WindowBlinds 3 not only makes Windows 98, ME, and 2000 into fully skinnable operating systems, on Microsoft Windows XP, WindowBlinds is able to take advantage of the new visual style engine. Microsoft gave Windows XP a whole new look but gave customers the ability to switch back to the "classic" look. But to do that, they developed what is called the Windows XP visual style engine. With it, users can quickly and easily switch between Windows XP style and classic style. WindowBlinds embraces much of that engine and then extends it. Here are several key advantages of using WindowBlinds:
Lets Windows XP use more visual styles
Adds true skinning to Windows XP
Superior application compatibility
Provides a Native, Microsoft certified solution to customizing Windows XP
Can make skins any color you choose
Full Clear Type support and full control over it.
Smaller footprint than a visual style
By default, Windows XP only comes with a single visual style (known appropriately as Windows XP style). By default you cannot add more. However, with WindowBlinds 3, you can. WindowBlinds 3 allows Windows XP to treat Stardock's .UIS skins as native visual styles which can be applied right along side Microsoft certified visual styles.
Advantage 1: WindowBlinds 3 makes it easy for users to add/delete/edit more visual styles.
What exactly does this mean? There are many definitions of what "Skinning" is but the consensus is that a skin gives the user as well as the skin author to dramatically alter the look and feel of a given user interface. Microsoft rightly calls their new look a "style" because it is just that - a style. The parts of the user interface look different but controls can't be moved, the overall look can't be much changed. By contrast, WindowBlinds can provide true skinning, this is where the user can greatly affect the user interface as well as the skin author.
Consider these examples:
Hard to believe that these are all running on Windows. But true skinning means that the skin can add additional features to the GUI (clocks, roll-up buttons, MP3 players, whatever). It also means more basic things like being able to move buttons, have different shaped borders and edges. In short, it means letting the user SKIN the OS.
When Microsoft designed Windows XP, they decided that it would be better to not apply visual styles to existing applications (aka "non theme aware applications"). The net result is that as any Windows XP user knows, most applications are not fully stylized by Windows XP. In contrast, Stardock's experience in this area means that all your applications can be skinned. For example, if you want Office XP to look and feel more like Windows XP style, you need WindowBlinds 3. Eventually most applications will be theme aware but that will take a long while and many applications (such as Delphi apps) are going to have to be modified (WindowBlinds handles Delphi apps fine). On applications that refuse to get along, WindowBlinds provides an easy to use exclusion function that allows users to exclude all or just parts of a given application.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at these two screenshots. One is Windows XP running the default "Windows XP blue" style. The other one is the same system with WindowBlinds 3 installed. Note that the applications running includes Microsoft Office apps.
Case 1: Windows XP by default:
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Case 2: WindowBlinds 3 added:
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Note here that these are commonly used applications. These are the types of programs most people use and therefore the type of experience most people can expect.
WindowBlinds 3 was developed in close contact with Microsoft. It not only was launched at Microsoft and was part of Microsoft's Windows XP launch, but has Microsoft certification. It is the Microsoft certified way of adding skins to Windows XP. Some people have tried to argue that anything not bundled with the OS is somehow not "native". However, would anyone use WordPad over Microsoft Word because of that argument? Microsoft Word is just as native as WordPad. The only difference is that WordPad is bundled.
Additionally, while Windows XP comes with 3 different color schemes (Blue, Silver and Olive Green), WindowBlinds lets users choose between 16.8 million colors - dynamically coloring supported skins on the fly with no performance hit at all (blending occurs upon applying the skin).
Pick a color, any color and your window can take on that color.
Windows XP comes with a new font rendering option designed for LCD's called ClearType. During development, Stardock discovered that Cleartype does cause a mild performance hit. WindowBlinds 3 provides users with the optional ability to optimize Cleartype support - when resizing, WindowBlinds can render the text with non-clear type thus making windows size faster than otherwise. The effect is seamless. Additionally, WindowBlinds supports full alpha blending in GUI controls with the us of 32bit TARGA files, the industry standard file format for creating alpha blended bitmaps.
To Microsoft's credit, the overhead of using a visual style is very low. Microsoft did an excellent job of that. However, WindowBlinds 3's overhead is even lower. That is, when running a typical skin on a typical system, WindowBlinds actually uses less memory than Windows XP style despite the fact that it is doing much more. How is this possible? Because the WindowBlinds skin format had to be developed with Windows 95/98/ME systems in mind as well where resources are at a premium. The result is that WindowBlinds skins are very efficient in use.
Nothing quite highlights this difference than the actual size of skins. For example, the WindowBlinds skin "XPLuna" not only works on Windows 98/ME/2000 and XP..Not only does it make more applications on Windows XP look like Windows XP, Not only does it include all three color schemes (olive green, blue and silver) but the entire file is only 217K! Even uncompressed with bitmaps and all it's only 398K on disk. By contrast, if you go to C:\WINNT\Resources\Themes\Luna (or wherever your Windows directory is) the Windows XP visual style is over 4 MEGABYTES - 10X larger.
This isn't to say that visual styles are bloated or slow or bad, simply that WindowBlinds 3 skins use less memory than a similar visual style and tend to use far far less disk space than a similar visual style. Because WindowBlinds works on Windows 98 and ME (and 2000), where resources are at a premium and many users may only have 32megs of memory, WindowBlinds has been optimized to use as little memory as possible. Stardock has had 4 years to optimize WindowBlinds to be light. When a user uses Windows XP style (an msstyle) Microsoft's theming manager service has to be activated and resources used.
WindowBlinds 3 can be found at http://www.windowblinds.net