Just found this text I wrote back in 2001 when people asked me about how Winstep was born, and I thought it might be interesting to post it here.
Many things happened in these 14 years, of course (John is no longer with Winstep and hasn't been for some years, for instance, but I always remember him for our incredibly productive brain storming sessions) and some of the things I talk about in the text below might not even ring a bell to current users... but here goes anyway, a piece of internal Winstep history:
I'm not a skinner, but I always loved to customize everything I could in Windows - to the point where I would actually spend more time customizing Windows than actually doing real work in my PC.
From time to time, while browsing the Internet, I would come across pictures of this incredibly beautiful OS, NeXT Step. As most of you probably know, NeXT was the OS created by Steve Jobs when he left Apple. It was an incredibly stylish OS, far ahead of its time - all other OS's looked ugly by comparison. I wanted my Windows PC to look like it really badly.
So I began searching the web and collecting all the NeXT 48x48 hi-color icons I could put my hands on. I also run into this Windows NeXT-dock-clone called IconDock, which was made by Tony Chow - another obvious NeXT lover. He was asking people for their NeXT icon collections, so I sent him my huge one - he integrated it into his own collection and he never even replied thanking me for it. Never replied to any of my other emails either. Duh.
By that time I also run into eFX. Cool. Now I could make the titlebar of my Windows look like the ones in NeXT too - that is, until something happened and I had a customized window frame totally detached from the source window. Yuck. I wrote to the developers reporting the bug but, once more, I never heard back. So much for customer service (I would learn later that eFX development had been halted some time before, and that another program called WindowBlinds by Stardock was taking its place as the window-frame customizer of choice). WindowBlinds... what a weird name.
So that is how I got to the Stardock Newsgroups. WB was still at its infancy, was a buggy resource hog and there was absolutely no documentation on how to make skins for it. But it was a lot more flexible than eFX!
I wanted to do a NeXT style skin and I got really frustrated at the lack of examples, so I left a message at Stardock's WB newsgroup, ranting about the lack of a tutorial and how important it was even at this early stage.
And this is how I met Brad Wardell for the first time - he kind of flamed me until I wasn't much more than a smoking pile of ash
. He groaned that WB was still in beta and that a tutorial was kind of the last thing on their minds at that point. Ah well... I was only trying to state my opinion - talk about starting with the left foot, lol.
So, I had the windows and I had the dock. What I still didn't have was those lovely NeXT style menus. Oh boy. Because of my icon collection, I got a message from this stranger called John T. Folden - we both shared a love for everything NeXT-like and because of that we started corresponding regularly. He introduced me to something called PowerPro - it sort of allowed us to make menus *similar* to the ones in NeXT, but, alas, sub-menus would still look like the ugly Window ones. Grrr...
Being a programmer for many years, I threw in the towel and decided to do it myself. John couldn't believe how fast things were going - in two or three days we had a working prototype. The hotspots idea was born at a very early stage, because our brain-child menu was initially meant to work as a sub-menu of PowerPro. I would attach a hotspot to each of the PowerPro menu buttons which would in turn activate our customized menu.
I always believed in choices, so instead of hard-coding the classic NeXT look into the menus, I decided to make them customizable - you could choose fonts, colors, 3D highlights, etc... Not much more at the time, mind you, but it worked. And thus NextSTART 1.0 was born.
There was nothing like it at the time, and since I really enjoyed what I was doing, I decided to take a big gamble with it... I asked my bank for a l-oan, which would enable me to work on NextSTART full time without worrying about paying the rent (for a few months at least), and got busy.
We got hosted at one of those Xoom free sites and decided to make NextSTART 1.0 freeware. This way we could get people to grow attached to it while we worked on the much more flexible shareware version and make it well known. BetaNews spoke about us and the gamble paid off - we built it and people came.
The rest, as they say, is history...