Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 8th Mar 2007 22:11 UTC, submitted by Island Dog
Graphics, User Interfaces "It's been awhile since I've done one of these but this is certainly a pivotal year in skinning. The term 'skinning' has really expanded in what it means. Today, skinning is loosely used to describe customizing in general. From phones, to PDAs, to computer cases, skinning has become an all purpose term. But for our purposes, we're going to stick with customizing the user experience of personal computers (primarily PC and Macintosh). This article will give a head's up on where I think, in my highly biased way, things stand and where I think they're going."
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Somebody tell me
by fretinator on Thu 8th Mar 2007 22:31 UTC
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I looked everywhere to see why it said 2006. It appears to be a recent article. Just wondering.

Reply Score: 2

by Punktyras on Thu 8th Mar 2007 22:51 UTC
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From phones, to PDAs, to computer caess, skinning<...>

caess -> cases

Reply Score: 1

by jrronimo on Thu 8th Mar 2007 22:58 UTC
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The thing that has always miffed me about Skinning is Windows XP's theme system.

1. It exists! A whole system that can recolor and make Windows XP look really good.

2. There are no themes that you can (officially) use!

Okay, 2 is a lie: there are three: Luna (inbuilt; looks like play dough), Energy Blue (which is only supposed to come with XP MCE, although the files work on normal XP and it looks A LOT better), and the Zune theme, which isn't that great since the 'main' wallpaper is 1024x768 and yet the widescreen is like 1600x1200 -- how hard is it to crop the big one so someone at 1280x1024 (arguably the most common current resolution) has a nice-looking screen. And yes, of course, you don't have to use the Zune wallpaper and instead can have a black & orange taskbar/start button.

But that is a disgrace! Considering how much better Energy Blue looks compared to Luna, it is absolutely BEYOND me why Microsoft didn't offer it even as an optional Windows Update.

Or, better yet, why not open a website and allow user-submitted themes? Microsoft can dedicate a small team of it's 70,000 employees to go over skins and verify they won't completely mess up a system and then 'certify' them so that they /can/ be used. It's a great opportunity that they COMPLETELY missed.

It'll definitely be worse for Vista since I doubt they'll open up the API for Aero or whatever they'd need to do.

It's a sad state of affairs since there could be so much opportunity for a wonderful-looking Windows... and yet there isn't.

Reply Score: 3

by MikeGA on Thu 8th Mar 2007 23:06 UTC
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I don't quite get what this guy is complaining about with regard to widgets. First off, how are they in any way "skinning?" A widget is a small, functional program. It has its own appearance, but does not change the appearance of any other part of the system.

Apple and Microsoft introducing their own implementations is almost like going from an OS that will only run third party apps if they use Java, to allowing fully native applications.

That widget developers have chosen to create more widgets for use in Dashboard rather than Konfabulator is simply an indication of which they prefer. It has not been "devastating to the world of widgets and gadgets," the developers have simply moved platform to different widgets and gadgets

Reply Score: 2

by PowerMacX on Thu 8th Mar 2007 23:28 UTC
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From the article:
"Every once in awhile you'll see some users argue that they wish the OS vendor (Apple or Microsoft typically) "build skinning into the OS 'natively'". They think that if the OS vendor develops it and bundles it with the OS that it will, by magic, be better.

In reality, what happens is that it kills off the specialists. Once upon a time, there were two programs called DesktopX on the PC and Konfabulator on the Mac. Apple included Dashboard with the Mac. Then Yahoo bought Konfabulator. And despite Yahoo's massive traffic and the re-christened Yahoo Widgets being cross-platform, the "widgets" over on Yahoo typically only get a couple thousand downloads.

Meanwhile, on Windows, Microsoft has included the Sidebar. Will Microsoft support the Sidebar any better than Apple has supported (or not) Dashboard? It's hard to say. But the effect in both cases has been devastating to the world of gadgets and widgets"

(bold added by me)

That's purposely misleading, he's trying to make it fit his argument, but it doesn't. There are about 2800 widgets available right now at Apple's site:

Apple provides a website with widgets organized by category, each with a screenshot & description, recent updates, an RSS feed.
From a developer's side, they have lots of documentation and, since December, Dashcode Developer Beta:

Now, if he had mentioned Watson instead... ;)

Reply Score: 2

by MamiyaOtaru on Thu 8th Mar 2007 23:50 UTC
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I'm personally still a grump about the uxtheme patchers because the most vocal advocates were so full of..crap about what they were doing using terms like "native" and trying to get people to ignore the fact that they were basically patching out digital signing protection and then use patched luna.msstyles files that were renamed.

That's exactly what I liked about it. I just preferred a little hack to installing a large program. And yeah, I know XPs own theming engine was quite large itself, but it was already there, and rock solid (being as it was the basis for all those Luna desktops people were running by default).

Even though Windowblinds was lighter than XPs theming, I just didn't get the feeling of stability. Plus the fewer programs clogging add/remove programs the better ;) This was all before I moved to Linux though, things may have changed later (and Brad asserts they did).

Reply Score: 2

Quality of Skinning
by Woogbear on Fri 9th Mar 2007 00:31 UTC
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I ahve generally found that most skinning, whether you are using a patched uxtheme.dll or Windowblinds, is crappy and ugly. There are only a few really good skinner, Like KoL, who produces high quality work. Since installing Vista, i do not have a desire to skin it.

Reply Score: 2

A couple things to respond to
by draginol on Fri 9th Mar 2007 01:51 UTC
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I wrote the article in question. To resopnd to a couple of points:

Re Widgets

The problem with the OS vendor putting it in is that once they do, third-party development often ceases unless they can find a new niche or new justification to exist.

And that's bad because the OS vendor will often abandon what they do and not update it. Does anyone here think Microsoft will keep imporving the underlying features of their Gadget implementation? Seriously, does even one person reading this envision a scenario where Microsoft puts out "Gadget 1.1 Spec" with new libraries and extensibility?

With regards to uxtheme patching..

My issue wasn't that it existed but rather that its advocates (as opposed to people who just used it) would try to argue that things like Style XP weren't actually patching anything but were simply "native" or "had 0 foot print" when I suspect everyone here knows that wasn't the case.

There may be people here who preferred patching uxtheme to using something else but I don't think there's anyone here who would deny that they're hacking a system file to do it.

Regarding "why can't Microsoft open up its own gallery for skins".

Check out Do you really want Microsoft to supplant existing third party skin sites with its own half-assed implementation?

And then again, what if Microsoft decides it's no longer a "strategic focus"? Imagine if WindowBlinds had gotten wiped out by Microsoft's XP engine. Vista comes out and all those msstyles are gone and they've got nothing to replace it. It's Aero or nothing else. Is that a good thing?

Or do you think someone would manage to come up with a brand new, from scratch third party skinning engine that handles the thousands of different programs that do weird things? (uxtheme has tons of internal exceptions for programs ranging from Word Perfect to Office 2007 to even popular shareware programs, WindowBlinds has had to do much the same thing over the years).


Reply Score: 1

RE: A couple things to respond to
by Blikkie on Fri 9th Mar 2007 15:26 UTC in reply to "A couple things to respond to"
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And that's bad because the OS vendor will often abandon what they do and not update it. Does anyone here think Microsoft will keep imporving the underlying features of their Gadget implementation? Seriously, does even one person reading this envision a scenario where Microsoft puts out "Gadget 1.1 Spec" with new libraries and extensibility?

When it comes to updating an embraced feature, widgets may be a bad example; Apple did the very same a year ago, and widget engine 1.1 (in OSX) includes a lot of important improvements, for basic and advanced widgets.

If Microsoft wants to keep an edge, they will have to keep updating their implementation of widgets as well. Apart from that there might just as well remain a market for a dashboard instead of a sidebar.

Edited 2007-03-09 15:28

Reply Score: 1

Who gives a crap?
by Coxy on Fri 9th Mar 2007 08:33 UTC
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Sorry if your one of those people who like to spend ages making a skin. I have never seen a theme that look better than the default ones, and the less said about icon packs the better. The people that make them are not designers, they just have a cracked copy of paintshop pro on the computer. The icons all have different angles (even devices), shadows fall at different angles, inconsistent use of line thickness and colour. Design has it's own language, skinners need to learn this langauge before they can 'talk the talk'.

Skinned apps look shite... just look at the Wolverine Michigan theme pictured in the article - what was going through the creators head!?!

I spent several hours last week looking at what was available at wincustomise. 63,000 or so hard core visitors to wincustomise? 63,000? Please someone tell these 63,000 core users to go visit an Opticians!

Reply Score: 1

Waste of system resources
by bm3719 on Fri 9th Mar 2007 13:21 UTC
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I've always hated apps that provide their own UI widgets, unless they really need it (and most apps certainly don't). That's why the system has UI libs in the first place. These are already loaded into memory. You don't need "skins" to play mp3s or send plain text messages over the internet. At the very least, provide a way to disable them for those of us that don't care or don't want all our apps to look like they're from different planets.

Edited 2007-03-09 13:21

Reply Score: 4

Mini Rant
by fretinator on Fri 9th Mar 2007 15:36 UTC
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I am so tired of Icons and Themes and Backgrounds and BlueCurve vs. Oxygen and 3D Widgets...

I gues we need dancing icons that do the Lambada when we hover over them, and they should sing an aria from La Boheme when we click them.

And emails should have all sorts of pink and blue characters, with borders of dancing Hamsters and an embedded video of Paris Hilton eating cheeseburgers.

And our windows should wiggle and shimmer, with waterfalls cascading from the 'X' button, and we should see scenes from "Lost" in the window background.

And our desktop should have pictures of vulcans holding calculators that actually work. Dragging icons should leave trails of stardust behind them...

OK, I feel better now. I think I'll go grab my Pentium 90 laptop and surf the web with Links2 a while.

Reply Score: 2

Skinning XP ... the easy way ...
by WorknMan on Sat 10th Mar 2007 20:43 UTC
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1. Go to Services and disable Themes.
2. Right click on desktop, go to Properties.
3. Select 'Windows Classic' from the Themes dropdown.
4. And you're done! Win32 Classic - best UI ever, and doesn't strain the system resources either ;)

Unfortunately, I don't know how MS managed to screw it up, but the Classic theme looks like ass in Vista ;)

Reply Score: 2