Bang On: Vista killed the skinning star

Windows Vista changed so much within the world of Windows, as Microsoft threw that red headed step child out there for the world to see. Not all of those changes were good. Your mind is flooding with obvious jokes after reading that, I know, but it's true in ways many people tend to forget. Vista, in many ways, did to the skinning community what The Buggles claimed video did to the radio star: Killed it.

Windows XP was ugly. There was no way around that fact. The default Luna interface looked as though it was drawn by a crayon on a crumpled up napkin. Nothing about it was clean or polished. It was bad enough that, after a while, Microsoft released the Royale visual style to spruce up the appearance of their star operating system. However, before Royale, there was a large community dedicated to changing the appearance of XP. A few select members of that community were celebrities, in their own right, and had a large portion of the geek community captivated by their works of art.

Many artists, such as Neowin's own Kol, Bant, and b0se, jumped onto the scene, shortly after XP was released, and started to create beautiful new visual styles for it. You didn't even have to pay for them, though some of the pieces were surely worth a lot more than the free price tag attached to them. All you had to do was download a small program, let it patch your uxtheme.dll system file (regardless what some companies would have you believe, it's perfectly safe), and install any visual style of your choosing. It seemed as though every week a new theme was coming out as these artists consistently pushed the threshold in an attempt to cover the face of that ugly baby known as XP.

Things were going very well and then Windows Vista crashed the party. With a brand new styling system in place, things felt really locked down. The system was eventually modified so third party visual styles could be created, but none of them, to this day, really capture the amazement that those earlier XP visual styles did. To be perfectly honest, 95% of them (at least) are just slight changes to the default Aero interface. Maybe Vista is harder to cover up or maybe the artists are simply gone now, I can't be sure, but it really stinks.

Allow me a moment of disclosure before continuing. For the record, I am employed by Neowin and Neowin has a business partnership with Stardock. I mention this because Stardock's own WindowBlinds application allows you to change the visual style of XP and Vista as easily as could possibly be. The program also allows for visual styles that stray much further from the default Vista Aero interface design than any other option out there.

The problem with WindowBlinds, though, is two-fold. First off, you have to pay for it. Many people simply can't justify the cost, for whatever reasons they may have. More importantly, though, especially to me, is the fact that almost every single visual style created for WindowBlinds is absolutely terrible. If road kill could be applied as a Windows visual style, that's what most of the styles created for the application would look like. Even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most of those WindowBlinds visual styles require the beholder to be legally blind to find that beauty. None of the people releasing styles for Stardock's product are nearly as artistic as those guys from the XP days. They want to be, but they simply don't have it

Sadly, what Vista started, Windows 7 will continue. The same tightly controlled visual style system is in place in the heralded upcoming version of Windows and, again, people will have to fight against it to make anything more than a default theme of a different color. WindowBlinds will be there, with ugly visual style children in tow, but that won't matter to most people. Most of us will simply choose to settle with what Microsoft gives us and call it a day.

It's sad to see skinning dying off the way it has been, but, we really have Microsoft and Vista to blame for it. Besides the obvious support issues, I don't know why Microsoft is so insistent on locking down it's theme system so tightly, but it's a downer. Here they are, touting how so many different people are all "a PC" and, yet, we can't let any of that individuality show unless we are willing to pay another company for the privilege. Yes, as some of you made very clear last week, functionality is a lot more important than the looks, but who wants to take a Ferrari engine and put it inside a Kia Sedona? You want that slick racing red body to go with the power within. That's not going to happen, though. At the end of it all, the skinning community is dying and most of it is Vista's fault.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Microsoft hits 10,000th patent

Next Story

Sins: Entrenchment to incorporate further beta feedback

176 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I may be the minority here, but having read through the discussion and the article, I'm convinced most folks here have missed the core reason for the changes in regards to skins and themes: corporations. If you're a company with over 10,000 computers, 100,000 computers or more, you don't want every user to be able to customize their computers. You don't want them to have fonts that came out of some 16th Century calligraphy book, colors that match their favorite college football team, backgrounds that are borderline risque, or theme packages that might cause the system to crash. From a corporation standpoint, the goal is to standardize and save money in minimizing downtime and the cost of repairing whatever damage has been done. (EDS used to flatten and reload every single machine on their system every night, to prevent users from installing software. Saved them a lot of grief when virus outbreaks occur as well.)

Microsoft listens to the corporations far more than they listen to the average user, which tends to drive how the user interface is going to look like. Companies want their computers to be tools, not individualized devices, so they want a minimal interface, a simplified look, something that is common to every single device. Vista actually provides a way to lock down the theme using group policy objects (XP has a very reduced set of GPOs) so that the user can't change his background, his theme or his screensaver. (The company I work for already locks down the screensaver in XP, making it impossible for the end user to change any options such as time, appearance or needing to enter the password.)

Themes are nice, some are certainly much better than what Microsoft provides, but always remember that Microsoft's audience isn't Joe Nerd in his home but James BigBucks, the CIO in charge of companies. Volume licensing and annual maintenance contracts is where Microsoft makes the money, not selling Vista to individuals. And those are the ones who'll drive what the desktop looks like in the end.

There is defenatly room for skinning with Vista and Windows 7, however its not like everyone needs to have a skin if they dont want to hurt their eyes like it was in the XP era. Aero is good enough for most people.

I loved Aero from the first time i saw it and i still like it alot, however I belive people want orginality and its allways fun to stand out from the masses.
Stardock bet wrong with all those Ultimate extra moving desktops and ****s, who wants that? It takes up alot of resources and you need Vista Ultimate... who has that?

My tip to Stardock is that if you want the skinners to come back or want skinners to step up their game create a iPhone Appstore like experience where the skinners can make a little money (the Windowblinds store or something). Sell them for like a buck or two (or free) and take 20% of the winnings or whatever. Supply the developer tools for free. Windowblinds is still very affordable, all it needs is more high quality skins.
I mean why are all the mobile apps developers migrating to iPHone? Since there is money to be made ofcourse, with big enough customer base your can make quite a good business out of it.
Another example is the 360 community games. Should be a no brainer for Stardock since they allready have DLC store.

Perhaps people are just realizing what a phenomenal waste of time "skinning" is.
Tough economic times makes people more aware of time they waste.

Hmm. I don't blame Vista. I'm really just over skinning. I use to always skin XP its true but then I got to a level where I really didn't care what the OS looks like anymore... I'm more into keeping things default, neat and clean now... My laptop is XP with the standard blue theme while my PC is Vista. Both clean, unskinned... Just fine.

But I do use rocketdock which is always awesome

I just think this comes down to...

A) Aero is "good/cool enough" to keep most home users from looking to change it, limiting skins to those of us who want to push the envelope
B) Creating a great skin is HARD WORK. It takes a lot of time to get it right. And if you are a good enough artist to design something really spectacular, you're good enough to be hired by people like me for mucho dinero to do it professionally. And a real job tends to cramp any artist's time to create freebies.

This is an opinionated article. IMO, Vista isn't at all ugly (with Aero Transparency) and its themes don't have to be OS changing MSSTYLES. I've seen great VSes that just tweaked Aero a little.
XP was a nasty OS. It looked decent only with the default wallpapers at hand. (Bliss, Windows XP Home, etc)

It was Msstyle skinning that bought me to Neowin back in 02 and I know exactly what you mean. There is no doubt about it, Vista stiffled a lot of creativity as far as skinning went - look what we had before Aero, windows.net by ynotm and the longhorn themes etc. so there was a great energy and expectation prior to Aero.

I was huge into the skinning scene when XP was released.

I went by a different name back in the day, but I made several skins and themes that were majorly successful. I even talked with Bane and Kol quite a bit when I was making my skins, and they helped me out a lot. I made my skins for no profit, and not even for exposure. I made skins for the love of it, and I wanted to share what I had created with the world. I even released the PSD resource files for every element of my skins so that people could port mods from them.

All in all, it was an exciting time. Deskmod, deviantART, and Neowin were my favorite sites at the time. I got out of the skinning scene because the energy died. Its hard to explain if you were never apart of the scene, but if you were like Bane, Kol, and b0se, you'd know what it felt like when it died.

I guess I'm in a minority here since I like Luna. I think Watercolor should have been officially available.

Here's my five cents -

I believe the reason Microsoft does not allow themes to be installed without hacking system files (save for WindowBlinds which is not hacking) is for 'branding'. Having a consistent theme preserves the look and feel of the brand.

Microsoft Office 2003 only really skinned 'properly' with the original Luna theme running. Only under Luna did Office 2003 have the orange highlights on menus , along with the blue toolbars, for instance.

One of my frustrations in the early days of Windows XP was finding theme-aware apps. I remember at one point all I could find was WinZip and the Moziila Suite (in December 2001).

I think theming is alive and well but has been transformed. Notice how so many applications use a theme that overrides that of the operating system: the Windows Live applications; software based on Ribbon X like Office 2007; Google Chrome (on XP); Opera; the butt-ugly ATI Catalyst Control Center.

Theming is applied on software applications for ergonomic reasons. On Office 2007, we can only choose three themes, but notice how various colors serve as indicators - the orange (again), and red and green for contextual tabs on the ribbon. If we were able to choose for any color this would be lost. And so would be the brand. I guess its immportant for commercial software.

Finally, theming under GNOME and KDE is interesting in that when a theme is selected it changes almost immediately - no waiting like on Windows. And toolbar icons are applied accross applications. Windows could learn from that.

On Vista, we can change the border colors. Sadly, blue remains on the menu items. Same on Windows 7. I wonder if if theming would have thrived had Microsoft allowed to change the hues of the Luna theme on the fly.

Thanks for the pointers to the Windows embedded theme, it rocks. And thanks, KoL for all these great XP themes.

Aero glass is fine. It is stylish and, more importantly, unobtrusive.
Really, that is the most important thing - I certainly don't spend all day looking at window borders and menu bars; I'm far more interested in the content of the window.

damn right... i whole heartedly agree with this article...
if you go on deviantart.com under vista visual styles youll notice that there are some really good visual styles are those that are being ported from windows xp.. such as the many lassekongo83 styles for windows xp and linux that are being ported to vista.

Every time I see a post with comments like the ones above I end up shaking my head.

The same people that argue "there is no originality in skinning" slam original skins for being . . something else. Too gaudy or too big or too childish or . . whatever.

There are two kinds of skinners (maybe three).
1. Those that do it for money. - they can't be too out there if the want to sell in volume
2. Those that do it for themselves - they can do what they want and don't care what others think
(and 3. those that do it for others - and they follow whatever is popular.

There are also different kinds of skin users
1. Those that look for a minimalist design - to stay out of their way when they work (or optimize their work)
2. Those that look for art - because they want to be different from everyone else.

I believe that there are enough skinners and users to keep skinning going a while yet.

Lot's of things have changed since skinning began. The tools are better and can skin more. The amount of elements that *can* be skinned has increased significantly. Both those things though require a lot more time than they used to.

I think a lot of "crappy" are an effect of that. Most skinners can't or won't invest the time it takes to make a high quality skin.

Vista didn't kill skinning. Vista killed uxtheme skinning.

Having said that . . judging skins is like judging wine. In the end it only matters if you like it. And if you don't . . you don't have to drink it. On that note, the suite I did "art-direction" on: http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?ski...11&libid=22

I like it. I use it. I don't care if you do or not.

The problem with WindowBlinds, though, is two-fold. First off, you have to pay for it. Many people simply can't justify the cost, for whatever reasons they may have. More importantly, though, especially to me, is the fact that almost every single visual style created for WindowBlinds is absolutely terrible. If road kill could be applied as a Windows visual style, that's what most of the styles created for the application would look like. Even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most of those WindowBlinds visual styles require the beholder to be legally blind to find that beauty. None of the people releasing styles for Stardock's product are nearly as artistic as those guys from the XP days. They want to be, but they simply don't have it


I just have to call bull**** on this one. Nearly every msstyles out there of note was always available for WindowBlinds too.

And there are lots of good WindowBlinds skins out there. It's just that people compare the crap on WindowBlinds to the hand selected great skins found on Neowin rather than comparing the typical crappy msstyles found on themexp to the usual crappy WindowBlinds skin on WinCustomize.

If all the WindowBlinds skins were so crappy, it wouldn't be so popular still. It's just that the typical follower of msstyles never made a serious effort to look for good skins.

Or how about this: If it weren't for the popularity of WindowBlinds, Neowin, as you know it, wouldn't exist. It was sales of WindowBlinds that helped pay for Neowin's upgrades.

The ability to simply import an msstyle into the Windowblinds format isn't enough. There are still UI glitches due to the conversion process, or just Windowblinds itself. Either way, that is enough to deter users who demand perfection.

Have a look at some of the more popular XP VS threads and take a look at some of the criticism users give. Artwork and creativeness aren't enough. Usability and UI glitches are just as important for some.

You're getting very defensive of your product when I never criticize it. The fact of the matter is that most WB authors take advantage of too much of what WB has to offer and make god awful eyesores instead of clean interface designs that increase productivity while looking good. In the entire GUI Olympics, only one theme, the actual winner of the WB category, even impressed me. It was a shockingly weak showing by everyone else considering prizes were on the line.

And there's no need to mention that Stardock helped Neowin out. We all know that and it has nothing to do with my point.

I'm not talking about importing msstyles. I mean that there were truly native versions of most of the major skins of all time done by either the authors themselves or someone else.

b0se, Kol, Bant, Chaninja, Binary, etc. all made native WindowBlinds versions of most of their skins.

BangBang: I agree with what you said in your comment above.

But saying that anyone who likes ANY WindowBlinds skins (which is what you said in your article) must be blind is incredibly insulting and ignorant.

In my mind, msstyles has always been the poor-man's skinning solution. Sure, you could Thalos by Kol as an msstyles or I could get Thalos by Kol for WindowBlinds which had transparencies and shadows and such.

The problem with your article is that you think of Kol and b0se as msstyles skinners and not WindowBlinds skinners being totally unaware that they were WindowBlinds skinners too.

And on top of that, you ignore all the great WindowBlinds skinners.

You could have made a great editorial about how Microsoft killed uxtheme skinning and I would have totally agreed. I'm working on a similar article right now.

Just looking at new skins this week on WinCustomiz there's crap but there's also:
http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?skinid=6771&libid=1
http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?skinid=6767&libid=1
http://www.wincustomize.com/zoom.aspx?skinid=6765&libid=1
http://www.wincustomize.com/zoom.aspx?skinid=6764&libid=1

These are just a few skins this week. You may not like them necessarily but it's lightyears beyond anything coming out of the msstyles camp these days.

And at the height of Windows skinning, it was the msstyles camp that really shined. It was probably a mixture of their skill and the fact that it was a free solution, but the fact of the matter is, at the height of it all, there were some brilliant msstyles being released and some of them (Watercolor and many of b0se's themes) had a cult following. Their WB counterparts never invoked that same kind of rabid fanaticism from the greater community.

However, in any article about visual styles, not mentioning Windowblinds would be a huge oversight. It's there and needs to be discussed if I'm going to make a point about the visual style community dwindling.

No BangBang, there was never a time when the msstyles camp was cranking out more/better stuff. I would know since part of my job was to closely monitor that sort of thing.

It's just that you don't follow the WindowBlinds skinning scene so you didn't know about all the skins that were being made and continue to be made for it. You just take a quick look at WinCustomize.com and notice that nearly all the skins are crappy (which they are). Go look at Themexp.org and tell me that most of those skins aren't crappy too. It all has to do with what's displayed.

And of course you should mention WindowBlinds since it and other products like it represent the bulk of skinning outside of the Neowin bubble. But you didn't need to dedicate a paragraph to trashing the skins on it just because you didn't have time to research the issue.

The only relevant part WindowBlinds has to the death of uxtheme-based skinning is that there's no longer a free way to easily skin Windows.

The "bubble" was much larger than Neowin and involved other sites such as Deviantart and Deskmod (the latter being a hugely popular hub for msstyles before closure).

IMO, most WB themes are a great preview of the technology. They show off some very nice effects and possibilities, but then they fall into the trap of including too many tricks. The Ninentendo DS has a few very good games and is, obviously, a very popular platform, but that doesn't mask the fact that 90% of the software released for it is crap. The same goes Windowblinds.

And those good themes? They get lost in the fray. Then, those few authors who want to create nice themes for your platform and are willing to fight through the never ending stream of the ugly, wind up being turned away when they realize their hard work only serves to make you more money. Guys like the ones who made most of the msstyles that were successful did it for the love of doing it, not for profit.

And, by the way, I never claim WB had anything to do with the death of the skinning star. My only claim is that it's not a truly viable alternative because of the fact that there just aren't any styles that are compelling enough to spend $20 on. And those themes you link to? Your team never uses anything even close to that to advertise WB. Instead they resort to some bulky monstrosity. Surely, if that's going to be the first thing people see, they aren't going to be further enticed to take the plunge.

I understand. But getting back to the point, WindowBlinds is my baby. Calling my baby or its friends (skins) "ugly" are fight'in words.

Mmmm, nostalgia. Much of what was said in the article rings true for me, especially about vista crashing the party, so it was nice to sort of look back on it and remember it for what it was. Thanks Bangbang ;)

Personally, I want to skin. I want to make themes for vista and for windows 7. But it's a lot of work, and far more work now that the tools have changed. In the XP days I could work something up in photoshop and bring it into stylebuilder in a day or two... This is not the case for me anymore (especially since I don't have nearly as much time...). I've tried skinstudio again recently and it just seems to weigh me down, I don't know it like I knew stylebuilder, and I'm not sure I have the energy to get to know it that well. That aside, I hope someone does. I see great potential in windowblinds.

cheers dudes,

I guess my question is "who is bangbang023 and why does he have any credibility whatsoever on this subject?" Everyone is entitled to their opinion, surely, but I've heard of Kol and have used his fantastic skins in the past. I have never heard of the article writer and don't have any idea if he has any skinning or artistic credibility on this issue.

Seriously. I'm not trolling here. I am genuinely interested in knowing more!

It's not really a question of ugliness but a question of efficiency.
When WindowBlinds appeared, I really liked to have the possibility to change the default theme for whatever reasons I wanted. I used to have a large collection of skins but I always ended up using a very narrow selection of theme because I was more efficient with them.
A lot of beautiful skins like G-Pod, Treetog's Sage are too crowded, too complex and when you have to serach for buttons or when you ask yourself: is this checkbox on or off, that means that the information given by the GUI is not presented in an efficient way for the end-user.

I am going to give another more recent example: I recently tried Adni18's 7 Plus. The taskbar is transparent and the text of the taskbar buttons is white. Which means that when you have a light background, you have white text on a light brackground which is completely unreadable.
You see: it takes a lot of time to make a skin and even more to make a usable skin.



@excalpius

He doesn't have any credibility. The fact that his whole article is premised on a complete falsehood is a pretty good indication of that.

If he did about 5 minutes worth of research and looked at the differences between an XP msstyle and a Vista msstyle (at which point he would realize they're nearly identical) his entire article would be completely different.

And yet, WindowBlinds sales continue to grow each year over the previous year.

I agree, msstyles skinning is dead. But WindowBlinds skins aren't. And I agree that 90% of WindowBlinds skins suck. But what's happening is that a lot of the best skinners have gone pro and people are willing to pay $3 to $4 for a good skin.

So yea, the days of free skinning are pretty much dead these days. But in terms of the world of skinning in general, it's going pretty well.

This is stupid.

The same type of skins that work in XP work in Vista.

They won't have the 3D acceleration under Vista, but then again, they didn't have the 3D acceleration under XP either.

Vista gives the user MORE choice. XP style themes or Vista style themes.

Why don't Microsoft make it easy to skin windows completely? I mean of course there are more important things for Windows devs to focus on. But surely they recognise there's a fairly big theme community, built of some very talented designers.

I am so ****ed on this issue. I have resort to the only answer that I can think of which Microsoft are a bunch of fukken idiots. Why da f***** hell they get it that eye candy is what sells their XP in the first place and even Mac OS X. When WinAMP was first introduce, I think the main reason why it was popular was that it's light weight and that you can make skins for it. These corporate aho has no clue or are they being greedy?

I don't think Microsoft killed the skinning community: the skinning community evolved and some fabulous artists: treetog, alexandrie, danill0c, MikeB314 to name a few, have left to pursue other endeavours.

They have worked hours to make graphic styles to get flak from never satisfied users or to have their work stolen by art thieves. I can understand that they want to do something else as they never got the recognition they deserved

Besides, don't you think it's normal that Microsoft worked to changed the graphic style to make Vista better looking than XP for everyone and not just the little geek-skinning community?

Indeed, they all act like it was some giant community. It wasn't then, it isn't now.

They really haven't changed anything in the ability to skin windows. It's just that Microsoft did a really good job graphic wise. This time, anyway.

I think vista actually has a nice feel to it's default skin.
That's the point here - XP was ugly as hell by default...vista, not so much. People don't think about skinning it, because it just works. and it just looks good.

Also, I agree with @iamwhoiam

I agree. If I have to use XP, I always set it to the silver color scheme of the default skin. I have no idea why MS decided that the blue doodle was chosen as the default scheme because the silver is much less offensive.

Now, Vista and especially Win7 look great to me. There's a simple, modern elegance to the theme and it makes OSX look dated by comparison.

The problem with most 3rd party skins was that they had sacrificed usability and clarity for flashy (usually just awful) looks. The controls were less usable and identifiable and so on. One of the few XP skins I liked was the Opus OS 1.5. It didn't deviate too far from the XP theme but looked better and took less space (back then I was using smaller displays so all vertical space saved was great).

Me too jumped the skinning bandwagon while on xp, but being on Vista for almost 2 years now never looked into skinning it. Feel the same about Windows 7 as well.

This was an AWESOME article. Totally true, I've seen it all over time...

I too bought Windowblinds to hope that it cured my skinning ails on vista. No such luck. Some of the worst money I ever spent, I say.

There are lot's of skins for Vista. You don't need to pay any money to use skins.
It's the same as with XP. So what's changed?
The UI got better. Vista looks much better than XP and much less people want to change anything.
I don't really like OS X but look at it this way: There are next to none good skins for OS X. It's skin is good enough. So is Vista's skin.

RealFduch said,
There are lot's of skins for Vista. You don't need to pay any money to use skins.
It's the same as with XP. So what's changed?
The UI got better. Vista looks much better than XP and much less people want to change anything.
I don't really like OS X but look at it this way: There are next to none good skins for OS X. It's skin is good enough. So is Vista's skin.

It's mainly on the point that talented artists who developed visual styles for XP aren't doing it for vista because it's too hard, too complicated or otherwise just not around to do it.

My best example is take lassekongo83 http://lassekongo83.deviantart.com/ he makes the best xp themes imo but he just doesn't do them for vista because he just refuses to use it which is what the prime example is here of what happened.

i went crazy with stardock's windowblinds when i was on xp but then i only use the shareware which made me format my C: every time it expired. then i switched to XP visual styles available and free to use at DA but there were some bugs i had to live with but nothing serious. when vista came DA already had a good collection of free visual styles for vista. my desktop revolves around this theme:
http://porkporkpork.deviantart.com/art/my-...a-year-91165913
i've modified it again with a new dock and wallpaper but i'm too lazy to upload :)

btw, DA artists already have visual styles ready for windows7.

3rd impact said,
but then i only use the shareware which made me format my C: every time it expired

I guess you've never heard of disk imaging software.

^I know quite a few people that restore to a clean image when software is about to expire to get out of paying for it. You'd be surprised that quite a few do it. My friend would restore his computer every time a new version of Ad Muncher would come out.

yeah i did. i do not live in a country that pays $ and my mother told me never to use credit cards online heh. also i was much of a noob then hence the repeated formatting. now i'm just semi-noob XD.

DA visual styles ftw!

I think another reason for the poor theming community is that quite a few artists have switched to Macs, and not looked back after the garbage that is Vista.

I was deeply involved in the XP theming community (Watercolor, collaborations on Wmp skins, and other work). Unfortunately, I switched to OS X and Windows couldn't ever win me back.

RealFduch said,
Watercolor? You mean the skin Microsoft created for Windows XP/Whistler?

Yes, I ported it to the msstyle format, and also windowblinds format later on.

i haven't designed any skins for OS X yet, as theming in Leopard (as of this moment), and Tiger is/was basically non-existent, or too restrained.

If you're going to make some crack about OS X limiting theming just as much as Vista - I'm well aware of this fact already.

My comment about Vista being garbage was merely from a system standpoint, not a theming standpoint.

"If you're going to make some crack about OS X limiting theming just as much as Vista - I'm well aware of this fact already."

Actually, you aren't well aware of anything if you think there is any difference between the 'limits' placed on Vista themeing vs XP themeing. The fact that people are porting XP themes to Vista by merely changing asset numbers is evidence of this.

Indeed, XP skins can be ported to Vista in real-time by SkinStudio (which is free). But since they usually lack transparency effects, I personally prefer to run the newer Vista-designed skins.

@geoken.

Guess I should have said just as limiting as windows

Both require hacking system files in order to theme (natively), but OS X is a tad bit more restricting in what you can do with various theme elements.

I'm not saying OS X is easier or better to theme at all.

@Binary
"Guess I should have said just as limiting as windows"

Oh, sorry. I thought you were trying to continue the OP's argument that MS made some changes which resulted in Vista skinning being harder than XP skinning.

Good editorial. The XP Skinning community was a success even before XP went retail. I think I remember getting StyleXP with some visual styles installed the 2nd or 3rd day of running XP on my home computer (later, the much more preferable method of the uxtheme.dll hack).

Every once-and-awhile I'll take a look at the visual style themes for Vista in the Neowin forums...and as the author has pointed out, there isn't anything revolutionary happening there. Just some tweaks to Aero.

It would be nice if MS embraced the theming community but I think they are at a liability disadvantage if they did. If they supported theming in their OS that would mean they would have to SUPPORT the people having problems with 3rd party themes in their OS.

Artist were drawn to making Visual Styles for Windows XP because it was good publicity for them.

If Stardock would make WindowBlinds FREEWARE I'm sure it would kick-off a new generation of theme creators. Right now, what incentive does KoL (for instance) have in making a kick ass theme for WindowsBlinds? He won't get any money for it. And the audience is very small because not many people want spend money on an eye-candy app.

Shadrack said,
If Stardock would make WindowBlinds FREEWARE I'm sure it would kick-off a new generation of theme creators. Right now, what incentive does KoL (for instance) have in making a kick ass theme for WindowsBlinds? He won't get any money for it. And the audience is very small because not many people want spend money on an eye-candy app.

I doubt that will ever happen, as Stardock's only objective is to make money off it. They don't care about anything else besides that.
The creators indeed don't have any incentive to make good skins for WB - very small audience who is paying for eye candy, and they would only help them to sell their WB, while at the same time not getting anything for it.

Island Dog said,
And how exactly would development be paid for? I always find it funny when someone says something should be "free".

What "development" are you talking about?
Take Deskscapes for example. They just created some cryptic proprietary archive file format which even they do not use (they just unpack plain .avi/.mpg files from there). That's all they did. the engine is built in Microsoft's DreamScene. The only thing they created is the "protected" file format made solely on purpose of grabbing money.

excalpius said,
Indeed. Heaven forbid the programmers and artists should be paid for their time and effort. Ahem.

I don't think the artists would get paid for their efforts, and that was my point (although it seemed to be missed). Stardock sells this theme/eye-candy software and expect artists to donate their time and effort and for what? For a small number of users... Its a chicken and the egg scenario. Can't get too many people willing to pay for the theme program when all the themes are crappy and no one wants to make good themes for something no one is using.

And yet, for $5, myself and many others bought Wraith, etc. I know some of that went to the artist who created the works in question. And that was my point.

If Stardock would make WindowBlinds FREEWARE I'm sure it would kick-off a new generation of theme creators. Right now, what incentive does KoL (for instance) have in making a kick ass theme for WindowsBlinds?


Ack. Kols makes WindowBlinds skins. His skins are available for both WindowBlinds and msstyles with the WindowBlinds versions often having more/better features.

This is a great example of the kind of (sorry) ignorance displayed in the editorial about WindowBlinds. Nearly every major msstyles in history is available as a WindowBlinds skin too. Kol, Bant, and b0se all have made WindowBlinds skins, some of which are only available for WindowBlinds.

A few seconds of research would have shown that:
http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?libid=1&search=Kol

One of the best skins of all time by b0se is ONLY available as a WindowBlinds skin:

http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?skinid=4350&libid=1

And that skin will run on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and soon Windows 7.

What "development" are you talking about?
Take Deskscapes for example. They just created some cryptic proprietary archive file format which even they do not use (they just unpack plain .avi/.mpg files from there). That's all they did. the engine is built in Microsoft's DreamScene. The only thing they created is the "protected" file format made solely on purpose of grabbing money.


No, DeskScapes does not use Windows DreamScenes as its engine. It also supports dynamic DirectX themes and works on all versions of Windows Vista and Windows XP.

I think you're browsing Wincustomize too much. That place is made up of garbage.
I've seen some pretty awesome, clean looking WB skins or entire GUI kits for Vista on deviantART and smaller forums dedicated to skinning.

"More importantly, though, especially to me, is the fact that almost every single visual style created for WindowBlinds is absolutely terrible. If road kill could be applied as a Windows visual style, that's what most of the styles created for the application would look like."

Which is why MS don't make skinning easy - because 99% of skins would be horrible and every tom, dick and harry would be installing them and it would give the OS a bad name!

This is that "techy" overly thrown together lines kind of theme I was talking about. This theme could be absolutely wonderful with a lot less. Instead, you get a frame inside a frame with this odd "futuristic" approach.

Wraith works VERY well on large desktops at high resolutions...like I use. I agree it might be overkill on someone's home default dinky desktop.

Regardless, if you have a problem with clearly Art Deco lines and style of Wraith, don't ever pretend you are qualified to judge anything on its artistic merits ever again.

:)

"I'd buy this skin if it didn't have such bulky window frames..."

As I mentioned above, I work in 5000x1200+ screens across 3+ monitors. At that resolution (as you can see in my screenshot), Wraith is very thin and the Art Deco style is elegant, not overpowering. I'm sure it could be too much on a lower resolution screen, much as Aero itself looks overwhelmingly "glass-dominate" on low resolution screens, but gets better and better the higher resolution one uses.

If you say so. I don't think any resolution could make that skin better, but hey, that's just my opinion. If you want to call me stupid for thinking the theme you like sucks, go ahead.

I'm sorry, but that Wraith skin looks like something a 13 year-old Counter-Strike addict would use to make his desktop "t3h 1337 h4x0r pwnZz l0l".

And sure, go ahead and try and justify your opinion over others by using some absurd line like "Don't pretend you're qualified to judge", as if that somehow invalidates the opinion of others and/or makes yours superior.

@Althenar,

I didn't. But as a multi-award winning artist, my artistic OPINION certainly carries more weight than your pedantic hyperbolic rant about 13 year olds does.

As an opinion, everyone is free to agree or disagree with any of us. It's just that some of the posters here actually get paid a lot of money as artists and have the awards of our peers as artists, while some of the posters are just talking out of their asses.

It's up to the reader to decide which is which.

As for me, I LOVE Art Deco inspired work like Wraith. Others LOVE their interface in clown colors, while others like blue candy colored sliders. Live and let live, I say.

But this article and thread is about the state of SKINNING, which is all about all of us having the chance to customize our desktops to our own personal preferences.

No, your opinion certainly does NOT carry more weight, you could be the very reincarnation of Picasso himself and it still wouldn't give your opinion any more weight.

When it comes down to a subjective field like art and design, NO ONE has a superior or inferior opinion, and being a pretentious award-winning artiste does not change that.

"No, your opinion certainly does NOT carry more weight"

Perhaps not with YOU. But with PROFESSIONAL artists, people who design the things you see and love every day, Picasso's opinion would carry more weight than either of ours. Maybe not with a user interface, but hey, I would have loved to have seen what he would have come up with there if he'd been alive to give it a shot! 8D

To argue otherwise is just overly-defensive posturing.

The argument that WindowBlinds costs money, so therefore it's pushed to the back of skinning has become quite ridiculous. WB is $20. You can blow that in a fast food place in 3 minutes. It's nothing considering how much time and use you can get out of it.

SkinStudio, what you can use to make skins, is free. Completely free. There is a plus version that has some cool features, but the free version is more than enough to create a complete WindowBlinds skin. I see a lot of people complain that there isn't enough themes "for them", but I also notice they have never created one either.

Sure, there are many WB skins that I personally wouldn't use, but I can also say the same for .msstyles. However, take the time to actually look instead of putting all skins into one category based on something I would be someone never actually tried, then I'm pretty confident you will find something you like.

The problem is that the WB library is very much like the Nintendo DS game library: There are a few gems, but they're buried beneath the shovelware.

Island Dog said,
The argument that WindowBlinds costs money, so therefore it's pushed to the back of skinning has become quite ridiculous. WB is $20. You can blow that in a fast food place in 3 minutes. It's nothing considering how much time and use you can get out of it.

SkinStudio, what you can use to make skins, is free. Completely free. There is a plus version that has some cool features, but the free version is more than enough to create a complete WindowBlinds skin. I see a lot of people complain that there isn't enough themes "for them", but I also notice they have never created one either.

Sure, there are many WB skins that I personally wouldn't use, but I can also say the same for .msstyles. However, take the time to actually look instead of putting all skins into one category based on something I would be someone never actually tried, then I'm pretty confident you will find something you like.


I have never, not even one single solitary time, seen a Windowsblinds skin that I would even want to use, let alone pay for.

Infusion- said,
I have never, not even one single solitary time, seen a Windowsblinds skin that I would even want to use, let alone pay for.

And that negates the opinion of the poster, or those of us who have seen WindowBlinds we've felt were worth paying for, how exactly?

Just because you haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It MIGHT just mean that A) you're a really cheap SOB, B) you have no artistic taste whatsoever, C) you haven't looked hard enough, or D) all of the above. ;)

Odds are, since there are SO many variations out there--most by amateurs surely, but some are masterpieces by true artistes and professionals--that it's C.

excalpius said,
And that negates the opinion of the poster, or those of us who have seen WindowBlinds we've felt were worth paying for, how exactly?

Just because you haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It MIGHT just mean that A) you're a really cheap SOB, B) you have no artistic taste whatsoever, C) you haven't looked hard enough, or D) all of the above. ;)

Odds are, since there are SO many variations out there--most by amateurs surely, but some are masterpieces by true artistes and professionals--that it's C.

Or E) I'm not 12 years old and like flamboyant BS cluttering up my desktop?

excalpius said,
Just because you haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It MIGHT just mean that A) you're a really cheap SOB, B) you have no artistic taste whatsoever, C) you haven't looked hard enough, or D) all of the above. ;)

Odds are, since there are SO many variations out there--most by amateurs surely, but some are masterpieces by true artistes and professionals--that it's C.


Any evidence to prove your words?

And that negates the opinion of the poster, or those of us who have seen WindowBlinds we've felt were worth paying for, how exactly?

Just because you haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It MIGHT just mean that A) you're a really cheap SOB, B) you have no artistic taste whatsoever, C) you haven't looked hard enough, or D) all of the above.

Odds are, since there are SO many variations out there--most by amateurs surely, but some are masterpieces by true artistes and professionals--that it's C


That doesn't make his/her opinion any less valid any more than it would validate the OPs opinion.

Free. "Good." Original. Pick two.

Making professional-quality skins is hard work. It takes skill and time - and far more of both nowadays than a decade ago. The people good enough to do it well have enough skill to be paid for their work. If you're not willing to pay them, they'll go off and earn their money some other way.

WindowBlinds skinners tend to have very personal goals, which is the reason I put "Good" in quotes. Popularity (and a professional look) can be inversely proportional to originality. For example, most people would consider my first skin, Digital Age, pretty ugly. But it achieved its goal of depicting animated circuitry - something nobody had really done on that scale before.

If you're looking for professionally-made themes, you're gonna have to start paying for them, or be satisfied with minor tweaks to originals created by professionals. If you actually want to actually skin something, grab a copy of whatever software you like and start from scratch. What you make is unlikely to look professional, but at least it'll be yours.

I hoped the community could actually take advantage of DWM.exe to create animations etc. thereby taking skining to a seriously awesome point. But as of now its just horribly tacky. Not that it wasnt back in the XP days where every 14 year old kid wanted a MacOS X skin to satisfy some selfesteem hole created by the RDF.

I like Aero more than Luna - at least the basic gray/black blends with whatever wallpaper you want to use - but a change would be nice. I don't blame the elite themers like Kol, bant, and b0se for not breaking their backs to skin Vista, but I sure miss their works. Big belated thanks to them (and others!) for their efforts!

I used to have Windowblinds, but like bangbang said, 95%+ of the skins made are total garbage that makes Windows 3.1 look aesthetically appealing. If Stardock had more professional themes that didn't cost anything, or maybe "buy WB and your first five themes are free," I might repurchase it. But, as is, I'll stick w/ Aero while hoping a set of tools for the true artists comes about that allows them to gift us all with themes again.

I made a few skins for XP, and it was fun. But I've yet to make any for Vista, and don't really have plans to. Not only is the interface MUCH better, but my life is much busier now. Don't know that I have the time (or energy) for it anymore....

Luna was ugly, and the first thing i did on my machine was turn off the fisher price theme. Classic in XP is great. With Vista i feel like i'm looking at my content through a damn keyhole.

Yeah Vista sucks because the little kids can´t make their own themes. :rolleyes:

This article is ridiculous. Get a life.

The entire premise of this article is ridiculous. Creating an MSStyle for XP and Vista are almost identical.

The author is taking an existing situation (the decline of the themeing community) and with absolutely no knowledge of the actual process of themeing, inventing a completely incorrect theory as to what caused this based on a complete absence of any facts.

Believe me that is not almost identical and without a builder like StyleBuilder makes things more difficult. We have Ave's Vista Style Builder but is not as "user friendly" as Stylebuilder.

Open MSStyle in resource hacker.
Extract all pics
Use a guide to find image numbers (or discover them yourself)
Make new image in the same dimensions as the old one.
Compress pics back into msstyle.

It's the exact same process. If your argument is that there are better third party tools on XP, then that's completely separate from what I was saying. The OP was trying to say it's MS's fault due to some changes he thinks they made to the themeing system. My point was that the themeing system is almost identical, the XP third party tools may be easier but that's completely separate from anything MS did or didn't do.

I am with Kol on this one. The reason I am not theming Vista is ultimately because it's a different process. I spent years learning to make skins with stylebuilder and frankly I don't have the time to learn anything different.

Nice article by the way

I understand what you guys are saying. My point is that you can't place the blame on MS (the way the article attempts to). MS isn't responsible for the quality of 3rd party tools.

I used themes every now and then when I had Windows XP. I wouldn't even both using a theme for Vista because I think Areo still looks great.

Eh, skinning isn't a major issue for me. The only reason I'd skin Vista or XP would be to make it look like OS X.

why not just run OS X? besides matching all your existing applications, it's easier to just buy a copy and run it natively on your machine.

I DO run OS X. I have several Macs. It's just that I'm forced to use PC's at work and at school, so I try to make them look less repulsive.

Windows XP was ugly.

Ha ha ha, ummm, what? Sorry, but if this is the premise of your argument then I have to stop reading. There's nothing wrong with XP and Windows 7 looks spectacular. If you don't like it, fine, but I'm not going to feel sorry for the "skinning community" just because they aren't satisfied with the customizations already available in Windows.

If it's that big of a problem perhaps they should design their own operating system and stop complaining about Microsoft's.

everytime i see an article like this one - especially one asking about why you have to pay another company to have it done - i just think "antitrust violation".

there are several companies we can blame (in addition to MS i suppose) for having to pay for certain functionality that we would otherwise have built-in to the system. if it were, some company (maybe even Stardock) would try to sue for locking out competition.

plus there's always the system stability argument, but this one is more likely to me.

There's nothing wrong with Aero for the majority, unlike Luna which had everyone eager to want to change it. Personally I've grown out of that phase where it has to look different, I have work to get done, which is more important to me.

And Windowblinds had some very nice styles back on XP, but like well crafted Firefox themes, they are hard to find.

IMO, this is the most truthful article I've seen on Neowin for a long time. Vista's lack of a skinning community is one of the main reasons I tend to get back to XP, after messing with Vista for a while. I just don't like the native theme, and there's too much glass (although AERO is a good thing). I bought Windowblinds in the hopes of fixing that same problem, but like the writer of the article writes, most of them are terrible and bloated. I myself am more of a Licorice or Knorr VS man.

Windows XP were not that 'ugly' as the article tries to suggest. Perhaps a bit to much of a jpeg artifact on the Bliss background, but I guess they took low specs machines of those days into account for the default background.

And there were really some great themes available for Windows XP, my two personal favorites would be Modplex2 and Dragonstyle. Reasons why has Microsoft locked the uxtheme.dll down could be debated, but they could at least made a public contest for the best 10 new themes each year and digitally sign them (after internal testing for stability or whatever other reasons they had for locking the uxtheme.dll down). That would be a very popular move from Microsoft.

I think its so that they can charge you extra if you want more theme options to run your limit of 3 simultaneous programmes in... >_>

Disallowing the theme to be changed allowed Microsoft, and Microsoft only, to change the UI. In today's malware world, that was a very good decision.

Now, malware is mostly limited to toolbars, wallpaper and trayicons. If it could change the UI elements we'd have ad's all over the place. Thank goodness the themes require digital certification.

Hi Editor!

the article makes valid points about skinning and vista/win7's visual system, but the journalism is not upto the mark. Unprofessional is ok but giving up basic principles can be avoided i wouldn't go into the details but broadly some usage which irked me is below.

phrases like "Windows XP was ugly" "So, what happened? Well, Windows Vista happened" "This is where I need to be honest before continuing." "Sorry, but it's true." make it sound not just unprofessional but childish.

i hope you get the drift!

Thankss for reading!!

While I agree that Vista certainly made things much harder, I think the skinning community was dying before that came along. The reason for that was, I suspect, related to what you pointed out in your above piece:

... almost every single visual style created for WindowBlinds is absolutely terrible.


I'm sure the case was true of other skin systems too, but I was a dedicated WindowBlinds user and so that is the product I know. Undoubtedly, there were some rare gems created for WindowBlinds, but the overwhelming majority were stinkers. Even those skins used to advertise the WindowBlinds product often left much to be desired, with their oversize bevels and gregarious and impractical colours. Without any quality control, the rare exceptional skins became harder and harder to find, and the whole thing just started to look cheap and nasty. Of course, it can be argued that good design is subjective, but that is no excuse for the absolute detritus that began to litter many skinning websites. I genuinely believe there was room for some quality control, but I suspect this was omitted in order to make the product more popular in terms of number of users.

In one sense, I'm rather pleased that Vista doesn't allow such free-flowing change to its interface. If it did, we would simply see a repeat of what happened to XP and I'm really not sure that would be a good thing.

Oh man, I hated those bulky skins with all those "techy" looking designs that did nothing but clutter the interface. All that /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯/ look for title bars and such was so... euuuughhh...

I think XP's UI was very efficient, and used up as much spaces as possible with useful things, most of which could be turned off.

Vista's UI is the single thing that keeps me away from vista. The UI wastes more pixels for absolutely no reason than any other OS...EVER. Why do i need a 250px wide full-screenheight always-present side-bar that has 2 items at the top and nothing but a gradient for the rest of the 90% of unusable space. just ****ing aweful. I was hoping they would make the UI more flexible and XML based, but they really screwed up royally this time. I'm looking forward to using entire shell replacements in the near future. Sharp-E and Cairo Shell are my frontrunners, although the latter is a bit too OSX for my technical tastes.

I have lost all faith in MS's ability to design an efficient usable interface, eyecandy doesnt cut it anymore, and btw, M$, ribbon is hardly usable.

: (
Leon

The sidebar is completely customizable, removable, etc. It can auto-hide too.

And the Ribbon UI has been shown in tests to be quite a bit more efficient. I hardly think they'd roll out such a change without doing their own research about it.

It really seems to me that your experience with Vista has been cursory at best.

As usual for Microsoft, almost everything is customizable to your liking. The sidebar you described has never existed and one would only come to such a conclusion if they had only seen a picture of vista once or twice.

As you can customize the scale of pretty much anything I dont see your issues. Then complaining at the side bar just shows you have never used it.

Leeoniya said,
I have lost all faith in MS's ability to design an efficient usable interface, eyecandy doesnt cut it anymore, and btw, M$, ribbon is hardly usable.

Survey says...BONK!!! Thanks for playing.

Well... xp doesn't look good so people wants to change the appearance.
Vista looks generally good so people don't have so much need to change the appearance. Pretty obvious.
Oh and,
Classic theme > all

Agreed, I only use classic on XP so I haven't seen Luna in years. Trouble is the classic theme on Vista looks terrible, and it's even worse on 7. It is obvious they have not bothered to update it for the new buttons, dialogs, etc. A lot of people will say "why should they" because it's "ugly and outdated" but I think it's perfect myself. Looks a lot better than that OS X glass ripoff stuff in Vista. Hopefully someone will make an updated classic visual style for Windows 7 that works properly.

I agree that maybe people don't want to change Vista since it looks good by itself. I mean, what was the big craze in the skinning world for a while there and probably still is? Making XP look like Vista.

I've used a variety of themes on Vista, but none can really deviate far from the original theme before it looks weird in my opinion. I'm currently using a Windows 7-esque theme, but even that looks extremely close to Vista's original Aero.

Personally, I like the Vista theme. Many do. It's understandable if there isn't much desire for customization from that point of view. I think we can all agree that it is much better than the fisher price XP theme.

And the Windows 7 version of Aero is more polished that the Vista version, similar to how the latest OS X revision "is much better than the original fisher price" blue jelly gumdrop OS X release.

Skinning died right around the same time Deskmod died. Most of the people who did the real visionary work in skinning have long since moved on. It's sad really.

I totally agree. I was a daily visitor to Deskmod (and to a lesser extent, customize.org) back in the day. Those were some good times with some really amazing work coming out pretty much every day.

The day Deskmod went away, I almost cried...

Totally agree. I find I still can't get back into it, not in the same way as it once did. Sad really. Miss those good ol IRC launch events... chaos... :)

I'm pretty sure there were a lot of sad people the day the doors closed there. Thankfully, however, sites like DA have kept it going, even if its only a very small portion or their focus.

So, what happened? Well, Windows Vista happened. With a brand new styling system in place, things felt really locked down. The system was eventually modified so third party visual styles could be created, but none of them, to this day, really capture the amazement that those earlier XP visual styles did. To be perfectly honest, 95% of them (at least) are just slight changes to the default Aero interface. Maybe Vista is harder to cover up or maybe the artists are simply gone now, I can't be sure, but it really stinks.

This is a bitter truth.. I am not so happy with Aero theme and also 3rd party themes hardly change the looks

Lol it reminds me of when I went into this forum in Neowin... called Windows Customization.

I just wanted to look through all the skins made by Neowinians or other people... Most of the time, I saw a name who caught my attention, like "Shine" or something, and I just clicked on it... then clicked on the picture to show a fullscreen capture and went like "what did he change?". It just feels exactly the same as the default Aero.

Then I thought "maybe it became impossible to change so much in Vista compared to XP" but I don't think this statement would be true...

Anyway, personally, I find every theme MS does feels dirty to me, it'd be great to be able to actually change from beginning to end or simply revamp a visual style in 7. I'm a little deceived that they cut away this feature.

Not that I really care - I use Windows like 5% of the time, and I do it to play games so I don't see Windows ' interface, or sometimes I just use CATIA or AutoCAD or something. But for Windows users, I'd feel great if they could continue tu customize it as well.

People complain Windows XP is Ugly (it wasn't terrible tbh for its age), it looks better now and simply theres relatively little point in skinning it.

Exactly. XP's leaked black theme, the Zune theme and the Windows Embedded dark blue theme is pretty good looking. Reduce the size of the caption buttons from 25 to 23 and it looks quite professional.

More importantly, though, especially to me, is the fact that almost every single visual style created for WindowBlinds is absolutely terrible. If road kill could be applied as a Windows visual style, that's what most of the styles created for the application would look like.

Amen to that.

Yep.. Shame that likely won't change. There's nothing in it for the good designers to return. If they changed that, it would be different. Until then, only people willing to dedicate the time into making a theme are those without a job and/or just messing around. The professional designers are busy with jobs and doing things they enjoy. I once enjoyed making themes, but these days I can't justify the time it takes to create one, when I could be doing things actually worth something. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

its not that you CANT make good visual styles for windowblinds...its why would a theme designer basically give the credit of his work to another product?
a product that profits from his hard work, where the maker gets nothing.

if stardock started sharing revinues with theme designers there would probably be TONS.