Winstep Forums

Theme approach
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Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Tue Sep 20, 2016 1:25 am ]
Post subject:  Theme approach

OK Jorge asked if I had a problem posting this. I am of the "older" generation so not much bothers me these days :)

I am 58 this year.
I think if I did not enjoy playing with what is technically possible in Winstep by imagination and instead was concerned with what Jane or John Doe would think of my work, it would turn out differently.

Humans are funny creatures. As I grew older, I stopped worrying about what people think with what I personally enjoy doing as a release. If people concern themselves only with pleasing others then they may as well get paid for it.
I notice on Wincustomize that there is a regular forum posting by people of a decline in posts of designers. I wonder if someone considered that there is possibility that perhaps Mindy, jcRabbit, macackerson and other fine exponents of designs suddenly got picked up and now are getting paid for their work, pleasing others?
I know from being a musician since I was 14 and writing scores, that my desire to create for myself is totally diminished when I am paid to create what someone else wants. :)

Any possible reason is feasible as this is only speculation, but if you are going to create anything, do it for the RIGHT reason, the sheer joy of it !

I love seeing people's designs, I respect and appreciate the time taken and what younger people forget is the time we have is not endless, we all have a cutoff date, so make it a quality of time.


P.S post any themes you have done I love seeing peoples creativity! Thanks :)

Author:  winstep [ Tue Sep 20, 2016 3:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

The reason I asked you to post your email to me here is because my reply might also be interesting to others. So, first of all, thanks for posting it here. :)

Skinning and Windows customization have a story behind it, dating all the way back to the 90's and WinAmp (remember it?). We're talking Windows 95/98 days.

WinAmp, the free MP3 media player, was, as far as I can remember, the first Windows application that allowed you to make skins for it. The default skin was, in my opinion, pretty awful (eheh) so many users took up the challenge and came up with thousands of different skins for it, some of them really mind blowing, especially for the time.

Back then things were a lot simpler and there was tremendous room for improvement. Windows crashed a lot, Explorer used quite a bit of resources (offering only basic functionality) and RAM sticks were really expensive - which left room for alternate, more efficient and customizable, shells like LiteStep (and others).

I remember how Litestep was really popular when Winstep entered the scene, sometime around 1998 (yes, almost 20 years ago!). It had thousands of enthusiastic active users, most of them nerds since Litestep was not exactly easy to configure or install.

As you can figure out from the names (Litestep, Winstep) a major source of inspiration for all of us was Steve Job's incredible NeXTSTEP OS, which he put together after being booted off Apple. It was incredibly far ahead of its time, and it was gorgeous! While Windows was still shoving horrible 16 color 16x16 and 32x32 icons down our throats, NeXTSTEP featured amazing 48x48 256 color icons, each icon a small work of art!

All Windows docks are also derivations from the original dock in NeXTSTEP (and later the dock in OSX).

At that time Stardock had also already made the switch from its OS/2 roots to Windows, in order to survive as a company after the crash of IBM's OS/2. WindowBlinds was still in beta (and remained so for a very long time) but it already allowed you to change the title bars and frames of windows.

There were lots of sites and forums dedicated to skinnable applications and Windows customization (,, DeviantArt, etc...). Even though it was a relatively small community at the time (niche, even!) it was *thriving*.

Not a day passed by without a new skin being uploaded for the most popular skinnable applications. NextSTART (the first application released by Winstep) was among those - in fact, many skinners that later moved on to making professional skins for WindowBlinds started with NextSTART: Treetog, Essorant, etc...

Most of those original themes were unfortunately lost when the and eFront scandal broke (old timers will know what I am talking about) and most skinners removed their skins from the catalog. You should see some of those early NextSTART themes made by Treetog, though - they were terrible eheh! Yet, he later became one of the best skinners around - which shows nobody should ever be shy or ashamed of their early works... we all have to start somewhere!

Anyway, the demise of, at the time the most popular skins repository website, left a vacuum that was quickly filled by Stardock's This, together with the popularity and lack of competition enjoyed by WindowBlinds, allowed Stardock to elevate skinning and Windows customization from a niche market to mainstream, bringing in many new users.

Unfortunately there is a downside to every good thing. On one side, the new users, unlike the old community, were mostly NOT interested in making skins. The new found popularity of skinning also led to a boom in skinnable applications, which further fragmented the market and prevented most Windows customization companies and developers from reaching 'critical mass'. The ratio of skinners vs. regular users took a deep dive and the few skinners that existed were all divided between a large number of skinnable applications.

Most of the original skinners still concentrated on WindowBlinds though, but in the mean time the difficulty and complexity of making WindowBlinds skins was growing exponentially (because Windows too was getting more complex, which much more to skin besides title bars and window frames). While before you could come up with a new WindowBlinds skin in just a handful of hours, making a proper WindowBlinds skin now took *weeks*. It was no longer fun, it became a chore, which explains the further decline in skinners.

Skinning WindowBlinds now required so much effort and time that it was only natural for the hard core skinners to start charging money for their skins. If you do the work and spend the hours, it's only fair you get some compensation for it.

The release of Windows XP almost spelled doom for WindowBlinds and Stardock, as Microsoft intended to make their own native themes engine (basically a copy of what WB already did). WindowBlinds was only saved because at the last moment Microsoft decided to keep their themes engine closed and only allow Windows to run themes digitally signed by Microsoft.

This decision came about because a badly made Windows theme could easily crash the OS, potentially creating a tech support nightmare - with users likely blaming Microsoft and not the theme.

Despite this, somebody figured out that they could still use Microsoft's own skinning engine by illegally patching a Windows DLL to by-pass the digital signature requirement - and thus StyleXP was born, the only real 'competitor' WindowBlinds ever had. Competitor between quotes because all StyleXP did was patch a DLL, there was no know-how or effort behind it, unlike with the real McCoy that was WindowBlinds.

And then Windows Vista came out.

With all its problems, Vista (as well as its successor, Windows 7, which is just Vista 2.0) was undoubtedly the best looking version of Windows *ever*. There was eye candy everywhere you looked.

I remember how mad I was at Microsoft for breaking compatibility with so many applications on Vista (there are a handful of posts in the Articles section regarding this), but at the same time I couldn't help but admire how good the new Windows version now looked.

Personally I think the release of Vista and Windows 7 mark the exact time Windows customization and skinning in general started dying.

Windows was finally so good looking that most third party WindowBlinds skins actually made it look *worse*. And even if they actually improved on the look, Aero was already 'good enough'.

'Good enough' in an OS usually spells the death of many 3rd party applications that rely on improving a particular aspect of it. If something is 'good enough' and comes with the OS (and is therefore free) why pay good money for something else that might only marginally improve on what is already there? You don't.

And thus here we are. Litestep, AstonShell, Talisman and all the alternate shells are dead (Explorer is good enough these days). Other than Nexus, all the other Windows docks are dead too or haven't been updated in over 2 years.

All the once extremely popular skinning sites and customization forums now look like ghost towns, where you can almost hear the wind blowing between the ruins of what were once tall proud buildings. DeviantArt has turned completely around from being a Windows customization site into a general art site (good decision, since it *thrives* on that) and even the mighty Wincustomize is but a shadow of what it once was.

Stardock still thrives, but only because it turned into games, which was always Brad Wardel's (Stardock's CEO and owner) real passion. :)

So, getting back on topic, now you might understand a bit better why so many skinners charge for their work these days. And you're also right, it does take away some of the joy in it - but then, what joy would there be if skinning WB became so complex that it now takes weeks to design a single skin? Luckily Winstep themes definitely do not fall into that category!

Also, there is a question of quality. If you're paying money for something, you have the right to expect and demand quality and attention to detail. You can't do that if the skin is free.

Not many of you know, but some of the best Winstep skins currently being offered for free (DarkTech, LightTech and Evolve) were actually work commissioned for - and paid by - Winstep. I wanted to raise the bar and show what was possible if you went the extra mile.

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Tue Sep 20, 2016 4:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

wo thanks so much for that backgorund. Incredible.

yes I remember winamp. I did a few myself. I think from memory The Kenwood one was great and the SONy skin as well... I did an AKAI one that got a lot of downloads then - 1998? somewhere around then.

Yes the explorer alternative shells died. Windows commander was pretty popular for a while.

I even remeber some shelling programs for Windows for Workgroups sheesh I am old haha

Keep in mind Microsoft based WindowsNT on VMS and their blue boot was all VMS badly re-edited. It was not until they decided to rewrite it starting around XP that the O/S started to become more user friendly for programmers wanting to call hardware routines instead of getting blue screens of death.
then they brought in certificate permissions and some worse ideas. It is definitely in many ways on a user-level getting better and in other ways, worse whether a programmer or an end-user.
They broke compatibiklity in so many ways and have realised that they basically are a massive shop with a massive sales base and they were going to lose customers. I remember Linus conversation with Bill Gates telling him Linux was not for sale and would never be for sale because it was open source and Bill should write his own :)

It is however interesting though where UNIX is concerned, that a Squid Proxy is still the eleast hcked proxy on the planet and that a MAC has as it's core an edited version of FreeBSD. All you have to do is open a MAC console and 90% of the FreeBSD commands work. :)

Yes, Microsoft has a lot to answer for in terms of changing things - Most companies, Steve Jobs knew it that if something was not broken, it did not need fixing. Improve it but don't fix it haha!

As for designing, yes I will always believe the only reason to do it is to see a picture in your head and then create it. do it because it is a creative realization in actuality and in pure, creative fun is how I see it.
If I did not, I would stop.

I am looking forward to the new Theme Builder because I know I am only on the tip of my creative iceberg and I will only get better with better tools :)

As for Windowblinds, to be perfectly honest I have owned a version around XP and never went back to it. Too clunky and draining on the system I found. I tried a free version trial and then yours. Yours does the same thing and uses half of the resources and less crashing on pixel resizing. [The resizing is me but I like to push the limits a little]

Thanks Jorge,


Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Wed Sep 21, 2016 10:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

I have noticed that I upload a graphic now, it goes through the motions but doesn't show now ??? might have to be jpg not png I it makes no difference now.

I will post the latest I have just fixed and I will upload warts 'n all now it's cleaner to Wincustomize as you suggested Jorge. prntscr link instead... saves clogging up the boards too I suppose...
[weird with the graphic/images]


Author:  winstep [ Wed Sep 21, 2016 10:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

BassdudeNZ wrote:
I have noticed that I upload a graphic now, it goes through the motions but doesn't show now ??? might have to be jpg not png I it makes no difference now.

Thanks for letting me know. Turns out the attachment disk space quota for the whole board had been reached.

Just increased it. Mind trying again?

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Wed Sep 21, 2016 11:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

OK will try again.
ALSO - I have uploaded this as a *.zip to wincustomize if anyone wants to look at my first attempt.... download it whatever... Same name

Did a previw - YES - It is working now

The Study.jpg
The Study.jpg [ 595.86 KiB | Viewed 13113 times ]

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Wed Sep 21, 2016 11:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

""ART" [originally called 'The Louvre' for obvious reasons]
Will clean this up a little when I can work out why my menu separators won't changecolor.[any hints which file it is in?] :)

Art.jpg [ 671.86 KiB | Viewed 13112 times ]

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Wed Sep 21, 2016 11:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

And for the Gamers - now fixed complete with Diablo head menu button and tthe head [tiny] in all the centers of the docks+ logo plus a few of the main bosses rather than the heroes.
Will do some uploads tomorrow on wincustomize.
The Orchestra one I will do an Orchstra Xtreme because I have lerned more and am mid-editing it.

Diablo III.jpg
Diablo III.jpg [ 385.33 KiB | Viewed 13111 times ]

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

Sems that Winstep where it says about copying and editing, on wincustomize, even when you clearly give credit to where you got a foundation to create from is, they get annoyed and delete it.
Either you cannot copy and build or the rules are not quite what I thought they were about copying and redesigning.

Author:  winstep [ Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

If you're going to make a new theme based on someone else's theme/graphics, giving credit is not enough, you have to ask permission from the original authors first.

However, I'm not sure what the problem is in this specific case? What did you base these themes on? Did they delete them because of the Diablo figures?

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Thu Sep 22, 2016 2:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

Ok Pico whatshisname did a theme and I used none of his graphics at all - zero. The winstep 9.5 menu editing builder I could not find so I removed ALL of his images, all of the lot manually, resized, manually moved things etc etc in config files - TOTALLY did my own graphics.I even resized many docklets and manually adjusted pixel locations in the config files.
If I never said I based it on by simply giving credit as a starting layout and nothing more it probably would have been ok.
No - The study one.
shame really that was a goodie [below]
I am going to do them for myself Jorge. I will post screenshots. If people on woncustomize want them they can email me.
I never diid them for others as I said :)

The Study.jpg
The Study.jpg [ 595.86 KiB | Viewed 13103 times ]

Author:  winstep [ Thu Sep 22, 2016 6:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach as recommend to post by Jorge

BassdudeNZ wrote:
If I never said I based it on by simply giving credit as a starting layout and nothing more it probably would have been ok.
I am going to do them for myself Jorge. I will post screenshots. If people on woncustomize want them they can email me.

You're taking it personally and you really shouldn't. :)

The moderators at WC normally do a good job, and it's not an easy one because they can't always be sure if someone is ripping the work of someone else or not, etc...

Send me an email with your username at WC (as well as the information you included when you uploaded the theme) and I'll talk to someone there to figure out what happened and why the theme was deleted.


In the mean time, some constructive criticism regarding the themes and two common mistakes, if you don't mind: :)

1. Shelf grid.

This is a pet peeve of mine.

When I implemented the icon grid by default, I intended it to be something really subtle, like a *3D indentation* carved into the body of Shelf with a razor blade, where you basically only see the shadows and highlights (the grid uses two colors, a dark and a light one).

You can accomplish this by using grid colors that match the dominant color of the Shelf body background, one of those colors being just a little bit darker and the other just a little bit lighter. This way the grid becomes barely visible, but it's there and really blends with the background.

Instead a lot of skinners give the grid a single solid color (like you did in Art), sometimes even a contrasting solid color (like you did in Diablo).

This, in my opinion, looks really awful: it makes the icon grid too heavy and too visible, like something that was carelessly thrown there on top of the icons.

Instead it should look as if it is *behind* the icons, i.e.; as if the grid is part of the Shelf body where the icons sit upon.

2. Only using the weather forecast icons in the desktop weather module.

This is WebGizmos fault, even though I begged him not to do this (lol) over and over again. But because all his themes are like that, most new skinners end up copying this.

You MUST also use/show the main weather icon in the weather module. *Only* that icon represents current weather conditions. The first icon in the forecast is NOT the same thing (not to mention that the forecast might even not be available sometimes, while current conditions are).

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Fri Sep 23, 2016 1:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach

While we are on the grid topic this is important for me the way I do things...
Where can I get a color numbers chart?
The ones on the web are not completely accurate even the ones with matching colors to the numbers- I tried some of them. Some are right, some are totally wrong.
You are not using hexadecimals.
~OR~ If you have a hex to numbers chart that would be great. I prefer hex which is why the config files take me four times longer because I have to change and then apply not knowing if the color numbers will display what I actually want. Diablo was more of a "I guess I will have to live with it" becuse a lighter grey I spent too long trying to find unsuccessfully - so I went with a contrast instead.
I am editing via config files to it has to be right there is truly no margin for error which I found out the hard way [bst way to learn, from mistakes]
- most of the time anyway....

Author:  winstep [ Fri Sep 23, 2016 1:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach

BassdudeNZ wrote:
​​You are not using hexadecimals.

You can use hexadecimal in the configuration files, but you have to prefix the numbers with &H, e.g.; &H17FE00

Author:  BassdudeNZ [ Fri Sep 23, 2016 2:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Theme approach

Thank you !

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