Home > Graphics > Skinning Primer: a Comprehensive Look at Windows Customization Skinning Primer: a Comprehensive Look at Windows Customization Submitted by Brad Wardell 2005-11-19 Graphics 21 Comments For users who have wanted to customize their Windows PC beyond what is part of the OS, this skin primer goes through the most popular two dozen programs commonly used to tweak, customize, and enhance the default Windows desktop environment. About The Author Thom Holwerda Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda 21 Comments 2005-11-19 5:32 pm WorknMan Maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but when I install WinXP, I simply disable themes, enable the Win32 ‘classic’ interface, and that’s about as much skinning as I ever do. I love the Win32 classic look. I’ve never seen a better looking theme on any platform, be it Linux, OSX, or whatever. It’s not flashy, but it does the job well. I’ve been using it for about 10 years and still haven’t grown tired of it. I plan to use it in Vista as well if htey allow it. 2005-11-19 5:47 pm Ravnos I don’t like the look of the Win32 interface myself, but I don’t do any skinning at all with it. I’ve had pretty bad luck with the programs I’ve tried for the process, ranging from terrible interfaces to stability problems. I’ve also found that this problem gets even worse when you start replacing explorer with alternate shells. BB4Win, for example, crashed any time I started a program. I thought it would be nice to unify the look-and-feel between the Windows and FreeBSD partitions on my machine but between the stability and the fact that I hardly use Windows at home anyway it just wasn’t worth the trouble. But hey, kudos to anyone who gets this stuff to actually work. I just don’t have the patience. 2005-11-20 12:25 am rain I don’t like the look of the Win32 interface myself, but I don’t do any skinning at all with it. I’ve had pretty bad luck with the programs I’ve tried for the process, ranging from terrible interfaces to stability problems. I’ve also found that this problem gets even worse when you start replacing explorer with alternate shells. I’ve found recent versions of windowblinds to be very stable and speedy actually. What it won’t do though is changing the actual UI, which is Windows biggest problem IMO (especially if you are used to BeOS or Gnome). Replacing Explorer however, that’s asking for trouble. I don’t know if I’m doing anything wrong but I’m always ending up with a half broken system. Explorer is way too integrated. 2005-11-20 2:02 am pauls101 Maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but when I install WinXP, I simply disable themes, enable the Win32 ‘classic’ interface, and that’s about as much skinning as I ever do. My attitude exactly. XP is a (minor) improvement over 2K in many areas, but its UI is a huge step backward. Getting rid of all the silly eye candy makes the machine noticeably faster, and getting back to the classic interface (particularly the Start button / desktop) makes it far more usable. Win98 (though hopelessly unstable as an OS) was the high water mark of MS UI’s, like Win2K was the best overall OS they ever have (or likely will) produce. I can’t say that I find any version of Windows to be as attractive or productive as MacOS (name your version), but if I have to use it at work at least I can save a few minutes and a few hundred mouse clicks in the course of the day. 2005-11-20 7:57 pm Wintermute and getting back to the classic interface (particularly the Start button / desktop) makes it far more usable. Have to disagree with you on that. In pre-XP windows if you wanted to access “My Computer” you had to go all the way to the desktop (a stupid place to put icons in the first place, after all the desktop is usually always covered by application). With XP you can just customize the start menu and put the taskbar on auto-hide. This makes things so much simpler, especially if you move the taskbar to the top. It’s all a matter of how you setup your system. 2005-11-20 8:33 pm zima Uhmm…and you couldn’t do all that in 2k? Interesting… 2005-11-19 7:30 pm Kroc UXTheme.dll is mentioned – count it – once. The free solution that doesn’t eat any resources at all, costs nothing and doesn’t install all sorts of crap on your system. 😐 2005-11-19 8:51 pm Actually, the native windows skinning service uses more resources than Windowblinds (depending on the skin loaded) but just hides it’s resource usage by being part of an svchost.exe process. Saying that it doesn’t “eat any resources at all” blatantly isn’t true. 2005-11-19 9:13 pm Kroc When you’re running the default theme, or a custome one – you’re using the same resource level. If you install ThemeXP or something, you’ll be using extra RAM. If you install WinBlinds you will be using more CPU, something WinBlinds 4 was dogged by. 2005-11-21 9:21 am Hi, I know it’s definitely quite trivial to apply the modified uxtheme.dll, however if someone is interested in a very basical freeware (under GPL) that does it (you have to download the uxtheme separately from the source you prefer), this (mine) little program may help, Skinny: http://giorgiotani.interfree.it/s_skinny.html (anyway, AFAIK, exists other freewares that do it) I tried it on machines with different update level, if someon of you can supply more user’s exeprience I’ll be pleased. About usage of resource, I think there is not a meaningful advantage on a modern machine in using XP’s engine or the one from Windowblinds, they are both good “enough” IMHO; however, i think the approach of WindowBlinds, providing his own skinning engine with more than acceptable performances, is somewhat more desiderable form the user point of view since the user is more free from possible lock-in of look and feel from the OS vendor to a specific OS release. 2005-11-19 7:45 pm h0lden Patched UXTheme.dll and HmmXP http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/5514034/ theme is all i need :] 2005-11-19 8:37 pm litestep helps me do everything faster and better, been using it for 7 years, cant imagine life without it. 2005-11-20 2:44 pm “litestep helps me do everything faster and better, been using it for 7 years, cant imagine life without it.” I actually HAD TO switch to an alternative shell, when explorer.exe apparently locks up the machine. Rather than try to figure out what was broken. I simply replaced the shell. Life is too short diagnosing Windows issues. [Anonymous (IP: 24.226.125.—)] “a surpirsing number are atually proud to be running Windows.” As ever, I am mystified when someone is *proud* of running some software or another. I’ve used quite a few interesting programs and OSes in my life, and I’m no more proud of the experiences than I am for having used fancy toilet paper. ” Welcome to a Linux post. 2005-11-19 8:46 pm Michael Microsoft has told us that they are taking steps to make it very difficult if not impossible for third parties to customize the logon screen. For Microsoft, it’s a branding issue. Typical MS pig-headed-ness. Why bother? 99% of people aren’t going to touch it anyway and of those who do, a surpirsing number are atually proud to be running Windows. Shows MS coroporate mentality for what it is – deranged. 2005-11-20 2:46 am “a surpirsing number are atually proud to be running Windows.” As ever, I am mystified when someone is *proud* of running some software or another. I’ve used quite a few interesting programs and OSes in my life, and I’m no more proud of the experiences than I am for having used fancy toilet paper. Makers of things have justification to be proud of their work. Users? Hell no. “I’m proud of myself for using this hammer made by XYZ. I’m a superior being because of it! All you people using hammers made by ABC are idiots! Sheep! f–ktards!” Does the madness never end? 2005-11-20 2:38 am I don’t really care what my GUI looks like, as long as it isn’t packed with distracting colours and animations. To me the classic Windows look is perfectly acceptable and I don’t see any reason to change it. But I have played with some of the UI functionality tweaks available for Windows, I’ve never been totally happy with it’s window management or the taskbar. Unfortunately most of the OS X style Docks and other taskbar replacements are all style and no substance. They copy the flashy magnification effects you get in the Mac OS X Dock, but don’t have useful features like drag and drop to Dock icons. I’ve yet to find one that really improves on the taskbar in day to day use and many that I’ve tried have drained resources and crashed constantly. The one UI tweak I’ve stuck with for years is Winroll: http://www.palma.com.au/winroll/ That’s an incredibly useful little window managment utility and it’s never caused any problems. Being able to shade windows, send them to the back of the stack and set them to always on top makes a lot of the window management deficiencies in Windows more tolerable. To me that’s worth much more than all the flashy graphical gimmicks around at the moment. 2005-11-20 6:59 am You should try ObjectDock. It has great drag and drop support, docklets, and it’s free. http://www.objectdock.com 2005-11-20 8:05 pm It’s one of the first that I tried and I remember thinking that it was pretty poor. IIRC you can drag and drop icons to the Dock, but you can’t drag and drop to icons on the Dock, such as apps and folders. If that’s still the case I’d rather stick with the taskbar and quick launch toolbar. 2005-11-20 4:20 am hobgoblin with powerpro (ppro.org), samurize, some tools from virtualplastic.net and similar sites + win2k i allready have quite nice system. it still looks very windows. but i have a calendar, partition status readout (available space and so on), cpu and mem use, network usage and some winamp readouts sitting on my desktop. the winamp drive and mem/cpu is allso mirroed on the taskbar. the taskbar isnt realy showing tasks tho. instead i have a autohiding powerpro sidebar that does that. and it allso provides me with some handy new hotkeys i have set up, a drop down winamp controller and multiple desktops. all this living happy on a 466Mhz celeron 2005-11-21 12:44 pm Personaly I always patch my uxtheme.dll, I just don’t like luna that much and the old gray is just dull. I know most skins are crap but there are some good ones even if you’ll have to work hard to find them, some I found are OpusOS [ http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/4591314/ ] and the original XP theme Wathercolor [ http://www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=32604 ]. Si skining is nice to give a fresh look to your system (skining as in just changin the look), other then that skining is a big no-no, hate when every app thinks it has to create it’s own kind of button that doesn’t work like every other button (arg…) and shell replacements just never integrate enough and I hardly find justification to add one more running app. — DaF 2005-11-25 7:07 am I’ve been using Aston as a shell replacement for explorer along with AltDesk a desktop manager from the same folks for a couple of years now and I couldn’t live without them. Aston is extremely customizable. It allows me total control over my desktop(s). It is very simple to modify and building your own custom themes by hand is very easy as well. It’s as simple as editing two .rc files and getting your graphics together. My machine looks nothing like Windows when I’m using Windows, nor does it look like anything else I’ve ever seen and I really like that. I have not had one problem with Aston the entire time I’ve used it. In addition to the extensive customization allowed It’s sleek, fast, and rock solid. After using Aston there is no way I could ever revert to using explorer as the default shell. Aston is a very slick shell and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something that’s definitely different.