Windows Vista gets skinned

Software developer Stardock released WindowBlinds 6 today. Amongst the new features includes the ability to customize the entire Windows Vista user interface as well as the capability to give Windows XP users the look and feel of Aero (Vista).

CNET.com has taken a look at the new version and highlighted just how close to Vista WindowBlinds can visually bring XP. WindowBlinds 6 can even do the blur effect on XP with superior performance to the same hardware on Windows Vista. Computerworld has pointed out that programs like WindowBlinds force Microsoft to make a stronger case for Windows Vista and in particular Windows Vista Ultimate (which Stardock is also involved with).

Screenshot: WindowBlinds 6 on Windows XP
Screenshot: WindowBlinds 6 on Windows Vista
News source: CNET.com: Interface your way
View: Neowin.net Software News
Download: WindowBlinds home page

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Stupid question: Why is it that the OS doesn't come skinnable?

XP was supposed to support themes; they crippled it before release. Ditto with the original OS X. I can't believe that Microsoft and Apple are desperate to keep the houses selling $29 shareware skinning apps in business.

Skinning will never be mainstream as long as step 1 is to either throw 30 bucks at the problem, or hack system files. And that's sad, as I could imagine plenty of 'serious' uses for skinning (to make kiosk-style systems look more custom, to suppress display of features which might confuse users-- I bet there are a lot of people who never figure out "minimize")

The only change that i would like to do on the Graffite color for Vista, is changing IE blue bar to graffite and maybe also the explorer bar.

Thanks for all the reviews/opinions of WB6. Overall, it seems to be a great update and it doesn't look like a lot of people are having any issues, which is definitely a positive.

Just installed and tried the Diamond skin (the vista-looky-like) on my XP machine, and the skin looks and performs just great! I'm very impressed.

It's a work business laptop, with a not particularly good on-board graphics chip.

The transparency and blurring effects do not cause any noticable performance or visual problems at all.

I do have 1Gb of RAM though, so that might make a difference to some people.

It's clear that we have two different communities here. Unless Microsoft really gets tough on customization come Windows 7 we'll always see:

- the crowd that favours simple minimalist skins with stylish monotone wallpapers and barely anything on their desktop
- this crowd that sees Windows as their art desk, loading it up with gadgets and funky prerendered wallpapers and topping it off with artistic skin designs that'll make Microsoft Design spin on their heads PLUS a thriving market of artists that profit off their work

WB may be a great product, but IMO strongly voicing its release on this site is akin to preaching the advantages of Windows Vista SP1 on a site like Macrumors.

rm20010 said,
WB may be a great product, but IMO strongly voicing its release on this site is akin to preaching the advantages of Windows Vista SP1 on a site like Macrumors.

What are you talking about? It's a free world and many people here, like me, are users of Stardock products and we like to here about new releases etc.

ZombieFly said,
last night a stardock product saved my life,
last night a stardock product saved my life from a broken heart

And how is that?

for those like me, and I know there's a lot, Stardock also released a more down to earth skin for those of us who fear the bloat. they're few and far between, so maybe copious amounts of downloads will encourage more.

Adamant

me likey

why oh why bring this out if Windows Vista is supposed to be such a flop ?? The answer is simple ....because it is not a flop at all, it's just all the negativity from the Linux and Mac zealots throwing "mud" about Vista and that's all it was, just mud slinging, and some people getting the wrong idea about Vista.
Vista problem was DRIVERS !!! Nothing to do microsoft and everything to do with the component manufacturers!!!

Caveman-ugh said,
Vista problem was DRIVERS !!! Nothing to do microsoft and everything to do with the component manufacturers!!!

Um, SOME of Vista's problems are/were driver related, while others (i.e. overall file/network performance, no SLI support, etc.) were Microsoft's "bad" and are still being fixed as we post here. Microsoft also holds a great deal of responsibility for releasing Vista TOO EARLY. Nvidia, ATI, and Creative Labs, for example are only NOW getting solid Vista drivers out their doors. While Creative is NOTORIOUS for releasing new OS drivers months if not YEARS too late, you're not going to convince anyone that BOTH Nvidia and ATI were dropping the ball here. Microsoft released Vista (rev 2 mind you) before it was ready and THAT has generated the majority of dissatisfied customer complaints over the past 9 months.

Caveman-ugh said,
why oh why bring this out if Windows Vista is supposed to be such a flop ?? The answer is simple ....because it is not a flop at all, it's just all the negativity from the Linux and Mac zealots throwing "mud" about Vista and that's all it was, just mud slinging, and some people getting the wrong idea about Vista.
Vista problem was DRIVERS !!! Nothing to do microsoft and everything to do with the component manufacturers!!!

You're sounding almost as bad as the zealots. Vista is a good OS, but not a worthy OS. What do I mean by that? Well, driver problems aside, Vista is pretty stable, looks good, and has some good functionality in it. But by no means is it worth paying whatever amount to upgrade to it. It's hardly a revolutionary OS, its just as bad as Apple making you BUY an update (slightly exagerated but you get the picture) for OSX. There just aren't any good reasons to switch from XP to Vista.

No DX10 on XP? Give me a break, it could have been done but MS is desperate to find a reason to switch to Vista. Why? I don't know, its not like they're anywhere near breaking the bank. And making games like Halo 2 Vista only? Please. Their intentions are very transparent and its sad that people buy into it.

WICKO said,
No DX10 on XP? Give me a break, it could have been done but MS is desperate to find a reason to switch to Vista.

Wow! You have WDDM display drivers for XP??? Gimme some, plz!

RealFduch said,

Wow! You have WDDM display drivers for XP??? Gimme some, plz!

That didn't really make any sense.

To be honest wb is a nice alternative with good looking (a few, not much) skins and effects. But at least to me, this last 5 minutes. I cant stand the interfase more than that. Dunno, maybe Im so old school that anything that doesnt looks like an standart OS doesnt deserve to be used.
But its fun, just for that 5 minutes is nice.

Under XP, Windowblinds 6 performs and runs great. I still get magic pink titlebars and flickering windows every now and then when moving windows around. The blurring is also fun to play around with as well.

On Vista it's something entirely different. For one, the skins draw a piece of crap border for thumbnail windows. There's absolutely no border for the small taskbar applets (Network, Power, Calendar) and Volume has a completely broken border. The Diamond skin has such incredibly small spacing for the menus when Vista's default Aero has a healthy amount of spacing for menu items. One solution is to enable Aero borders, but one problem: why doesn't the glass black out when maximized? On top of that the maximized titlebar text is completely unreadable when using Aero borders and Diamond. And finally, Messenger Plus on Vista won't cooperate with WB6.

I was hoping WB6 will be the very first version of WB that will at least allow one skin to respect Microsoft's UI guidelines and not break them apart. x)

I've asked the developers regarding your observations and this is what I got back:

1) Right now, there is no border for thumbnails and system tray applets because it is still being decided whether to allow skin authors to make a specific skin part for those elements or whether to just use Aero for those parts.

2) Regarding menus, on the advanced user settings page, there is an option "I would like WindowBlinds to use Vista UI guidelines when skinning menus". However, having tried this feature, I am not noticing a difference so you may have found a bug. But the short version is that you will be able to choose how menu spacing is handled.

3) You are correct about maximized Aero. Will have to look into that.

4) Will look into Messenger Plus. To use the tired phrase "It's working here".

Thanks for that reply.

1) I noticed Leo is the only skin that has borders for taskbar applets and the thumbnail. Heck, a shadow is better than nothing. I'd be happy if Skinstudio 6 will allow us to add in Aero borders ourselves for older XP-era skins.

2) Possibly. Was that option meant to widen the menu item spacing? After testing this option in XP, I noticed it does do what its label says... sort of. In Vista, any menus that use legacy .ICO files for the menu icons will result in being drawn with classic menu styling. By default WB ignores this guideline (i.e. the status menu in Windows Live Messenger) unless this box is ticked.

4) Messenger Plus works just fine in XP with WB6. Not so with Vista.

Oh BTW. The Molten skin's a bit over the top for everyday use IMO but the dragon animation is bloody amazing.

rm20010 said,
Thanks for that reply.

1) I noticed Leo is the only skin that has borders for taskbar applets and the thumbnail. Heck, a shadow is better than nothing. I'd be happy if Skinstudio 6 will allow us to add in Aero borders ourselves for older XP-era skins.

2) Possibly. Was that option meant to widen the menu item spacing? After testing this option in XP, I noticed it does do what its label says... sort of. In Vista, any menus that use legacy .ICO files for the menu icons will result in being drawn with classic menu styling. By default WB ignores this guideline (i.e. the status menu in Windows Live Messenger) unless this box is ticked.

4) Messenger Plus works just fine in XP with WB6. Not so with Vista.

Oh BTW. The Molten skin's a bit over the top for everyday use IMO but the dragon animation is bloody amazing. :)

I took the Molten theme as more of an example on what can be done with a theme. The animated border looked pretty good and that dragon was better than I expected. I actually liked that start button more than anything :lol:

As for the new features for XP... ok, fine. But... I can change Vista skins since the release of TuneUp Utilities 6.0.22 ... which was sometime in... May? April? March? Nothing new really. Vista + TuneUp + VistaGlass = amazingly good looking Windows.


as a bblean user, i really wish wb and iconpackager were compatible with shells other than explorer. i love the products, but can't bring myself to switch back to explorer just to use them

What's wrong with it? I used to use Litestep and never had any compatibility issues, just the annoyance of having to manually reskin my LS theme to match my WB theme.

I use bb4win/xoblite and WB/IconPackager works fine without explorer. Yes, it doesn't skin the menus, but then bb4win menus aren't standard windows menus, right?

I have to admit that I haven't tried WindowBlinds yet on Vista, but how is it going to be on Vista's resources? Vista uses quite a bit already, and that's even with tweaking it.

Vista uses the resources because they're there to use. It doesn't have a hold on them, but it really doesn't make sense to have a bunch of unused RAM at any given time. Vista is smart about this and uses every bit it can when it's free.

Is there anyone who can act as though they're older than 12 in here? These constant posts concerning Stardock and Windoblinds get old very quickly. A lot of us are very happy to be using apps by Stardock. They're stable and do exactly what they are advertised to do. I have been using WB since I switched from the beta version of StyleXP years ago and don't regret it one bit. If you guys don't want to use WB, fine.......don't! There's no need to trash the app, company, or developer when you don't know what you're talking about.

Sorry, Stardock's exploitation of skinners, its condescending attitude towards system file "hackers", and unfounded claims are tiresome and unchanging, as always.

explotating skinners...how?

Attitude toward hackers....by pointing out how one can seriously **** up a computer by bypassing a system file and using a hacked file.

The memory claims are one again all based on your computer setup. That has been said since day one. Memory and gpu usage is so stupid now a days with the great computers that are out there.

Stop your bitching, if you don't like it, don't use it.

AthleticTrainer1981 said,
Attitude toward hackers....by pointing out how one can seriously **** up a computer by bypassing the a system file and using a hacked file.

While I don't think Stardock exploits skinners, the claims that using a hacked uxtheme can damage your system are beyond silly.

bangbang023 said,

While I don't think Stardock exploits skinners, the claims that using a hacked uxtheme can damage your system are beyond silly.

While it's true that it has calmed down as of late, you can surf thru the customizing xp forum and read some great horror stories.

There are quite a few more of patching the uxtheme file than of using wb.

AthleticTrainer1981 said,

While it's true that it has calmed down as of late, you can surf thru the customizing xp forum and read some great horror stories.

There are quite a few more of patching the uxtheme file than of using wb.

I go through that section a lot and I don't remember ever seeing anyone talk about a uxtheme patch that completely screwed a system. I patch mine and the only issue I've ever had and it's the same I've seen others have, is where the patch didn't work correctly so I had to replace it with the original and patch it again. The only reason that even happened is because I wasn't aware that Microsoft had updated the uxtheme file and I was using a patch for the other version.

Only complaints I've ever seen is where they restarted after patching and were stuck with the classic theme until the put the original file back.

Computerworld has pointed out that programs like WindowBlinds force Microsoft to make a stronger case for Windows Vista and in particular Windows Vista Ultimate (which Stardock is also involved with).

Wow, here we go with the "Viusta is just a pretty interfaceon XP" again, and from a so called proffesional site like CNet....

and unless Stardock mnaged to somehow accelerate the XP GUI Renderer with the GPU, I'm somewhat skeptical about the "better performance than XP" part. it may do the "same" effects to a degree, but providing the same speed as an accelerated desktop... yeah... I'll need to be better convinced about that, but then I don't care much abotu XP anymore.


I also don't see how CNet thinks Ultimate in partuclar needs a stornger case, Aero is in home Premium, this emulates Aero effects, hoe exactly do this have any affect on ultimate.It's not like Ultimate is meanr for the average user anyway.

HawkMan said,

Wow, here we go with the "Viusta is just a pretty interfaceon XP" again, and from a so called proffesional site like CNet....

and unless Stardock mnaged to somehow accelerate the XP GUI Renderer with the GPU, I'm somewhat skeptical about the "better performance than XP" part. it may do the "same" effects to a degree, but providing the same speed as an accelerated desktop... yeah... I'll need to be better convinced about that, but then I don't care much abotu XP anymore.


I also don't see how CNet thinks Ultimate in partuclar needs a stornger case, Aero is in home Premium, this emulates Aero effects, hoe exactly do this have any affect on ultimate.It's not like Ultimate is meanr for the average user anyway.

2 things.

First: At least they read back what they wrote when they finished so it's not full of typo and misstake.

Second: How could an "emulation of Aero" be faster then a native support like in vista? Well, it seems that since you "don't care much abotu xp animore" (to quote you), you totally stop reading and checking the performance and ressource usage between them.

We have windows xp using at least half less ressource then windows vista. Vista performance aren't as great as xp (check all benchmarking program, game or no). We have a missing of good drivers, most of them aren't stable or simply doesn't exist. There's is no backward compatibility with DX10 so they had to inject a "new dx9" routine into the 10 to make it support most of DX9 game and app. So yeah, it's true, using windows xp with 1gig of ram, emulate an interface for special effect vs using a non-stable, non-optimize windows vista with 2 gig of ram with non-supporting program make it sooooo more faster using vista hein?

Looks like you need to inform yourself before flamming for nothing

Nodiaque said,

2 things.

First: At least they read back what they wrote when they finished so it's not full of typo and misstake.

Second: How could an "emulation of Aero" be faster then a native support like in vista? Well, it seems that since you "don't care much abotu xp animore" (to quote you), you totally stop reading and checking the performance and ressource usage between them.

We have windows xp using at least half less ressource then windows vista. Vista performance aren't as great as xp (check all benchmarking program, game or no). We have a missing of good drivers, most of them aren't stable or simply doesn't exist. There's is no backward compatibility with DX10 so they had to inject a "new dx9" routine into the 10 to make it support most of DX9 game and app. So yeah, it's true, using windows xp with 1gig of ram, emulate an interface for special effect vs using a non-stable, non-optimize windows vista with 2 gig of ram with non-supporting program make it sooooo more faster using vista hein?

Looks like you need to inform yourself before flamming for nothing

You really shouldn't bring up things like that when you obviously didn't do that yourself

and unless Stardock mnaged to somehow accelerate the XP GUI Renderer with the GPU, I'm somewhat skeptical about the "better performance than XP" part. it may do the "same" effects to a degree, but providing the same speed as an accelerated desktop... yeah... I'll need to be better convinced about that, but then I don't care much abotu XP anymore.

I used to be a window blinds customer and when they came out with the 5.x series, they started doing all their work in direct-x which massively sped up their desktop. It was pretty noticable and at first I just thought I'd gotten used to the older version being slower. Eventually I uninstalled it in prep to sell the machine and noticed just how much of a speed improvement it was over the standard desktop(theme selection had a bit to do with that too..you could select a dog theme).

As for why its faster than vista..well..I'm one of those people that suffer through the 15 minutes of TrustedInstaller.exe hitting 95-100% cpu every two hours or so. I doubt the new version of blinds adds that productivity tax.

i have few issues....first of all messenger plus aint workin.....the other thing is taskbar related, if i choose small taskbar it doesnt show properly......the other thing is that it is like off margins on the right side of the screen

Those themes are a bit heavy on the eyes if this is intended as a promo. I could only see the GUI getting in the *way* of my work using Stardock with either these themes.

Stardock rocks. Because of them I've been able to create a customized interface that combines the best of XP, Vista, and OS X into one elegant solution across multiple monitors and multiple CPUs. BIG thumbs up.

And yet, I'm just a customer who saw the article here and decided to post.

Why be so cynical? I won't apologize for being well spoken.

For the record, I have three computers (Athlon, P4, P3), using 4 monitors, all sharing one keyboard because of Multiplicity Pro. ObjectDock is on all three machines replacing my Start Menu, taskbar, and system tray. And my XP GUI looks like my Vista GUI because of Windowblinds.

So a de facto poster child I may be at this point, but I have given them plenty of **** as well as bug reports, so it's only fair play if I also speak up from time to time to say, "yeah, because of Stardock, my setup rocks." :)

I just got lucky and posted "first!" for once. Sheesh.

excalpius said,
And yet, I'm just a customer who saw the article here and decided to post.

Why be so cynical? I won't apologize for being well spoken.

For the record, I have three computers (Athlon, P4, P3), using 4 monitors, all sharing one keyboard because of Multiplicity Pro. ObjectDock is on all three machines replacing my Start Menu, taskbar, and system tray. And my XP GUI looks like my Vista GUI because of Windowblinds.

So a de facto poster child I may be at this point, but I have given them plenty of **** as well as bug reports, so it's only fair play if I also speak up from time to time to say, "yeah, because of Stardock, my setup rocks." :)

I just got lucky and posted "first!" for once. Sheesh.

I've seen some dedicated hardware and software users speak their mind, but never in a way that it actually looks like a commercial for the product.

Nobody was even bashing you or anything so calm down. Getting upset over nothing.

NightmarE D said,
I've seen some dedicated hardware and software users speak their mind, but never in a way that it actually looks like a commercial for the product.

Nobody was even bashing you or anything so calm down. Getting upset over nothing.

It sure looked like you two were implying I was a "plant" or some such. And excuse me for being well spoken and capable of expressing my kudos to Stardock's product line in a short punchy phrase.

excalpius said,
It sure looked like you two were implying I was a "plant" or some such. And excuse me for being well spoken and capable of expressing my kudos to Stardock's product line in a short punchy phrase. :)

Not like a company would ever hire an ad agency to post glowing comments about their products on forums...naaah...that stuff doesn't happen...

phantasmorph said,
Not like a company would ever hire an ad agency to post glowing comments about their products on forums...naaah...that stuff doesn't happen...

Yeah, I recall Stardock was accused of hiring a viral ad agency in the past. Other companies like Nvidia were also accused of doing the same. Don't know if they still do.

In any case, your accusation against him is uncalled for. Doesn't look like some random guy signing up to post glowing comments. :sleeping:

rm20010 said,
In any case, your accusation against him is uncalled for. Doesn't look like some random guy signing up to post glowing comments. :sleeping:

Thank you. In point of fact, I keep getting crap from other posters for being TOO negative. And (upon self-examination) not undeservedly so, so I got lucky with a "First!" post and thought I would point out something I *do* use and like. And I *still* get crap! :P

I guess I'm just effective in expressing my thoughts, negative OR positive. Sigh. ;)