WindowBlinds 4 Preview

Thanks to Brad Wardell aka Frogboy from Stardock for letting us know about the upcoming update to their award winning skinning software for the windows platform. WindowBlinds 4

It's been over a year since the release of WindowBlinds 3. WindowBlinds, a program designed to allow users of Windows XP, 2000, ME, and 98 completely customize the graphical user interface (GUI) of Windows, had reached its third generation version. WindowBlinds 3 was designed to take advantage of some of the new features of Windows XP and make those features available to users of other versions of Windows.

Windows XP comes with the ability for users to choose between a new "Windows XP style" and the "classic" Windows look. But in order to do that, Microsoft developed an impressive customization engine that could load a visual style and apply it to the GUI. WindowBlinds 3 made use of much of this engine.

Truly Native Skinning

The goal of WindowBlinds 4 is to largely eliminate the trade-offs of customization while providing users with the ability to completely customize virtually all aspects of the Windows GUI. These goals are:

  • Make WindowBlinds 4 so much faster that it's compared with "classic" in terms of speed. This is provided in a new technology called "Smart painting".

  • Exceptionally high reliability on even the most obscure of programs. While there will always be odd ball programs out there, WB 4 should be able to skin more programs on Windows XP than Windows XP itself can.

  • Complete skinning of all of the Windows GUI including command line boxes, Internet Explorer and Explorer toolbar icons, log off screens, task panels (shellstyles), etc.

  • Forward and backward compatibility. Resources spent on making sure it works seamlessly on "Longhorn" and beyond while still adding new features for Windows 98, ME, and 2000 users. Creating skins for WindowBlinds means your skin will be able to be used on today's version of Windows and tomorrow's.

  • Skincast II. Multiple channels on Stardock Skincast where users can subscribe to them have SJ's (Style Jockeys) make available cool visual styles for users.

  • A new visual style format. One that makes it easier for new users to create their own visual styles. For instance, skinning task panels doesn't require hacking some DLL but instead can be done nicely in a matter of minutes.

  • Advanced coloring features. Ability to choose colors of different parts of the UI just as you can do with the "classic" UI.

  • Ability to have collaborative skinning.
View: Full Preview Documentation

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Incidentally, WindowBlinds 3 already skins more programs than msstyles. Msstyles only skins theme aware applications.

And for many people, myself included, WindowBlinds 3 is already faster than msstyles. Just depends on the skin you use.

The popularity of WindowBlinds isn't the result of "marketing" afterall, it's not like there are ads in newspapers and TV or on the web and such. It has equal availability to Style XP and such. It's got a huge user base because so many people do find that WB 3 is fast, reliable, and has more and better skins.

Obviously ones mileage may vary. Some people find WB 3 slower than msstyles. Some people really cared about the task pane not being skinned. But bear in mind, other people considered things like being able to change the color of your skin to anything you'd like to be something much more important than the task pane being skinned (especially since many if not most power users turn off the task pane).

Compatibility of UIS1 skins is about on part with msstyles. It's UIS2 skins that are problematic since they do much fancier things with the user interface. There are hundreds of UIS1 skins though and they are more flexible than msstyles.

That said, WB 4 will be a major advance, particularly on Windows XP. The performance advantage should be enough that no one, no matter what their configuration is, will say msstyles is faster (well unless they just don't bother to use it and post about their experiences with older versions which happens often).

It'll also be more apparent that WB is at least as "native" if not more so than msstyles when it's skinning things like the command line and every other significant element of the UI. And that it does so without requiring skin authors to mess around with shellstyle.DLLs.