Interview: Stardock's CEO talks about Decor8 for Windows 8

Editors note: Please read our disclaimer on Neowin's relationship to Stardock in our forums.

Software developer Stardock released its first Windows 8 product, Start8, as a free beta several months ago, and recently launched its commercial version. The software allows users who access the "Modern" UI of Windows 8 to use a more traditional Start menu. Now the company has just launched its second Windows 8 project, Decor8. This new program offers up a way for people to change the background of the Start screen in Windows 8 to whatever they want, unlike the current default version which has just a few limited options.

We got a chance to chat with Stardock CEO Brad Wardell to find out more about Decor8 as well as some other topics.

First, you launched the first, commercial, version of Start8 for Windows 8 a few weeks ago. What has the response been like so far?

It's been great. We've gotten a lot of positive response from people and businesses that wanted the performance improvements of Windows 8 but didn't want to mess with the "Metro" Start screen. 

There are also a lot of other Start menu products made for Windows 8 that are being released. How do you feel about all of these software products coming out and do you think Start8 compares well to those products?

I think the single biggest advantage Start8 has is that it is designed to look, feel and function exactly like the Start menu people are used to. The other programs I've tried all seem to want to put their own spin on the Start menu. I think most people are interested in just getting the Start menu back.

Stardock is releasing its second Windows 8 product, Decor8. What can you tell us about it?

Decor8 is our first program that starts to address the limitations of the Windows 8 Start screen. The default Start screen doesn't allow you to use your own wallpapers and such. Decor8 lets you use your own backgrounds for the Start screen. 

Being able to change the Windows 8 Start screen background images seems to be a natural for Microsoft to support. Why do you think the company didn't put this kind of support in the first place?

Frankly, I'm baffled by it. Android and iOS devices all let you do this. I don't know why Microsoft would lock down something as basic as customizing the background of the Start screen.

What else can you do with Decor8?

That's pretty much the focus for 1.0. Let people customize the Start screen to suit their preferences.

What price are you charging for the software?

Same price as Start8 -- $4.99.

Windows 8 has been in general release for a couple of weeks now. Has your opinion of the OS changed at all since then?

Not really. I still contend that Microsoft should let people completely separate the desktop and mobile touch experiences.

What other Windows 8-based products does Stardock have in the works?

Right now we're focusing on getting software out there that addresses the most obvious issues that affect our Windows customers. Start8 is designed to let people use Windows 8 as a desktop. I'm happy to say that once intalled, a user who just wants to use Windows 8 as an improved Windows 7 experience can do so. We recently released Fences 2, which supports Windows 8. Our upcoming programs will start to address the limitations of the "Modern UI". We also are working on getting our existing product base over to Windows 8 such as DeskScapes and WindowBlinds.

Will Stardock ever publish software on the Windows Store?

Only Metro apps can be on the Windows store. I think there are some great opportunities for up and coming developers there. I expect in the long-run we'll start targeting Metro. But in the near term, we want to do what we can to make Windows 8 compelling for our customer base to make the migration to Windows 8 painless.

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about Stardock's current and future plans?

It's a great time to be a software developer. Right now, developers can create some really interesting things for Android, iOS, WinRT, Win32, MacOS and even Linux (see the work Valve is doing on Linux). There's never been a time like it. And as a result, there's an unprecedented number of choices for tech consumers. I think we'll look back at this time as the start of a real gold age for tech enthusiasts. It's really exciting.

We would like to thank Brad for answering our questions!

Images via Stardock

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"Our upcoming programs will start to address the limitations of the "Modern UI"."

Please let this mean 'a program which lets you run metro apps in a window on your desktop'. As a happy Start8 owner, an app like that would complete the experience and actually let me use some of the cool new metro apps without having to give up the flexibility of the desktop's window management.

Good stuff, Brad and Neil...............I think you've won a lot of people over..........and as you know, only too well.............this is a tough crowd at Neowin!

I'd still say photographic/high-detail wallpaper for the Start Screen is too distracting. Simple pattern-based wallpaper would work though.

I'm tired of the justifications of the limited options available. Yes If i have chosen my own wallpaper it could be busy and downright ugly, but it's my choice. I choose to make it ugly, all what's needed is a warning but let me do whatever I want to do.

I downloaded, it is amazing the difference it makes. Sure some backgrounds could make it too busy, but then android backgrounds can be that way as well. I can understand why MS didn't include it for now, its a new interface and that would be one more layer to have to have to control.
This app is terrific, especially when you include the color changing abilities. I'm using an app for Wallpapers (really lockscreens) to save nice HD wallpapers. It is easy to set where it stores the images in Decor8 so it can find them every time.
Well done.

remixedcat said,
wanna try it on server 2012 but the links don't work :-(

Our server seems to have having issues right now.

If you try again later it should be ok.

OK, I literally gasped when I saw this! YAS!!!

I wish Microsoft had allowed users to add custom backgrounds to the Start screen, specially since the color combo with some of the background patterns are horrors.com central.

I bought WindowBlinds back in the XP days but got tired of the Vista themes. Start8 and Decor8 look like great programs that I'll look into once I get my Windows 8 tablet!

I would love an app that gives me the ability to customize the colours of the UI to one universal colour of my choosing. The mail app for instance is one colour then if you go in calendar it's another colour. MS need to at least give us options on customization.

As for this app it quite east to fallow what Microsoft did and create your own wallpapers according to what the stock designs look like in teams of where objects are located on screen.
Hopefully this app makes it to the Windows store so I can use it on my Surface.

Big props Stardocks!!

b_roca said,
Yeah if you use a colour gradient or texture it's nice but any kind of image on there (like yours) ruins it.
How the hell does mine ruin it? It looks a lot cleaner than the crap win 8 offers

oliver182 said,
Installed. I like it, but for some reason scrolling with the cursor is slower. Any word on this?

Do you mean the background scrolls slower, or the tiles do?

If it is the background, check you have not enabled the slower parallax scrolling on the options page.

Neil Banfield said,

Do you mean the background scrolls slower, or the tiles do?

If it is the background, check you have not enabled the slower parallax scrolling on the options page.

The tiles. Originally I could get very fast to the end of the startscreen by just moving the cursor to the sides. Now it scrolls a lot slower.

Apparently enabling fade in with background causes this.

oliver182 said,

The tiles. Originally I could get very fast to the end of the startscreen by just moving the cursor to the sides. Now it scrolls a lot slower.

Apparently enabling fade in with background causes this.


We have identified the issue and should have it resolved in the next build.

Neil Banfield said,

We have identified the issue and should have it resolved in the next build.

If you reobtain your download link (vs just downloading directly again), uninstall the old version, reboot and install the new installer you should find performance is better.

Parallax mode has not been optimized yet so that will be a little slower especially with the fade option enabled and thats next on our list.

Neil Banfield said,

If you reobtain your download link (vs just downloading directly again), uninstall the old version, reboot and install the new installer you should find performance is better.

Parallax mode has not been optimized yet so that will be a little slower especially with the fade option enabled and thats next on our list.

It works now! Thank you!, you guys work fast .

Where could I give more feedback?

I've had good success with Stardock in the past. While I don't think Start8 is needed, this program not only has an awesome name but some really good options. Check out the website and see.
It can change the number of tiles in each column for one thing that wasn't mentioned above.
A free solution for this was mentioned above, but it doesn't provide all the options Decor8 does. I'm going to give it a look.

I like it but Ive been burnt too many times by Stardock.

Based on previous experience Im guessing they will say there is much to come then do nothing with it for 2 years after they have your money.

One day you will receive an email to say it has finally been updated but you will need to purchase an upgrade, as Stardock feel they have improved it enough to warrant an upgrade in release to version 2 or 3, and you will need to pay again.

I like what Stardock do, software wise, but I wouldn't give them a penny of my money ever again as they are far too quick to pat themselves on the back and tell users they need to pay again for things they promised would be added to the original item you purchased.

Orange Battery said,
I like it but Ive been burnt too many times by Stardock.

Based on previous experience Im guessing they will say there is much to come then do nothing with it for 2 years after they have your money.

One day you will receive an email to say it has finally been updated but you will need to purchase an upgrade, as Stardock feel they have improved it enough to warrant an upgrade in release to version 2 or 3, and you will need to pay again.

I like what Stardock do, software wise, but I wouldn't give them a penny of my money ever again as they are far too quick to pat themselves on the back and tell users they need to pay again for things they promised would be added to the original item you purchased.


I am sorry you have had problems before.

If you just look at the work we have put into Start8 you will see that we have no plans to ignore customer feedback or to abandon software. Both Start8 and Decor8 come from the same team as WindowBlinds and Deskscapes both of which have traditionally received significant updates over the lifespan of each version.

However as with most things in life you should buy for the features it has now vs features you want it to have in the future.

techishere said,
Here...

http://www.technospot.net/blog...-8-start-screen-background/

As Neil already mentioned, it isn't the same thing. But equally as important, I deal with a lot of clients whose heads would explode if they read that page. These are not stupid people, especially considering they can afford to hire me, but anything that gets even slightly technical soon has them zoning out.

Having a inexpensive product they can install and get the functionality they want is a far better solution for them and me.

Why would I pay for that ?

oliver182 said,
"Only Metro apps can be on the Windows store."

That's not true at all.


While a non 'metro' app can appear on the store, you cannot purchase it directly from the Microsoft store which is what Brad was meaning I think. They simply direct you to a link to the company store / website. On the plus side this does mean Microsoft do not take 30%.

oliver182 said,
"Only Metro apps can be on the Windows store."

That's not true at all.


Yes an uninformed statement if there ever was one.

Neil Banfield said,

While a non 'metro' app can appear on the store, you cannot purchase it directly from the Microsoft store which is what Brad was meaning I think. They simply direct you to a link to the company store / website. On the plus side this does mean Microsoft do not take 30%.

It can be published for all to see. That would make it more popular. Their lost.

Do you expect people to buy Decor8 as well as Start8? Decor8 makes the start screen pretty, while Start8 helps you avoid the start screen. Two different objectives.

Incidentally, the link above to http://i.imgur.com/ZAXUp.jpg is a lovely illustration of how much space is wasted by the Start Screen on a decent resolution desktop monitor. Use Start8 instead!

gb8080 said,
Do you expect people to buy Decor8 as well as Start8? Decor8 makes the start screen pretty, while Start8 helps you avoid the start screen. Two different objectives.

Incidentally, the link above to http://i.imgur.com/ZAXUp.jpg is a lovely illustration of how much space is wasted by the Start Screen on a decent resolution desktop monitor. Use Start8 instead!

Mate, I don't know if you have used Windows 8 but the image your referring to is a zoom out feature of the start screen (which can be found at the bottom right corner of the screen), it lets you get to selected groups of tiles faster.

Elmer.Fernandes said,

Mate, I don't know if you have used Windows 8 but the image your referring to is a zoom out feature of the start screen (which can be found at the bottom right corner of the screen), it lets you get to selected groups of tiles faster.

Exactly. I just used the semantic zoom feature to show off the background without my tiles getting in the way. When not zoomed in, I get 4 rows which works quite nicely on my resolution.

gb8080 said,
Do you expect people to buy Decor8 as well as Start8? Decor8 makes the start screen pretty, while Start8 helps you avoid the start screen. Two different objectives.

Incidentally, the link above to http://i.imgur.com/ZAXUp.jpg is a lovely illustration of how much space is wasted by the Start Screen on a decent resolution desktop monitor. Use Start8 instead!

Decor8 is aimed at the people who like the Windows 8 Start screen, Start8 is aimed at people who do not like the Windows 8 Start screen.

Possession said,

Exactly. I just used the semantic zoom feature to show off the background without my tiles getting in the way. When not zoomed in, I get 4 rows which works quite nicely on my resolution.

Semantic zoom, that's what its called hahaha, thanks for reminding me.

I really like the modern UI, it looks good but more important is that it is functional. This is just too much, it distracts from the content.

It is not as if you aren't allowed to personalize your PC. For example you have a picture at the lockscreen. But once you get past that you enter the startscreen where the content should shine through. Its a place you dont want to spend too much time anyway.

I also like how the startscreen does show personal content. The pinned photo albums show various pictures but that is their purpose, seeing pictures appear you forgot about is nice too.

Of course I am aware some people disagree and its good that they're now getting a choice with this app. However I'm happy that MS doesnt allow it by default because IMO it makes Windows 8 less attractive and less functional.

What I'm hoping for in a program, is a way to get resizable tiles like in Windows Phone 8. I want to have some tiles on my start screen, but don't need a huge tile. Just a small shortcut 1/4 of a size of a normal tile would be brilliant.

The size is fine for me but I'd like to be able to uniform the tile colours to something of my choice and only have a few different colours standing out. The I'd like a colour wheel to choose my own background colour rather than a small choice,

looking at the pictures above, I can see why Microsoft chose flatter more solid backgrounds. Its just too much going on, the only way it could work if it was like launch pad where the apps were just icons and it blurred the background.

Maybe this could be an idea for future versions of the app ..

The tiles of traditional windows applications have small icons which make them look out of place when their tiles are pinned to the new Startscreen , as an added on to future version of Decor 8 they can create larger icons for these tiles so they look slightly better.

kinpin said,
Maybe this could be an idea for future versions of the app ..

The tiles of traditional windows applications have small icons which make them look out of place when their tiles are pinned to the new Startscreen , as an added on to future version of Decor 8 they can create larger icons for these tiles so they look slightly better.


This is already available with a program called OblyTile. It isn't fully user friendly, but it works. You can also find lots of premade icons to use with it on deviantart.

I'm sure there are people already working on a program that will change the background and will release it for free. They better offer a lot more for the price.

Why some third party company is making Microsoft job? Why average user need to pay for basic customization options in so high advanced OS? I don't understand this...

Semtex said,
Why some third party company is making Microsoft job? Why average user need to pay for basic customization options in so high advanced OS? I don't understand this...
Careful, the Microsoft fan boys will say that Windows 8 is already perfect.

Semtex said,
Why some third party company is making Microsoft job? Why average user need to pay for basic customization options in so high advanced OS? I don't understand this...

You should also be careful about the trolls who call everybody who likes a product a "fan boy"

Windows 8 isn't perfect, far from it in some areas. But on the whole I like it. On the subject of pictures behind the start screen though... the reason for not giving us the option to choose your own picture was made perfectly clear and understandable. The whole point of the start screen is to have it full of tiles, meaning you won't be able to see 75%+ of the wallpaper anyway. That's why there are only a handful of simple paterns available, most of which just have details at the top and bottom.

That said, more choice is always good. If users want to have a really fugly wallpaper that makes their start screen look like ass, who am I to stand in the way of them giving Stardock $5

In the screenshot shown, I think the picture background makes the whole thing look even scruffier. I appreciate that users could add their own solid or near-solid background but using complex images makes it look even worse (and that is some accomplishment).

I really hope they'll have finished WindowBlinds soon. Once transparency is back the Windows 8 desktop would look a whole lot better.

I like the idea of it but I think that without a more solid background it could get kind of tricky to see the tiles... saying that I never have any problems seeing icons on the desktop from the wallpaper and considering the icons on the Start Screen are a lot more prominent I might actually work quite well.

ThunderBuddy said,
I like the idea of it but I think that without a more solid background it could get kind of tricky to see the tiles... saying that I never have any problems seeing icons on the desktop from the wallpaper and considering the icons on the Start Screen are a lot more prominent I might actually work quite well.

I just tried it and have no problems reading the tiles at all with a wallpaper behind it. Makes it actually look much nicer, and I was a fan of the start screen already.

ThunderBuddy said,
I like the idea of it but I think that without a more solid background it could get kind of tricky to see the tiles... saying that I never have any problems seeing icons on the desktop from the wallpaper and considering the icons on the Start Screen are a lot more prominent I might actually work quite well.

It looks like a mess. Live tiles update and show information, plus they're all over the screen, so you cant have a busy photo behind them without it looking like a cluster f***. Few people have desktop icons completely covering the whole desktop, and when they do look how seriously fugly it is. Another problem is that you wont even be able to see the background image properly with all the tiles in the way.

The is the reason MS didn't do this, they had a post about this already on the Win 8 blog. Theres scaling problems if you use a photo that dont fit properly. Or if you use something low res it's going to look like crap on a high res monitor. MS went for quality, they have vector backgrounds that scale and work perfectly on any size screen, which are also not too busy and match the colour theme.

Stardock are doing an exceptional job at completely ****ing up Windows 8.

NoClipMode said,
<Stuff>

Well if you feel like that... don't install it maybe? Just because YOU don't like it doesn't mean that everyone feels the same way.

Majesticmerc said,

Well if you feel like that... don't install it maybe? Just because YOU don't like it doesn't mean that everyone feels the same way.

No but it's good to inform people that are ignorant about this.

Another issue not raised is that the start screen can scroll indefinitely depending on how many tiles you have. A vector background can handle this well and can be of infinite length whereas a photo or traditional wallpaper won't. I haven't tried Decor8 but it would either stay stationary on the start screen losing fluidity or stretch making it ugly and horizontally pixellated.

NoClipMode said,

It looks like a mess. Live tiles update and show information, plus they're all over the screen, so you cant have a busy photo behind them without it looking like a cluster f***. Few people have desktop icons completely covering the whole desktop, and when they do look how seriously fugly it is. Another problem is that you wont even be able to see the background image properly with all the tiles in the way.

The is the reason MS didn't do this, they had a post about this already on the Win 8 blog. Theres scaling problems if you use a photo that dont fit properly. Or if you use something low res it's going to look like crap on a high res monitor. MS went for quality, they have vector backgrounds that scale and work perfectly on any size screen, which are also not too busy and match the colour theme.

Stardock are doing an exceptional job at completely ****ing up Windows 8.

Microsoft has a different set of priorities than Stardock. MS must deal with the entire user base and the problems that entails. Stardock's customers are a small (by Microsoft's measure) subset of the Windows user base who wants more.

The Stardock customer is more likely to understand issues like matching an image to the display resolution, or choosing an image that is best suited for filling the top and bottom of the screen around the area where the tiles reside.

Brad Wardell has written about the fact that much of Stardock's work was in exposing functionality that already existed in Windows but lacked any UI to make it accessible to users. Where Microsoft had to exercise caution in product features Stardock had no such constraints.

Arthur Dovokinov said,
Lookie-lookie, another expensive primitive piece of cr@p made by Stardock for the sake of bells and whistles.. Nothing new.

Customising the background of the windows8 start screen: New
$5: Not expensive

Arthur Dovokinov said,
Lookie-lookie, another expensive primitive piece of cr@p made by Stardock for the sake of bells and whistles.. Nothing new.

Here's a conspiracy theory. Can it be that there is an arrangement between Microsoft and Stardock. Microsoft decides to make the OS non-customizable by default so Stardock can sell products which "unlock" the product more to allow more customization? Are they using secret APIs or undocumented functions which MS provided Stardock for more customization?

MsftGaurav said,

Here's a conspiracy theory. Can it be that there is an arrangement between Microsoft and Stardock. Microsoft decides to make the OS non-customizable by default so Stardock can sell products which "unlock" the product more to allow more customization? Are they using secret APIs or undocumented functions which MS provided Stardock for more customization?

In a word, no. Considering how tiny Stardock is as a company, it would be a really ineffective conspiracy to go to some trouble to bring about.

Brad Wardell has written extensively about how Stardock products have been developed. Most notable was when he detailed how much of the functionality was there in Windows, especially XP, for anyone to use but even Microsoft only scratched the surface. Quite simply, Stardock did the work nobody else could be bothered to do, so they get the rewards.

Microsoft has made the OS hugely customizable at the API level. There are indications that Microsoft intended to have a lot more aesthetic bells and whistles in XP but held back for any number of reasons. Running out of time, complexity, consumer confusion, offending corporate customers, etc.

The bigger question is why so few have done anything comparable to Stardock's product range. The documentation is all readily available with an MSDN account.

epobirs said,

In a word, no. Considering how tiny Stardock is as a company, it would be a really ineffective conspiracy to go to some trouble to bring about.


Considering the fact that Microsoft used skin engine created by Stardock since Windows XP and was long-term partner with Stardock, not really good answer.

Glassed Silver said,

Transparency is calculated, what's your point?

GS:mac

Aero wasn't dropped for memory usage. It was due to battery life issues. Transparency kept the GPU much too busy. It wasn't a big deal for a desktop system or a larger laptop but for a tablet or light notebook the battery life issue looms much larger.

Technically, higher memory usage will contribute to shorter battery life, depending on the design of the system and whether it can save power by not refreshing RAM containing nothing that needs to be maintained. In such a situation you have to weigh things like app caching against power draw. Having a lot of memory but not using it is a waste but active RAM is a power draw.

Down the road we hope to have non-volatile RAM that is fast enough to be used as main memory. If power is only needed when the contents change it makes for a big power savings, like the e-ink screen on a Kindle.