The Power of WindowBlinds Runs Skin Deep

FRAMINGHAM (07/31/2000) - A few weeks ago, Gearhead discussed a fantastic, free application called Nullsoft Inc.'s Winamp (www.nwfusion. com, DocFinder 9223).

Winamp - a sound file player - has an incredible arsenal of features, including the ability to change its look and feel. These look-and-feel schemes (colors and graphics) are called skins, and the Winamp site boasts thousands of user-created skins you can try. Or you can create your own.

As a side note, Gearhead just purchased a 42-inch Fujitsu plasma display TV that is way cool and boasts an RGB input. So there was no choice, the PC got plugged in almost immediately, and Winamp's audiovisualization feature (this displays patterns in sync with the music) was fired up. It was like an instant dance club.

Anyway, there are many applications that can be skinned, such as ICQ instant messaging service. But what if you could skin Windows? Wouldn't that be great?

Well my friend, you can.

Go to Stardock at www.stardock.com and check out WindowBlinds. This is not the only product that makes it possible to change Windows and application user interfaces - there's Chroma and Cool Desk 99, for example - but WindowBlinds is arguably the most versatile.

WindowBlinds works with Windows 95, 98, NT and 2000, and lets you change the look and feel of the entire operating system. You can set specific skins for individual applications.

Creating a WindowBlinds skin is easy. You use a bitmap editor to edit scores of settings in a control file. Or check out the BuilderBlinds integrated development environment. Although this tool is still in beta testing form, we had good luck with it and found it stable.

As with Winamp, enthusiasts have created thousands of skins, and some of the most interesting are the skins that emulate operating system interfaces.

Gearhead's favorite is the KDE-3 interface, an open source graphical user interface (GUI) for Unix workstations.

Other operating system GUI analogs include Solaris, BeOS and Silicon Graphics.

The WindowBlinds BeOS user interface looks extremely like the real thing, right down to the control tabs on the top of the window frames.

The downside of WindowBlinds is its sheer ambition. The product is attempting to do a huge number of things, and most of those things are complex, deep-down-inside type of things that provide the greatest number of opportunities for falling afoul of Windows.

Thus, WindowBlinds can be unstable, causing problems for Internet Explorer and occasionally crashing itself. That said, it is a relatively new product and the fact that it works so well at such an early stage is a credit to its authors.

WindowBlinds is way cool and we'll give it nine gear teeth out of 10. Once the minor instabilities are resolved, it will almost certainly deserve a full 10.

New looks to gh@gibbs.com

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