Windowblinds went translucency crazy!

WindowBlinds “PerPixel” 5 – new features explanatory series – part two.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

If Stardock gave WindowBlinds version names like Microsoft did with XP and its successor, WindowBlinds 5 would probably be called “WindowBlinds Translucent” or “WindowBlinds See-Through” or… oh no… it can’t be… or can it (?) “WindowBlinds Vista”!

In the first part I’ve explained the most noticeable changes you will see in a new WindowBlinds 5 skin but to be honest it went all crazy about translucent parts. We’ve got used to the translucent start panel since 4.6 which I’ve described how to create in this article. But in WindowBlinds 5 you can make the whole taskbar translucent as well as the drop down menus, and the “Please Wait” dialog!

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WindowBlinds 5 translucent frames explained

WindowBlinds 5 “PerPixel” new features explanatory series – part one.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

One of the coolest features of WindowBlinds 5 is the possibility to define a translucent frames in your skin. This means a lot of things and a lot of new possibilities. Your windows can drop shadows, glow but most of all you don’t have to look at those jaggies if your skin features rounded corners in them. The level of excitement can probably be shown by the fact that it does not have even shown in the public beta, yet it already has artists creating artwork advocating it. and a number of authors creating a mock-ups of the skins they intend to create. I have to admit I do not recall being contacted so much about any previous version of WindowBlinds and any other version that generated such passion among even the MSStyles users.

The new window frames blend nicely into the current feature set of WB.

The window part is divided into 5 parts, one for each side: top, bottom, left and right like in the following picture:

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A guide to WindowBlinds fonts in SkinStudio

How does one define a font to use for WindowBlinds.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

I find a lot of users having problems with how fonts are defined in a WindowBlinds skin. It’s quite simple once you understand it how it’s done.

WindowBlinds bases on the premise that most of the skins use just a small number of font variants but use them in a number of places, meaning that one font setting will be used in a number of places like a push button, a tab, a status bar.

A font setting in SkinStudio is called “font preset” and is a set of font name, size and formatting as well as its shadow settings. When you think of it in the terms of any word processor a font setting is not different from “styles” used e.g. in Microsoft Word. And they are equally as useful! in contrast to MSStyles where you define the font for every control or its sub style in WindowBlinds you only define it a few times and then use them in multiple places.

What’s better… if you decide to change the font in a style, do it only once for the style and WB will change it everywhere the font is used! Let me show you how it’s working on a sample skin for a push button.

Every control section has a font setting (at least one) in most cases grouped in the “Fonts” subgroup in its section section.

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Another feature that you may find helpful in your day to day skinning.

Originally posted  on Wincustomize.com

It all started with another brain-freeze today. I just couldn’t find a section that contained the File Dialog places bar images. You know the bar on the left on the File->Save and File->Open dialogs? I bet you’ve been cursing more than once searching for a section like that. SkinStudio will help you with searching for a section if you know it’s UIS name or its part AND if such section actually exist. But in my case it didn’t.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could just lookup the section by it’s name or a part of it?

So I’ve added a tool button like you can see on the image below.

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Make a translucent start pane like a pro

As all problems this one appears to obvious when you know the answer.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

Little I knew that I will be involved in it, when I was posting a while ago on Neowin and WinMatrix about the cool Warcraft skins available on Wincustomize. Blizzard is offering a World of Warcraft suite now for download on their  US and European pages pages and upon their request we needed to swiftly modify the Apocalypse‘s great World_of_Warcraft skin to meet Blizzard‘s request to match the game GUI more closely. I was assigned to the task so I went swiftly to the local store with the perfect excuse to get myself a new toy!

– Honey, but I need it for work…
– Sure you do!
– but really, darling… look…

… so I started hacking the game files to get some artwork out of it. As it appears there’s a lot of people looting the game resources than one could expect… a bi-product of it you can find in my previous article here.

But to the point….

Out of the game files I got some cool graphics, now I’m not really good with with design but equipped with some original artwork I can be pretty dangerous. So I got some artwork out of the game and started cutting and pasting this auction window:

as you can notice the frame drops a nice shadow and I wanted to reflect that in the skin. To make the long story short I ended up with  this design:

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How dare you, touch my alpha channel!

Why can’t graphic applications get their channels right?

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

[Updated 11 May 2005] Read at the end of the article.

I’ve been on a quest to improve a skin today and to do so I needed to extract a big archive in a proprietary and not widely supported format and get the images out of it and into the skin. Turned out the first part was not as bad as I expected as I’ve found some tools on the net to do this and Kris helped with the tool to convert the images in the proprietary format into TGA’s. Now here’s where the pain begun.

I needed to have my alpha channel kept in the files but I also wanted to process the files before making them into the skin.

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The most common problems with skins we find on Wincustomize

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

Browsing the WindowBlinds skins on Wincustomize and applying them is a source of a lot of joy, but there’s also a drop of frustration. There are some common problems with the skins that skinners notoriously forget to check for. Perhaps my working environment is not typical but since you’ve went all the way to create a skin it’s relatively easy to make it a perfect skin for everyone. So here are the 10 things I find most common to be wrong with a lot of skins:

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How to do that in Stardock IconDeveloper?

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

Disclaimer

Stardock IconDeveloper is a free icon creation tool available from Stardock Net,Inc. You can download it from here. Stardock also offers an advanced version allowing you to create icons of any sizeand other really cool things like recoloring icons or even whole icons packs as well as skinning them. But as long as you do not need the advanced features available in the Professional version, you’re more than welcome to use the free edition of IconDeveloper.

There was a real storm of posts on the IconDeveloper newsgroups recently asking about how to create icons from files in formats that does not suport transparency or generated by applications that does not support that feature in formats like PNG or TGA. I have decided to write a complete tutorial on how to create icons from images in IconDeveloper.


Easter is closing. So i decided I’ll lookup the WEB for something suitable. A few moments spent with Google releaved something quite appealing:



So I save the file as a bitmap and… well… bitmaps does nto support transparency, at least valid bitmaps that can be generated by generic image editing apps.So I have this gray background around the image I want to turn into the icon. That’s pretty unacceptable.


But I have two sollutions:



  1. open the image in an image editong program and remove all the gray pixels, which can be tedious or even impossible with some image editors (like MS Paint for example)

  2. open it in IconDeveloper and mark the gray as transparent and let IconDeveloper do all the hard work for you.

Number one is pretty aparent to those who know how to do this and it’s not a subject of this article, now the latter can be a real time saver for you.


So this is how I go about creating the icon from the image? I have just saved as a bitmap on my Desktop, now to turn it into the icon I just right click it and select the highlighted option from the menu:



Right after that Icondeveloper will open the image and offer you a dialog to create the icon from the image



The buttons in the middle allow you to select icon formats you want to create. The formats on the left are standard icon formats available for you to use instantly. The formats in the list on the right are the formats you have already decided to add to the icon you are creating. The buttons “add” and “remove” allow you to shift formats from one list to the other. You can add some odd or non typical formats (even non square ones) by clicking on the “Add custom” button.


On the screenshot above you see a “Select transparent color” button pointed at by the hand cursor. This button will ony be there if your image does not contain alpha channel in it in which case IconDeveloper can inherit the alpha from the original image. Otherwise it makes it possible for you to create a simple binary alpha channel by clicking on that button. Let’s do it:



as shown on the above picture you are shown a small swatch showing you details of the color that you hover over and a small zoom window showing a small part of the image you move your mouse over – magnified. Clicking in any place on the screen will make the color you clicked, thecolor that will be treated as transparent. Now the effect is as follows:



Ok, but what the other settings do. The “Constraint proportions of the original image” causes IconDeveloper to keep the image’s aspect ratio, meaning that the shape of the image will not be affected while it’s being stretched. This is there not to cause e.g. circles to become some weird ellipses or turning squared into odd nn squared rectangles and so on. Otherwise if your source image would not be perfectly square you would experience something like you do watching a widescreen movie or a regular TV set after the movie has been stretched to the TV’s full height. This can be funny at times, but must not always be intended.


Now as to the “Resample image”. If you turn it off or select the “Nearest Neighbor” entry from the combo box, The iameg can become choppy, just like you would be watching the bare pixels enlarged. The various settings in the combo are similar to what you can find in an analogous Combo while you resize your image in Photoshop. Those are Various techniques to make your image log good when resized. As Seen on the screenshots I prefer this setting to be set to “Laczos3” as it generally gives me the best results, but you may choose to experiment which one you find workins gest for you. Various images may look better with various settings in the combo, but Lanczos3 generally produces a reasonably good results.



The third option below the left list is only meaningfull for 256 colors, 16 colors and monochromatic formats. Dithering is a technique used in computer graphics to create the illusion of color depth in images with a limited color palette (quantization). Checkout Wikipedia for more details.


SkinStudio also offers you a various algorithms to check which looks best on your images. As shown on the images:



In most cases however, if I ever need formats of 256 colros or lower, I find “Floyd Strinberg” method to work the best for me. You could have already noticed the images in the list on the left being dithered. Otherwise experiment to see which settings works best for you. Dithering is meaningless for the “Windows XP” and “16,7M colors” formats.


Pressing the OK button now will give you a nice icon that you may then save to a file.



Now this is turned out quite nice, didn’t it?


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How big is that thing anyway?

Making sure everything in place, just where it should be.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

Implementing FireFox support in SkinStudio and having to calculate everyting carefully in the process I got pretty tired of being unable to tell how wide something is or having to run a separate app for it. Is there one actually? I guess there is… perhaps even skinnable. But being where I am – I wanted it integrated and easy to use for myself and for every skiner. available instantaneously. Seamlessly integrated into Skinstudio. (This will be available in the next SkinStudio release),

So here’s my attempt at counting pixels.

You probably already used Skinstudio zooming tool, and you’ve noticed that apart from magnifying the screen it also tells you the color of a pixel under the cursor.





now if you press the Ctrl key it will start to measure whatever you have highlighted




As you can see – additionally to the RGB values, now you also have the “Width” and “Height” values. Now, while still having the Ctrl key pressed, let me move the cursor down and right a bit…




as you can see, the Width and Height values show the difference between what was the mouse position when you pressed the “Ctrl” key and what it is now. The size is measured as long as you hol the “Ctrl:” button pressed.

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New WindowBlinds window frame possiblities

How WindowBlinds 4.5 made the window frames even more frolicsome.

Originally posted on Wincustomize.com

WindowBlinds 4.5 introduced two new cool tricks for window frames –



  • IE/Explorer special shell frames, and
  • random frames.

The two features are mutually exclusive, meaning that if you use random frames you cannot specify the special frames for the shell windows.
First of all – both features are only available in the UIS2 skins (Advanced WindowBlinds skinning format).


Now let me explain how you can use/access the features in SkinStudio and what exactly do they do:


1) Shell windows


Those are the system windows that you browse/explore your computer and the Internet with. SkinStudio added a special section for referencing them placed in the tree in this node: “Window Borders”->”Frames for Shell Windows”. The section defines two attributes:



  • “Explorer Active Windows”
  • “Explorer Inactive Windows”

The names are pretty self explanatory. The attributes define the indexes of the states used for the active and inactive shell windows. But what you may find confusing is that the index is zero based – meaning that the first state in your frame set has an index of 0. If you define the attributes WindowBlinds will choose those states for shell windows instead of it’s regular choice being – the first state for active and the last one for inactive windows.


What you need to do is simply make your window frame images contain two more states for the shell windows so instead of 2 or 3 (if you define the disabled state) images you would include normally – you put 4 or 5 states in there. Of course the states layout setup cannot violate the 3 canonic WindowBlinds rules which are:



  • first state is for the regular active window.
  • last state is for the inactive window (or the second from the end if disabled state is used).
  • and if you have the “Disabled frame state” enabled in the skin, that is you have this attribute:
    Section: “Window Borders”-> Attribute: “Miscellaneous options”->”Image State – Disabled Frame”
    set to “Enabled”, then the “disabled state” must be added as the last state in the strip. By the way – if you never realized this before – disabled frames are used when a window is showing a modal dialog that makes this window inaccessible for the user. You can find when a window is disabled if Windows will *ding* at you when you try to click such disabled window.

So this forces us to use a following states layout:



  1. Active window
  2. Active shell window (this is the state that you need to point at in the “Explorer Active Windows” attribute – in this case you would need to set it to “1” since the index is zero based).
  3. Inactive shell window (this is the state that you need to point at in the “Explorer Inactive Windows” attribute – in this case you would need to set it to “1” since the index is zero based).
  4. Inactive window state
  5. Disabled window state (if the disabled state visualization is enabled).

That’s all that it is to it. Of course you need to equip all the window edge images with the equally same states number as that’s a fundamental WindowBlinds requirement.


2) Random frames


Random frames is a feature which I personally find much cooler than the shell windows skinning. This feature actually changes the windows states layout established so long ago. You enable the feature by flipping the:


Section: “Window Borders”-> Attribute: “Miscellaneous options”->”Random frame selection”


from “Disable random borders” to “Enable random borders”.


By doing so you allow WindowBlinds to randomize the available frames looks for newly created windows. If this option is enabled, the skin must provide more than one pair of active/inactive states for windows borders. The borders must be organized in sets of pairs of active and inactive states following each other like that:



  1. active state 1
  2. inactive state 1
  3. active state 2
  4. inactive state 2


  5. active state X
  6. inactive state X

Also like previously – exactly the same number of states needs to be supplied for all edges of the window frames. Also there is another limitation here – all states must be of the same shape, which means that if you put any pink area on the frame in the active1 state – it needs to be in the exact same shape in all the active states as well and unless you enabled Dynamic frames (Section: “Window Borders”-> Attribute: “Miscellaneous options”->”Dynamic Frame Image Shape”) – it needs to be in all of the disabled states too.


WindowBlinds will choose among the pairs on a random basis during creation of each window/app.


Now if you define say… 20 framesets – the user will have a few hours of fun and surprises with the skin. I can see how this is a big job to define that number of frames, but isn’t a skin an enormous effort already? Now if you add just a little bit to it making it exceptional – don’t we all agree that it’s what lies in the heart of customization? I can see how this could be a true favorite feature (on top of the translucent start menus) in the coming months

Posted in SkinStudio, WindowBlinds
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