posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 6th Jul 2004 19:36 UTC
IconThere is a certain thing about skinning. It's just relaxing. Changing skins, browsing for skins, adding icons, trying out different color schemes in order to find the best match. The skinning community is quite large, ranging from people who change only their WinAmp skin, to people who use different DE's on Unix-like systems. In fact, you are also skinning when you don't use a DE; since the command line is in fact a type of 'skin' as well.

Introduction

So, the skinning community is large. But there are sub-groups. The sub-group that is probably one of the largest and most active, is the "Aqua" community. The Aqua community tries to resemble Mac OS X's look as closely as possible, mostly on Windows machines. I am part of that sub-group.

But, why do 'we' set Mac OS X' UI as a goal? Well, to put it simply, I think Apple created the best-looking user interface we know (together with the QNX' Photon UI). And I am not going to buy a Mac, since I am perfectly happy with my x86 machine. But, Windows, KDE, Gnome, whatever, they simply look hideous compared to what Apple presents its customers. They provide us with, to name a few:

Panther:

Milk:

Smoothstripes:

Now, compare that to Luna or Galaxy. Of course, it is all a matter of taste; but seeing the huge size of the aqua-community (AquaXP.com (11630 members), Aqua-Soft.org (678948 members), osx-e.com, (2696 members)), there must be a certain thing that draws people towards aqua-ish user interfaces. What that 'thing' is exactly, I do not know. I caught the bug myself, and all I can say is: once you're in it, you're in it. It is kind of hard to stop (okay, once people do get a real Mac, the need for aquafying Windows or Linux kind of disappears).

In this article I will try to explain what it takes to aquafy your Windows XP. Why Windows XP, and not KDE or something else? Don't ask. I will name certain applications, present alternatives, and explain why I chose one over the other. I will start at the base, the so-called "mod-packs". Then I will move on to choosing a certain style for Windows, and then on to individual applications. Enjoy!

Mod-packs

A mod-pack is, basically, a bunch of system files. The system files inside the mod-pack replace the ones in your Windows install. This way, the creator of a mod-pack is able to individually add icons, bitmaps, and so on. It can also change the layout of dialog-boxes, change text in windows, re-arrange toolbars, and so on. This way, he can rebuild your interface from the ground up.

The first (as far as I know) mod-pack was created by Iceman. With his mod-pack, you have to individually replace your system files with his. Quite a lot of work, but it is worth it.

The two mod-packs most in use today, are Flyakite's and Stefanka's. I recommend you to use Flyakite's package. This mod-pack features an installer where you can select individual components and, most notably, an uninstall option. It changes all your icons, bitmaps, and more. For screenshots, go here.

Why shouldn't you use Stefanka's package? Well, it does not feature an uninstall option, and it is not as thorough as Flyakite's mod-pack. Therefore, I recommend using Flyakite's.

Okay, let's move on to selecting a visual style.

Visual Style

If you chose not to install Flyakite's package, there is one thing you will have to do before you can use all the visual styles available on the net. You will have to hack 'uxtheme.dll', the .dll that prohibits the use of non-Microsoft approved themes. Of course, you could also use StyleXP, but it will cost you. Another option is WindowBlinds, but WindowBlinds uses resources on-top of the resources used by Windows' own theme engine. Therefore, if you do not want to pay and don't want to throw away resources (you will need them for other applications later on), then download this .zip.. It automatically patches your uxtheme.dll. After applying this patch, you will have access to all the visual styles on the net.

Now, which visual style is the best? Short answer: I don't know. Long answer: that is impossible to say, because taste is something very subjective, as we all know. I don't really have a preference. Well, that is not true. I do have a preference, but it changes. A good place to start when looking for Mac-inspired visual styles is this page on StyleSuites.com.

Next up, the dock.

Table of contents
  1. "Becoming Aqua, Page 1/2"
  2. "Becoming Aqua, Page 2/2"
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