Contents

What is WindowBlinds?

What can it do?

How does it work?

Why should I use WindowBlinds?


 

What is WindowBlinds?

WindowBlinds is a program that turns Windows into a fully skinnable OS.  It allows users to apply visual styles (also known as skins) that can completely change the overall look and feel of Windows. It changes title bars, scrollbars, push buttons, the Start bar, icon text, radio buttons, borders, dialog backgrounds and much more.  

WindowBlinds is a component of Stardock's Object Desktop suite. Object Desktop is a suite of desktop extensions that when put together allow users to completely transform Windows itself to any ideal you choose. WindowBlinds by itself is only $19.95. Object Desktop is $49.95 but gives you not just WindowBlinds but DesktopX, ObjectBar, Winstyles, IconPackager, ControlBands, and updates to all of the above for an entire year.

 

What can it do?

For users of Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP, WindowBlinds adds a host  new features to the Windows GUI and seamlessly integrates into Windows.

In your display properties, WindowBlinds extends the appearance tab on XP (on pre-XP it adds a "skins" tab).

 

 

wb-apr02.jpg (240728 bytes)

 

WindowBlinds provides true, free-form skinning. It can be as "tame" or "fancy" as the user wants it to be. The goal is to allow unprecedented flexibility on the Windows GUI.

 

In this example, skin author David K has created an alternative Windows GUI that uses hardly any additional screen space but packs in a great deal of information and features. And note that it can be shaped anything (you could even have a circular GUI instead of rectangular). There are transparent bits at top and bottom as well.

 

WindowBlinds also comes with a ton of small customization features that don't add more overhead but just make Windows nicer. For a truly detailed overview of what WindowBlinds can do, check out the documentation.

Customize all sorts of aspects of Windows.

WindowBlinds can also skin your menus.

WindowBlinds 3 introduced the concept of "Smart Buttons". Smart Buttons allow users to define what their title bar buttons do. Want that roll-up button to launch a particular program instead? Configure it from the Smart Buttons tab in the configuration window.

 

How Does WindowBlinds work?

When a user downloads WindowBlinds, they are actually downloading two versions of it. There is a version designed for Windows XP and later operating systems and a version for Windows 98, ME, and 2000.

Skinning on Windows XP:

Windows XP allows users to choose between two different looks - Windows XP style and Windows Classic.  Windows XP style has a large blue title bar that is rounded on the corners. The classic style looks like previous versions of Windows.  Users can pick between 3 color schemes for Windows XP (blue, green and silver). To do this, Microsoft had to develop a set of APIs (also called a "skinning engine") to allow its visual style format (.msstyles) to change the GUI.  Stardock made WindowBlinds when running on Windows XP embrace these APIs and then extend them to be faster, more featured, and more flexible. 

So how does this work? On Windows XP, Microsoft's skinning engine uses a system hook to intercept paint calls to the title bar. This is done at a very low level so the overhead in doing this is negligible. When a program attempts to paint its title bars, Microsoft's hook intercepts the call and re-directs it to a DLL called uxtheme.dll. WindowBlinds instead re-directs it to its optimized wblind.dll instead which then uses uxtheme.dll or its own functions to handle painting (WindowBlinds can thus pick and choose between more APIs so it picks the fastest and most compatible APIs between the two).

Additionally, Microsoft provides a new common controls DLL that applications can use to make their application appear "theme aware". If you run Windows XP, you'll notice that most existing applications have new title bars but the buttons and radio buttons and check boxes and such have the Windows 95 look.  WindowBlinds instead can re-direct all programs to use new buttons, scrollbars, menus, etc.

Skinning on Windows 98, ME, and 2000.

WindowBlinds uses a system hook to re-direct paint calls to the system to wblind.dll which then handles the painting. This way, WindowBlinds avoids painting over the original title bar but instead becomes the original title bar itself.  Because these versions of Windows weren't designed originally to be skinned, Stardock has spent years enhancing and improving application compatibility.  This is why WindowBlinds has an exclusion list.  

About Windows 98/ME and resources:

WindowBlinds 3.3 and later runs greatl on Windows 98/ME. WindowBlinds 3.3 added global bitmap handling for Windows 98/ME which vastly decreases the number of GDI resources used. Most users of these operating systems are not aware that Win98/ME have a 128K (that's kilobyte) GDI resource limit. When a system runs low on these resources, Win98/ME can become unstable. Since WindowBlinds uses bitmaps for title bars and buttons, these had to come from that 128K limit. Hence, a system that was already low on system resources would find WindowBlinds causing them stability problems.  Since most users aren't familiar with the 128K GDI limit, they would assume WindowBlinds was buggy.  With 3.3, a single copy of the skin is held in memory instead of each program having its own copy. This greatly reduces the number of GDI resources used.

Because WindowBlinds is a user-level program, it can be unloaded completely without a reboot with just a couple of clicks. When WindowBlinds is unloaded, it turns off its system hook and redirects calls back to the system.

When WindowBlinds paints a bitmap, it knows what is transparent and what isn't transparent based on the color. If a pixel is of the RGB value 255,0,255 (pink) then WindowBlinds treats it as transparent.  While on the surface, such a concept is fairly straight forward, WindowBlinds is the result of 6 years of continuous effort. That's because there are so many different GUI elements to handle, learning when to take over painting and when to let the message go through, application compatibility, performance improvements, etc. require an immense level of effort. That is why there are no other programs available  that can do what WindowBlinds does.

 

Why should I use WindowBlinds

The benefits differ slightly depending on which version of Microsoft Windows you are running. One obvious advantage is that WindowBlinds provides thousands of visual styles that work on any version of Windows.

If you have Windows 98, ME, or 2000:

If you want to customize the look and feel of Windows 98, ME or 2000, WindowBlinds is the way to go. It is the only program that can do what it does (or anything even close). Want to make Windows look like a different OS?

wb3os.jpg (66943 bytes)

Windows 98 looking like another computer entirely.

 

wb-oct01c.jpg (173330 bytes)

Windows 98 could be made to look like WIndows XP or something completely new (Start bar provided by ObjectBar)

WindowBlinds can also provide a consistent or branded user interface across multiple versions of Windows. It can make Windows look cool or make it more productive or both.

On Windows XP

Because Windows XP comes with a new cool with 3 different color schemes, WindowBlinds gains additional opportunities. By default, Windows XP cannot accept additional visual styles, the only way one might do so would be to patch out Microsoft's digital signature protection which Microsoft strongly recommends against for security and stability purposes.  Instead, WindowBlinds is the Microsoft certified way to add new visual styles to Windows XP.

Because WindowBlinds has its own proprietary visual style language known as UIS (User Interface Specification) that all WindowBlinds skins use, Stardock has been able to use its years of experience to optimize for performance and memory use. This means WindowBlinds visual styles are faster and use less memory than the .msstyles format visual styles. Add to that WindowBlinds' ability to make all programs behave as theme aware applications and the result is that if you want Windows XP to look like Windows XP and do it faster, WindowBlinds is the answer:

without.jpg (245408 bytes)

Windows XP without WindowBlinds. Notice how existing applications retain the Windows 95 look in many places. Look closely at scrollbars and other inconsistencies.

 

with.jpg (383017 bytes)

WindowBlinds now enabled on Windows XP. Note how the user interface is much more consistent. The various GUI elements are now properly modified to have the new Windows XP look. And remember, by doing this you not only end up with a nicer looking UI, but a faster and less memory using one as well.

 


References

http://www.windowblinds.net/docs (docs)

http://www.windowblinds.net/benefits (benefits of the enhanced version)

http://www.windowblinds.net/skinning (skinning guide)

http://www.windowblinds.net/download.html (download)

http://www.windowblinds.net/xp/wb3advantages.html (WindowBlinds on Windows XP)

Object Desktop (includes WindowBlinds)