Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.

I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since WinCustomize.com first launched.

Today I’m taking a look at the 4th iteration of WinCustomize during that time.  The iterations have tended to reflect the particular skinning age they were developed in.  Let’s look at them.

The First Age of Skinning

 imageThis was the age of “Skinz”. It was literally a cottage-sized community. Mian. Toasty. Shoggot. Doreen. These were just a few of the names from back then. Skinning was such a niche back then that there were only a handful of skinners. The tech was primitive, buggy and often unusable. But it was fun.

WinCustomize launched at the first age was ending. The original skinz.org went down along with other skinning sites as the “dot com bomb” went off taking out the means to pay for these sites.  Software developer Stardock decided to create a site and hand it over to the community. That was the original WinCustomize concept launched at the end of March 2001.

The first WinCustomize was designed as a quick way to get to a ton of different skinning libraries and had a major focus on the skinners themselves.  When you came to WinCustomize.com, the home page focused a great deal on the skinners themselves.

The Second Age of Skinning

The Second age was the era of intense competition. Some might call it the golden age of skinning. Skinning had gotten popular and there were lots of people making skinnable programs.

We had widget wars (DesktopX vs. Konfabulator vs. Samurize vs. etc.).  We had skinning wars (WindowBlinds vs. Msstyles). Media player skinning wars (Winamp vs Media Player).

This was the period of the GUI Olympics where the popular skinning sites (back when there were several) got together and competed in making skins of various types.

The Second age was the noontide of diversity in skinning. The second WinCustomize focused much more on the world of skinning itself rather than on the people who made it. It still had quick access to all the libraries but the focus now was on the skins themselves.

Skinning had gotten mainstream. It also came to an abrupt end on January 30, 2007.

The Third Age of Skinning

image The the age could be described as the twilight of skinning. I’m just calling a spade a spade.  Windows Vista had begun to make skinning seem quaint and retro. Who are these weirdos taking a perfectly clean, nice OS and adding a bunch of crap to it?

The number of actively developed apps started to drop quickly. By the end of it, Stardock was the only company with full time developers still making programs for the express purpose of skinning things. Konfabulator had been bought by Yahoo. Hoverdesk was gone. TGT Soft had closed down.

There were still people out there making skins professionally. WinStep continues forward.  The Skins Factory created Hyperdesk and updated it to support Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

There was also a GUI Championships in 2008 where China emerged as a leader in skinning.

The skinning community had changed drastically. It moved from being a community of skinners to being a community of consumers. The expectations on the quality of the software and quality of the skins had increased to the point that only full time professionals could really produce the king of “assets” that were acceptable to consumers. Part of this was because Windows Vista/7 had become so good on their own that the bar had been raised beyond most casual skinners.

In the beginning, skins were made by guys like me:

imageEarly skins were easy to make: This screen shot represents all of the art assets in the whole skin

image
Today’s skins require a great deal of time and effort.

The software, when it ran, tended to crash often. The skins were simple. But compared to Windows itself, it was all an improvement.

By the end of 2009, skinning, which had started out as a niche techie hobby had become a niche consumer hobby. Nothing highlighted this more than the recent updates to DesktopX and ObjectDock where users complained loudly at various aspects of how the beta was handled. They weren’t users anymore. They were customers of a product.

The challenge to skinning in this new age remains daunting. Producing high quality software and content in which people expect to pay nothing or virtually nothing for. In a world where a 500 line iPhone game sells for $0.99 and can sell 50,000 copies easily, it becomes harder to produce a 250,0000 line program that people are outraged to pay $20 for – even it if includes professionally created skins and themes.

And so that’s how the third age ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.

The Fourth Age of Skinning

image

The goal of the fourth age is to get back to skinning’s roots: Appealing to techies who want to do interesting things to their computer. The new website tilts very much back over to skinners. The home page provides quick access to the top skinners (the age 3 site didn’t even list skin authors on the home page). It’s also designed to be much cleaner and more approachable.

There is a definite migration away from commercialization and back into grassroots. While “Master skins” and such are here to stay, there’s a lot less advertising on the site. The subscriptions will soon be changed to only be $19.95 but no longer provide “premium suites” as part of the subscription but instead site specific services and features.

The site will increasingly return to the original mission of being a community site for the customization of things.  The site’s new design lends itself to a lot more user customization (for subscribers anyway). We’ll talk more about that in the coming weeks.

We are pretty excited about the new site and the new era for skinning.  Over the coming months, we expect to be able to introduce more and more features that allow skinners and the community to interact and share creations.

The Fourth Age is scheduled to begin this month. But you can see a sneak peek at www.wincustomizetest.com.


Comments (Page 1)
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on Apr 06, 2010

Frogboy has a knack for putting the history of things in Precis form....clean and concise....

on Apr 06, 2010

What I wanna know is what WB skin that is, looks awesome, the skin I've been looking for.

on Apr 06, 2010

That's some kewl reading

on Apr 06, 2010

ChuckCS
What I wanna know is what WB skin that is, looks awesome, the skin I've been looking for.

The second one he posted is Laguna by essorant. https://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?skinid=6876&libid=1

on Apr 06, 2010

Really good read!

 

What I wanna know is what WB skin that is, looks awesome, the skin I've been looking for.

 

You can get the first one here Link

on Apr 06, 2010

Interesting read.

I've watched the skinning world over the last six or seven years. I say 'watched' as unfortunately I neither have the time or ability to skin........so I am a user and admirer.......and supporter of the company that makes the software that gives me so much enjoyment and a supporter of all those artists that put together wonderful items for me and others to put on our desktops. Many things have changed over the years, as has been eluded to in this post........but like many........I keep coming back for more. Why? Quite simply......the products are excellent and tremendous value for money...........The artists who make the items that go with the products are so talented.........and finally, the warm 'family' that frequents the Wincustomize website. Says a lot..........

Where do we go from here? Much of the same, I hope..........but a lot of this depends on Stardock, the artists, the consumer and few other factors.

What would I like to see, as a consumer? Desktop X coming back in all its pride and glory. There are so many things this program can do and, to me, it gives that edge to any desktop.......Yeah! love WB, Iconpackager, ObjectDock, etc.........but give me a few matching items and other bits and pieces from Desktop X and wow! now you're talking. One particular program which is been getting a lot of skinners and consumers attention is Rainmeter.............There is no doubt about it but in the past year or so its popularity has dramatically increased especially on the consumer side...........Whilst you really can't compare, in my uneducated opinion, Desktop X is a far superior and can do far more many things........but the bottom line is Rainmeter, for most people, adds that edge. For me, I'd love to see Desktop X take that edge. 

    

on Apr 07, 2010

        Sir...As i read this I feel I was finally able to understand what Ive been feeling. I ve rcently removed all my stuff b/c I figure if Im not going to be here then why should I leave my stuff here? That said...many of the reasons Ive withdrawen are the very reasons that you speak of. Change it back to the grassroots it always was. Allow the sale of masterskins and advertising, yet let it be minimal. Let the user feel important again...Let me walk barefoot in those grassroots...Look forward to what you bring to the table sir...Sincerely, Jack Nolan

on Apr 07, 2010

Here's hoping skinners will continue to skin. Every reasonable effort has to be made to encourage that and to make them feel welcome or there'll be no point to the software...

on Apr 07, 2010

 I first started skinning in 2006 I did it originally becuase I was one of the first Audio/Video Retailer and Installers in this the southeastern US to install PC controlled A/V systems instead of the typical "Surround Sound Systems".But lets face it XP was ugly who wanted to pay 5000$ for a system that looked like well you get the point.(I had been putting computers in cars since '99 in the race to build the best car audio system.)

The introduction of media center changed the game as it was and still is not readily skinable!However when a customer is browsing the internet from thier couch nobody wanted to see luna.

Vista and 7 changed that some OS looked better MediaCenter looked better but still the same thing that is on the office PC they use everyday.To an end consumer they did not even know you could change this at all!

My compant has now branched into LED full video signs and I am curently working on reskining the progrm for the sign interface for the manufactor as visual impact is key in every area to make a consumer feel they got what  they paid for.Brad I wanted to talk to you about this any way as DirectSkin may be an option for them!

I also know that with the OS changes it has become increasingly hard to skin all elements of an OS but in the end we as people want it our way always creating a need for customization.I am excited to see what is to come!

Harley

on Apr 07, 2010

Disappointed to hear that Premium Skins as part of a subscription will be discontinued.  I guess it makes sense, but it's an easier purchase for me if I don't have to see the incremental cost of each skin.  I'd rather order the "Happy Family Dinner A" rather than pick and choose from the chinese menu.

on Apr 07, 2010

I see the new WC subscription rates are showing on the beta site.  Can I just go ahead and renew there now?  That arrangement is just fine with me.  Thanks.

on Apr 07, 2010

The subscriptions will soon be changed to only be $19.95 but no longer provide “premium suites” as part of the subscription but instead site specific services and features.

I suppose that makes sense because we were promised 12 premium skins a year as part of our subscription, and then almost half a year went by before we saw any. Just couldn't deliver on that one.

on Apr 07, 2010

With the posting of this thread I was anticipating the eminent release of the new WinCustomize site. 

I guess it was just another little tease by Brad. 

Oh well, I have nothing else to do so I guess I will just be patient like the rest of you folks.  

Wait a minute, I can watch Baseball.

on Apr 07, 2010

Personally..what I would like to see is actual skinners get more exposure and recognition. When I see the top "skinners" list I see people there who never skinned anything and have even expressed no desire to...yet they are listed as skinners. And when you spent hours...year after year creating things for people to use only to see people who never skinned a pixel move ahead of you as a "top skinner"...it just kind of doesn't seem worth it to bother sometimes.. I hope this changes in the future.

And yeah...I'm gonna beat a dead horse here again...I would love to see an gallery for just OD backgrounds/docklets...and stick the misc png/icons in the Misc Icons gallery. This is one reason I don't skin as much as I'd like to for OD. I have one gallery to upload to where as they have 3...Misc Icons...ObjectDock and IconPackager. And I say IconPackager because I've seen instances where someone would upload icon themes that should/could have been made into a package rather than uploading 20/30 pngs/icons one at a time.

But even having said all that...as long as WC is here I'm sure people will still be skinning...I know I will be.

on Apr 07, 2010

And yeah...I'm gonna beat a dead horse here again...I would love to see an gallery for just OD backgrounds/docklets...and stick the misc png/icons in the Misc Icons gallery. This is one reason I don't skin as much as I'd like to for OD. I have one gallery top upload to where as they have 3...isc Icons...ObjectDock and IconPackager. And I say IconPackager because I've seen instances where someone would upload icon themes that should/could have been made into a package rather than uploading 20/30 pngs/icons one at a time.

Hell I don't even browse the OD gallery for dock bg's anymore, I just go straight to the Giz-master.

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