A component of Object Desktop™

Executive Summary

Stardock WinStyles is a program that extends the Windows “theme” system to support a wide range of third party programs. A WinStyles theme can use virtually any program to help customize part of the desktop.

 

A Microsoft theme can include a few icons, a wallpaper, a screensaver, and a Microsoft Media player. This provides some basic customization.

 

A WinStyles theme can include the same things but also can provide entire icon packages, WindowBlinds visual styles, WinAmp skins, DesktopX themes, ObjectBar themes, CursorXP cursors, and many other programs.  If the user does not already have a particular program installed, WinStyles can prompt the user to automatically download it and install it for them.

 

WinStyles is part of Stardock’s Object Desktop suite of desktop extensions. Object Desktop is designed to allow corporations and consumers to customize the Windows desktop environment to match their particular requirements. It is WinStyles that ties the pieces together into a cohesive whole.

 

 

Figure 1 Windows by default

 

 

Figure 2 WinStyles takes the Object Desktop components and can transform your desktop to however you want in a single click.

WinStyles Interface

 

WinStyles is available in two ways – as part of Stardock’s Object Desktop or as a stand alone shareware program.  If the user has Object Desktop, they already have the pieces they need to transform their desktop environment. If the user doesn’t have Object Desktop, WinStyles will download whatever components it needs depending on what theme is applied. Because WinStyles Enhanced also supports non-Stardock software (such as WinStep’s NeXTStart and Nullsoft’s WinAmp) as well, its formats are designed as an open standard where the user or IT manager can focus on what they want their desktop to look, feel and function like rather than worrying about which particular programs they need.

 

In the case where the user has downloaded WinStyles on its own, upon loading it the user is greeted with the WinStyles dialog:

 

 

Figure 3 The WinStyles dialog

 

From this dialog, the user can apply their WinStyles themes as well as create them.  WinStyles themes come in two formats: .XPThemes and .Suites.  Both formats work on all versions of Windows starting with Windows 98.  The difference is in what the themes contain:

 

A .XPTheme file actually contains the skins, icons, themes, etc. of the individual programs. For example, “Megadesktop.xptheme” is a file that may contain a WindowBlinds skin, a WinAmp skin, an icon package, a wallpaper, a screensaver, and a DesktopX theme. A .xptheme may be up 10 megs in size for example.

 

Figure 4 Creating a .xptheme file can be as easy as one click. Just get your desktop exactly how you want it to be and press the "Current Desktop" button. It will record which applications are handling different parts of your system.

 

A .Suite file contains links to the files it needs. When a .suite is applied, it will go out onto the Internet and find the skins and themes it needs, download them and then turn it into a .xptheme to apply. The disadvantage is that the skins and icons and themes have to be downloaded. But the advantage is that the latest versions of those components can be retrieved and a .suite file is usually <1K in size.

 

Figure 5 .SUITE files when applied download the necessary skins from the Internet.

 

 

As a side benefit, WinStyles also comes with a “Settings” page. Windows 98 and ME in particular are very sensitive to how many things get loaded on start-up. Many users find that their PC’s are unstable and the most common cause is due to low resources. Since desktop extensions tend to use additional resources, Stardock made it very easy for users to observe what is being loaded on start-up and disable things they don’t want loaded.

 

Figure 6 Users can also use WinStyles to view what is being run on-startup.

WinStyles display properties

 

WinStyles also extends the Windows display properties dialog to have a tab labeled “WinStyles”. The overall goal of WinStyles is to make Windows customization seamless for new users. A major problem with Windows customization has traditionally been the difficulty in learning and using so many different programs. Training and support costs with IT departments have been a significant concern with Object Desktop users that Stardock has created WinStyles to address. But WinStyles also helps bring customization to the masses as well by allowing users to control their various customization programs from a single interface.

 

In the display properties dialog, users can not only apply a WinStyles theme but can also select individual programs as well and apply them. For example, users have complained about the difficulty in changing the Windows Media Player skin.  With WinStyles installed, changing the WMP skin is just a matter of selecting it and choosing which skin to use.  Every program that the user has installed that is supported by WinStyles can be controlled in this same consistent manner.

 

 

Figure 7 WinStyles can control any supported program directly from display properties. In this example, the user can change the Windows Media Player skin from here.

 

WinStyles in action

 

To understand how WinStyles works, one must separate the desktop into its component parts. When people think of desktop customization there are particular parts to the desktop:

 

 

Stardock’s Object Desktop provides software that handles much of this. WindowBlinds customizes the Windows GUI.  IconPackager allows users to apply icon packages that change all the icons. ObjectBar can extend or even replace the Windows Start bar. DesktopX can transform the Windows shell (known as “Explorer”).

 

There are also popular third party programs such as WinAmp and Windows Media Player for playing MP3 files.

 

Before WinStyles, users would have to download individual “skins”, “themes”, “visual styles”, icon packages, etc. and manually apply them to create a particular desktop.

 

This created a fairly substantial barrier to entry for companies and users that were new to the concept of customizing Windows. Having to learn a half dozen different programs and figuring out what they were supposed to do can be daunting.  WinStyles changes this. Now a single “super theme” is applied that does it all at once using the different programs in the background.

 

Here are some examples:

 

Figure 8 This is a Windows desktop. Using WinStyles, the various parts of Object Desktop work together to transform Windows to look similar to a Mac.

 

 

Figure 9 Windows XP? Nope. Windows 98 with a WinStyles theme applied.

 

 

 

Figure 10 This is one of the default themes that comes with WinStyles.

 

Figure 11 Corporate Desktop. Note that the Start button is gone and so is quick launch. Only the large objects on the desktop can be launched by non-administrators.

Conclusions

WinStyles lets Stardock’s Object Desktop components such as WindowBlinds, DesktopX, ObjectBar, IconPackager, and more work together in harmony to transform the Windows desktop all at once.  It can even use third party programs as well to do the same thing as well as providing a unified interface for controlling all your Windows customization programs.

 

WinStyles is designed to allow users and IT professionals to treat the Windows desktop as a blank page to be modified to suit their particular need using Stardock’s Object Desktop.

 

Users can download WinStyles at http://www.winstyles.com. The stand alone program costs only $10 and has a free demo version. Object Desktop itself, which WinStyles is part of, is $49.95 and comes with a 1 year subscription to ObjectDesktop.net, a service in which users can download free updates and new components to Object Desktop.

 

Website information:

Stardock’s home page:

http://www.stardock.com

 

Object Desktop home page:

http://www.objectdesktop.com

 

WinStyles home page:

http://www.winstyles.com