Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
Making Windows Vista YOURS
Published on January 29, 2007 By Frogboy In OS Customization

Windows Vista has finally arrived! Many people have been asking us what are Stardock's plans? What can we do to take an excellent new OS like Windows Vista and make it better?

There have been a lot of articles on how users of Windows XP can get a lot of the visual benefits of Windows Vista using Stardock Object Desktop. And while that may be true, Windows Vista provides us a whole new canvas of cool things we can do.

For Starters: LogonStudio Vista

If you have Object Desktop already and Windows Vista, you can now change the way your Windows Vista logon looks with LogonStudio Vista.

We've developed a new format (.logonvista). While existing .logonxp files won't work on Windows Vista due to the significant change in the way logons are displayed, I have a feeling there will be no shortage of logons being made for Windows Vista.

LogonStudio Vista will be available for free when it's finished. If you want it now, you'll need to get Object Desktop.

Availability: NOW for Object Desktop users.

Your GUI your way: WindowBlinds 5.5

Windows Vista's new look -- Aero, looks awesome. I like it a lot. But I also like to personalize my UI to look how I want it to look. Luckily you can -- with WindowBlinds 5.5.

With thousands of different visual styles to skin the look and feel of Windows Vista, along with the ability to change color, saturation, and all kinds of other elements, Windows Vista users will be able to make Windows Vista look however they want it to look.

And for power users -- WindowBlinds cuts battery consumption over Windows Vista Aero significantly. On our internal tests, running Vista with a WindowBlinds skin gave back over 40 minutes of battery life on a Dell laptop. You can test for yourself, it's pretty consistent. And if that's not enough, WindowBlinds is faster too thanks to DWM caching.

Availability: NOW for Object Desktop users (in beta). Public release, February 5th.

Animated Wallpaper on-the-fly: DeskScapes

If you have Windows Vista Ultimate, you will be able to get Microsoft's new animated wallpaper extra called Windows DreamScene. It lets you play video as animated wallpaper.  If you like the computer generated animated wallpaper that comes with it, then good, we made it, including the one shown at launch and the default official one (animated Aurora).

Object Desktop users will be able to get exclusive animated wallpapers not available anywhere else. And they'll be getting our new program that lets Windows Vista Ultimate users have dynamic animated wallpaper. Dynamic animated wallpaper is generated on the fly and it's all done on the video card so even on a mid-powerful computing rig, you'll see virtually no CPU use and incredibly cool stuff.

Moreover, it supports a new format we've designed called .dream.  Amongst the various features it supports, one really straight forward one we think artists will enjoy -- credit. Look at the screenshot on the right and you'll see that we've extended the wallpaper dialog to support author info (which can be a link to a website).  Creating a good animated wallpaper is non-trivial and we figured artists would want to make sure their hard work gets credit and send them traffic.

Availability: As soon as Microsoft releases Windows DreamScene for Object Desktop users.

Gadgets: The Next Generation = DesktopX

Windows Vista includes the Sidebar. That's good.  Making sidebar gadgets is not particularly easy. That's bad.  But sidebar gadgets provide a standard format. That's good. But the native functionality of the Sidebar gadget APIs is painfully low. That's bad.

Enter: DesktopX 3.5. Nearly ready for beta, DesktopX allows users to export their creations as Windows Sidebar gadgets!  This is significant because of the massive functionality and API support built natively into DesktopX.  From a technological point of view, it's a superset of every widget/gadget implementation out there. With 8 years of development behind DesktopX and thousands of widgets, objects, and gadgets out there,  it provides a huge boost to Windows Sidebar gadgets and a great way for users to be introduced to the power of DesktopX.

Because DesktopX doesn't just make gadgets, you can build desktops (we even make an enterprise version of DesktopX for corporations wanting to create secure branded desktop environments).

Stardock also has developed a technology that allows users to create gadgets in .NET (including WPF gadgets). We'll be talking more about that soon.

Availability: Late February Beta for Object Desktop users

Changing Icons for Windows Vista: IconPackager 2.5

Changing the icons for Windows Vista is not quite as easy as previous OSes. For one thing, the folders are done differently -- they have "live previews".  But no worry, we've got that nailed down now and you can now even change the live folder preview icons and still get live previews! 

Availability: Early February in beta on Object Desktop.

 

Your own boot screen: BootSkin Vista

Stardock BootSkin allows users of Windows XP to change their boot screens. So what about Windows Vista users?  On Windows Vista, the default is not boot screen at all!  With BootSkin Vista, you'll be able to have your own high-resolution, high color boot screen of your choice.

Like BootSkin for Windows XP, when completed it'll be released as freeware.  But the initial beta will be on Object Desktop only.

Availability: Mid March for beta on Object Desktop.

 

Tweak Vista with...TweakVista!

We've partnered up with TweakVista.com to bring you a new program called TweakVista.  Designed both for power users and their friends and family, TweakVista lets users get into the guts of Windows Vista but also allows casual users to maintain their systems.

Many people reading this are probably the family "computer guy".  If you are, you'll definitely want TweakVista to hand out to people because it helps take care of the most common problems people run into with a Windows PC. But it also lets you dig into the guts of Vista to change undocumented settings and get more data on your system than..well probably more data than you really need to know.

Availability: Mid March beta.

 

A Dock for Vista: ObjectDock

If you have ObjectDock 1.5, you have the version that already runs on Windows Vista. But the good news is that we are busy at work on the next version of ObjectDock which is due out later this year. If you don't have ObjectDock (particularly ObjectDock Plus) grab it! You can get ObjectDock right now at www.objectdock.com.

Availability: Summer

 

Better Cursors for Vista: CursorVista

CursorXP is the defacto alternative to the Windows XP mouse cursors. On Windows Vista, CursorVista is being designed to make it even more powerful. Thanks to the new DWM (the composited, 3D surface that is the Windows Vista desktop), all kinds of fun should be possible.  We are getting fairly close to having a beta of this available.  If you have Windows XP, you can get CursorXP at www.cursorxp.com

Availability: Early Spring

And now a peek at Stardock's lab!

Working on stuff that's about to get released is very exciting. But the stuff that's just getting cooked up in the labs is just as exciting. When Windows Vista's RTM build was sent to us, we were able to start digging in and seeing what's possible. As video driver quality gets better and we get a handle on what parts of Windows are more easily extended than others, cool stuff results.

My #1 reason I like Windows Vista in terms of customization is that it's free from a CPU point of view.  Now that the desktop is a 3D surface, we can do all kinds of cool stuff without affecting system performance.

For instance, Microsoft's Windows DreamScene plays video as your wallpaper. Now, I've seen people say "You could do animated wallpaper on Windows with <insert hack here>." Please. What is possible and what is practical are two different things.  The only CPU used by DreamScene is in the decoding of video which is not a major deal now adays.  Other effects are completely done on the video card.

On Windows XP, we had to develop a DirectX interface ourselves to get universally good performance with this stuff (which people noticed in WindowBlinds 5).  But on Vista, everything's already on the video card, it's great!

Rise of the Super-Gadgets: Code-Name DesktopVista

With Microsoft providing a standard gadget format, Stardock can then concentrate its resources into what it does best -- making really cool technology.  Not a competitor to DesktopX, DesktopVista is designed to enable the creation skinnable gadgets.  That is, a system in which a standard gadget skin format can be created and used to skin gadgets.  Right now, it's just a technology. 

A New Style for Windows Vista: Code-Name StyleVista

Windows Vista is pretty polished. But it could be polished further. Enter StyleVista. This new program will let users alter the little touches that Microsoft has in Windows Vista that don't quite fit into skinning but also are just beyond what is included. Want a different blur effect? Want to change that Start button? StyleVista is for you.  We're still inventorying what we can and can't do with the DWM now that finalized video drivers are coming out so we'll have more news on this soon.

Build your own 3D desktop: Time for 3D modelers to get their day

For years, a significant percentage of artists were locked out of customization. 3D modelers might be able to make pretty rendered icons but beyond that, things were limited.  But now, thanks to a combination of Windows Presentation Foundation  (WPF) and Media Center Markup Language (MCML) we are exploring letting users take their 3D creations from Maya, 3D Studio (and if possible XAML) and turn them into working, fucntional 3D desktops. Not 3D in the sense that you move around the screen but rather where the objects you interact with are 3D.

What we can and can't do will heavily depend on the capabilities of WPF/MCML and the DWM which we're still exploring (as well as video drivers).  We hope to have something to show late summer.

Other Cool Stuff(TM)

People on Linux have been showing off XGL for awhile.  Anyone with Windows XP should try out WindowFX and know we've been doing window scaling, 3D dragging of windows, and all kinds of effects since Windows XP launched and we didn't have the benefit of a 3D accelerated desktop.  Now we do.  That's all I'm going to say on that.

It's going to be an exciting year! Stay tuned!


Comments (Page 2)
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on Jan 31, 2007
I decided not to upgrade to Vista until I buy a new computer but reading this article made me change my mind to upgrade to Vista once all the cool stuff from Stardock will be released.
on Jan 31, 2007
I have to admit, Stardock & WinCustomise has got to be the best reason for even having a PC. This was an exciting and anticipating article for the future of Windows.
on Jan 31, 2007
isn't it funny how an Aqua theme ends up applied to Windows Vista or is just me?
on Feb 01, 2007
I have been a long time supporter of Stardock and Windowblinds. However.. in the past graphically Windowblinds could always do much more than anything included with the OS. I know this may change in the future but right now the screenshots are looking like XP warmed over. I would like to see a WB that has the unified transparency areas amongst other thing in Vista. I think I remember someone saying that might be in WB6 or something. However it still doesn't stop me from not liking the current state of WB5. Not that I don't appreciate the work it took to make even that work in Vista. I would just like fresh skin technology to go with a fresh OS. Otherwise I'll have to much to my chagrin stick to Aero until it does get the graphical features it is missing that Aero has. It can potentially be Aero and a whole lot more. I'd like to see Stardock software make more use of the accelerated desktop other than just making the old stuff work faster. Although yes I do realize it is still a bit early and it took years to leverage as much as WB5 does in XP but I just wanted to voice my opinion\concern on the matter.
on Feb 01, 2007

Which bits in particular do you feel WB is missing?

on Feb 01, 2007
What I'm talking about is not so much what element like what window widget it's missing which there are some and I'm sure you are working on fixing that but it's about the new visual technologies that Vista brings that thus far it doesn't look like WB is making any use of.

Look at Aero how it is one unified piece of glass for the toolbar and the titlebar. In WB people have faked it by making an extremely large titlebar but that's not the same and is unwieldy and nonfunctional. All because they are trying to do it on XP which isn't entirely possible. On Vista this also extends to programs like WMP where the playback buttons are over a transparent area. I could be wrong but it reminds me of how metal windows work on OS X which is instead of skinning the toolbar, the titlebar and the status area seperate they are part of a whole. Kind of like a widget\gadget\whatchamacallit.

When I say it could be vista and a whole lot more I am thinking of skins where people can move around the titlebar buttons... do unified glass effects, and other stuff which is up to the imagination. Then again I could be way off the mark and aero works like XP only with hacked up transparency thrown into the mix which I don't think is likely. In other words I would like to see WB leverage all the visual appearance technology in Vista and take it to the next level, WB style! It may also take a bit (understatement?) of work but it should also be possible to apply shader effects to WB skins sometime in the future.

What I'm trying to say is that I would like to see WB become a true next gen skinning technology and not just rewarmed XP leftovers. No offense meant by that BTW and I apologize if this is in the roadmap and I seem like I'm pressuring.
on Feb 02, 2007

What you're talking about would be in WindowBlinds 6.

WindowBlinds 5.5's job is to make it work on Windows Vista natively with existing skin technology.

on Feb 05, 2007
"StyleVista"? LOL. That's original.
on Feb 05, 2007

I currently have WB 5.5 (beta) running in Vista Home Premium, after a little worry, since it refused to run after the first two installations. I don't know why it's working now, but all is well.

Too bad there are no original Vista-only skins currently. Or are there? Don't know, since apparently, the Skins link in Stardock Desktop is not currently working (or Wincustomize is just not available to Stardock Desktop right now.)

It really would be nice for a few Vista skins to be put up on the site sometime soon.

Aura works ok, as does several others.

If I were the type of person who could spend hours working on extremely detailed skins, I would create a few myself. But, alas, my gifts do not extend to the area of excruciating detail work like Window Blinds skins require.

Anyway, good job, guys..... WB 5.5 just needs a little more work in the small details.
on Feb 06, 2007


Brad, I've got 2 questions.
Firstly, in all the screenshots I've seen of WB5.5 running on Vista, none shows the start menu. (I may have missed it).

If I use one of the skins I ran under XP on Vista say for example "WC Select" does my Vista Start Menu still have the Search area visible and useable and are the Hibernate, Lock and Shutdown option arrow skinned and available?

Secondly. If I want to manually change a desktop icon for a program that I have installed (not the Windows ones) until the updated IconPackager is released, what is the format and sizing of the Vista Icons that I should match.

I must say that I am genuinely excited about the plans you've outlined and this plus the constant improvements over the last 12 months leave some of the "bigger" software developers for dead!
on Feb 09, 2007
Yes, the Vista start menu still has the search section and buttons. Most skins work surprisingly well considering the start panel is actually quite a bit different now.

Vista icons are "special" (they embed 256x256 PNG images for the largest size) and you will need an appropriate tool to deal with them. Unfortunately it seems our own IconDeveloper is not yet ready for this - until it does, you'll have use a trial of an icon program that does support them, like Axialis'.
on Feb 09, 2007
Thanks for the information GreenReaper. A quick install of WB awaits. Now if Microsoft would only release Dreamscapes I could install the already available Deskscapes program that you good folk at Stardock have ready to run  
on Feb 16, 2007
Will it eventually be possible to have animated windows, or at least the boarders of windows.

Now that we're entering the era of animated and/or rendered backdrops, and it sounds like we'll be entering the era of animated icons, cursors, and 3D rendered desktop surfaces, it seems like the next area is the window borders themselves.

I remember there were demo's of being able to spin windows and things like that. It seems cool, but has little practical purpose, and I don't know how, or if you can do it with Vista now. But a fully rendered window with animations, or 3d effects that match the rest of the theme, skin, rendered background, and other 3D effects would make for some really cool desktop themes.

For example, with that cool new animated background with waves, it would be really cool looking to see effects on the windows themselves that fit with that theme such as dripping water, condensation, or if the flowing water splashed over the boarders and ran down the sides. Or a desktop that looks like everything is on fire. Maybe something neat like when you close a window it just burns up like a piece of paper lit on fire and the ashes blow away.

Will things like this eventually be possible with a 3d rendered desktop now?
on Feb 17, 2007
WindowBlinds already supports animated borders now. There are some skins that do it already.
on Feb 19, 2007
I have never regretted a peeny spent on my ODNT subscription. And now after almost 8 years as a member I am even more excited about new things brought about by the technologies in Vista than Iwas when going from Win9x to Win2K or XP.

Oh great amphibian king, hasten thou workers to bring hither new eye candy and coolest toys.
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