the folder. Change it to 30% black and add a stretched wave texture, setting the transparency to Multiply.
Now following the same steps as in Step 1, I use another rectangle and the Mesh tool to mold it into the shape I want the folder front to be.
As in Step 2, I use the mesh fill tool to give the folder front some detail.
Now I use the same steps as in Step 3 to make transparent texture over the front part of the folder.
Then I draw some of the obligatory white glare on the front of the folder and the tab. Then use the Interactive Transparency tool to fade it out from top to bottom. Giving us that Shiny look.
Now I just draw a black shape that I can use to pull a drop shadow off of for my shadow. I am having to do the shadow this way because I want it to look slanted back, and I don't want the standard shadows.
The only trick here is to set the shadows opacity to 100% so I can do something with it in the next step.
Now I break the shadow apart from the shadow shape I drew and delete the shape. Then using the Interactive Transparency tool I fade the shadow out. Also using Arrange I send the shadow to the back of the folder.
I see a lot of people do a reflection of their icon in their screen shots, but I thought it might be fun to try and do it in all the Icons of this pack. So lets do it.
To do this I simply copy the elements of my folder, Flip, Move, and Skew them into the location I want. Then convert them into a bitmap (24 bit RGB).
Now to get that reflected look, I can simply crop the created bitmap to fit inside my guide box, and using the Interactive Transparency tool fade it out.
|Finished Icon image.
Download the finished Icon.
Now I use IconDeveloper, or other Icon program, to create the Icon. There are several other tutorials out there telling you how to do that so I will make you look them up. For this pack, in the interest of not limiting what we can design, I have decided to only do 32 bit Icons for Windows XP.
So there we go, Icon # 1 is done. You can download it here if you want to play with it.
Skinning that soothes the savage desktop
Saturday, January 8, 2005 by Essencay | Discussion: New Releases
Click on Image to go to skin
Click on Image to go to skin
Click on Image to go to skin
Click on Image to go to skin
Click on Image to go to skin
Now everybody, fire up their new desktop and go "Oooo....Aaaah"
Microsoft's Built-in Pop-up Blocker...My Current Pop-Up Blocker
Friday, January 7, 2005 by Essencay | Discussion: Windows XP
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun Pop! Goes the weasel
A penny for a spool of thread. A penny for a needle
That's the way the money goes, Pop! Goes the weasel
A half a pound of tupenny rice. A half a pound of treacle
Mix it up and make it nice, Pop! Goes the weasel.
Up and down the London road, In and out of the Eagle
That's the way the money goes, Pop! Goes the weasel
I've no time to plead and pine, I've no time to wheedle
Kiss me quick and then I'm gone, Pop! Goes the weasel
Remember the bad old days when browsing the net could be a nightmare with the amount of popups you encountered and trying to find a decent free popup blocker was a chore? Well not anymore. Now the question to ask yourself is...did I de-activate all the other pop-up blockers installed on my PC so that I can control what is being blocked? Seems everyone is jumping on this ride including Microsoft.
Right now on my PC I have 4 pop-up blockers installed. XP's SP2 added one to IE6. MSN Toolbar has one built-in. Earthlink's TotalAccess has one built-in (this is the one I used when pop-up blockers where scarce), and Norton's Internet Security 2005 added the fourth. So if you're wondering why your favorite site that uses pop-ups no longer pops check to see if one of the many possible pop-up blockers you may have installed (Google's Toolbar comes to mind) on your computer isn't blocking it. Best bet is to uninstall, if you can, or disable all but one.
My current favorite for IE6 is the one that SP2 added. Whenever it comes across a new site with popups it gives you a convenient visual warning to allow you to configure it, as well as blocking the pop-up. What's yours?