There 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.
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:
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!
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.
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
Next up, the dock.
The dock might just be the most defining feature of Mac OS X. I already used dock replacements for Windows even before I dove into aquafying my Windows. The dock is, for me, simply a far easier way of managing my shortcuts and running applications. And, it looks a whole lot better too.
Y’z Dock has been discontinued, and therefore I advice against using it. Its spin-off Aquadock is considered a rip, and since we do not want to support rippers, do not use it.
The only two real options, therefore, are ObjectDock and Moby Dock. My personal preference is ObjectDock. Why? Well, it uses fewer resources than Moby Dock, and therefore performs better. Its drawback as opposed to Moby Dock is that it has reduced functionality. So, it is kind of up to your own preference (and system specifications) which dock you prefer.
Another defining feature of Mac OS X is the top bar. This bar represents the menu bar of the application that is on top. On an aquafied Windows, it will also hold the start menu. Whether you want this functionality or not, is entirely up to you. Some people might not prefer having their bar on top of the screen. I do prefer this, though, and if you do also, there is really only one viable option: ObjectBar. You will have to pay though, but there really isn’t anything else. Other programs are in development though, but they are not as advanced as ObjectBar (yet!). So, for now, we will have to settle with this.
After buying and installing ObjectBar, you will need a theme to recreate the top bar. The best resource is Crni’s site. This site is a wonderful resource for other applications as well, by the way. Anyway, download one of his skins, and apply it. In the configuration screen of OB, enable the following option: “Hide menus of applications when a replacable section is present.” This will hide all your menu bars, except the ones in Mozilla and Thunderbird.
Well, you have the menu bar now, let’s move on to applications in general.
Mac OS X comes preinstalled with some very fine applications. I will list a selection of them and then my personal replacement of choice. I will not detail any further on alternatives for these applications.
Finder is a problem child. There are a lot of Finder clones out there, but they, well, don’t function quite well. They are too slow, too buggy or too basic. Development on these clones continues. You will have try out several yourself in order to decide which one to use. I do not use a Finder clone. I have several installed, though.
Download MyIE2 and use the accompanied Safari skin. Google for a Safari screenshot, and use that as a guide as how to arrange the various buttons.
For shadows under your windows, get this application.
Install SystemPreferences. Get it here.
There are a lot more applications and skins out there that you could use in order to aquafy Windows even more. To list them all, would be impossible. A very good place to start, in any case, is osx-e.
I wish to thank everyone working on applications and skins in order to give us, mere x86 users, the Mac OS X desktop experience. I cannot name all of you individually, but you know who you are, if you read this.
About the author:
Thom Holwerda is a regular visitor on OSNews.com and has contributed more than once. His first computer experience dates back to 1991 (a 286 entered the household). Over the years he has played around with several computers, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he really started to experiment OS-wise with computers. His favorite operating systems are Windows Server 2003, Mandrake Linux and BeOS. He also has an affinity for the QNX Neutrino RTOS. He is also contributing to the SkyOS project, being responsible for the Dutch translation, and also functioning as an overall moderator on SkyOS’ independent forum, The eXpert Zone.
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