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What are Skins?

The term "skin" refers to the concept of changing the surface look of something. There are skins to change the outside of cell phones. Their are skins to change what your computer case looks like. There are skins to change the look and feel of particular applications like media players. And there are skins that can change the overall look of your computer operating system. The skins designed to change the look of the Windows operating system are typically referred to as "visual styles". But for our purposes, we'll use the more generic term "skin".

Our kinds of skins are made up of dozens of little images called bitmaps. When you look at your Start bar or title bar, you can see that these things are ultimately a bunch of images.  If these images are replaced with new ones, you can dramatically alter the look and feel of your computer desktop.

When someone creates a skin, they have to create images to replace the parts of their computer interface that they want to change. They also typically have to tell the program that is applying the skin how those images should be used.

 

 
What is WindowBlinds?

WindowBlinds is an application that takes specially made skins and applies them to change the entire Windows GUI (graphical user interface). 

WindowBlinds has been around since 1999. Back then, it would apply skins to Windows 95, 98, and Windows NT 4.0.  At first, WindowBlinds just changed the title bars and borders of windows. Over time, it added push buttons, scrollbars, radio buttons and other common controls on Windows.

When Windows XP came out, the Start bar was enhanced and explorer windows gained "task panels".  WindowBlinds was updated to support skins that had those elements in them as well.

Over time, WindowBlinds came to be able to change just about every part of Windows.  Each subsequent version of Windows -- from Windows 2000 to Windows Vista, added additional new elements.

As you can imagine, creating a skin that makes full use of what WindowBlinds can do became increasingly complex.  To address that, Stardock created SkinStudio.

 

What is SkinStudio?

SkinStudio is an application that allows users to create and edit skins for use by WindowBlinds.  It makes it much easier to create a skin that contains all the images and data needed to enhance and extend the entire Windows GUI.  The finished skins are then applied by WindowBlinds.

This tutorial documents and explains how you can use SkinStudio to create WindowBlinds skins. It covers SkinStudio version 6 (and beyond).  SkinStudio 6 was a complete rewrite over the previous versions.  Previous generations of SkinStudio had grown in complexity along with WindowBlinds. Eventually, it became so complicated to use that only the truly committed could create skins with it.  SkinStudio 6 is designed to allow casual users to make skins again.

 
The Elements of a Graphical User Interface

When you look at your computer and how you control it, what are the primary pieces? What are the specific parts you use to control what you do? 

  1. The Start Menu.  The Windows Start menu provides access to your programs and data.
  2. The Task Bar. The task bar contains the Start button as well as displays your running tasks, your quick launch menu, and your system tray.
  3. Title Bars & Windows Frames. When you interact with your windows, they are surrounded by a frame. Typically, the top of  a window has a title bar (though WindowBlinds skins are capable of placing the title bar on any edge of a window). On the title bar you have the title and controls to minimize, maximize, and close the window.
  4. Window controls. You also have controls such as push-buttons, radio buttons, check boxes, scrollbars, menus, toolbars, and lots of other little controls that let you interact with your programs and data.

The most basic skin for WindowBlinds would include replacements for those elements of the Windows GUI.  SkinStudio, however, will let users change as little or as much of the Windows GUI as they'd like. What the user doesn't change, SkinStudio will fill in with the native elements of the Windows GUI.

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