Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
How does the community continue to thrive in a mainstream world?
Published on February 11, 2008 By Draginol In OS Customization

Skinning first started getting popular around 1999. Back then, it was mostly about skinning Winamp and WindowBlinds.  Today, people expect to be able to customize virtually every aspect of their PC experience. From the moment someone boots to the time they shut down, everything a user sees they now anticipate the ability to personalize somehow if they choose to.

In the beginning, the content came from the community. The software itself was developed within the community as well. A given program would go through many beta iterations and technically savvy users would report problems they had, post their system info, and work with the developers to fix the problems. 

Because the community was essentially a partner in the production of the software, the software was relatively cheap. $10 to $20 was the typical price for any customization program. After all, if the user base was actively part of the development process and they were the ones providing the bulk of the content, how could anyone justify charging more than that?  And, as a practical matter, community participation drastically lowered the cost to develop skinning software which in turn opened the door to lots of freeware and shareware developers, working out of their houses, to create cool stuff.

When Windows XP came along in 2001, things began to change. Skinning became much more mainstream. The ratio between consumers of software/content to producers of software/content changed dramatically.  Once skinning went mainstream, users expectations began to change.  The number of people willing to create content dramatically decreased as a % of the user base.

In addition, the community that once would provide in-depth reports on bugs evolved into a community that increasingly would provide reports like "This is broke, it don't work on my computer. How could you release this buggy mess????" The same community that produced incredibly talented skinners increasingly became a community of consumers waiting for someone else to make things for them.

As the skinning community became more consumer-centric, the costs of providing software and content for that community increased. In many respects, the "community" of year year is long. Now it's a "market". Increasingly, unconsciously, even internally the word "market" has begun replacing the term "community".  The "skinning market" differs from the "skinning community" in that the former expects the software developers to do it all while the latter sees themselves as part of a team with the developers.

The net result is that most users simply want to buy a product and get really high quality content and not mess around with "community" content. Which, naturally, means that fewer people, as a % are willing to use the various editors and tools to create community content.

Similarly, today's users often become irate at the notion of running into bugs in software marked as betas. Very few users are willing to even try out betas and give feedback. Moreover, some people who do try out betas and do post expect that every issue they consider important will be quickly addressed and will stop contributing feedback if their particular issues aren't responded to in a timely way.

So what does this mean?

I predict we'll see the following trends:

  1. Content will begin to be provided as an additional optional service. For example, a user might buy WindowBlinds for $20 OR have the option to buy WindowBlinds Plus for $40 which includes a 1-year subscription to WinCustomize.com.
  2. WinCustomize.com subscriptions will continue to evolve to where content becomes increasingly the value-add users get.  Discounts on "Master Skins" and free content from Stardock Design will become the norm.
  3. Users who contribute help in testing betas, giving feedback, generating content, helping in the community will get free subscriptions.

That's the 3 thigns I think will happen in the future as the skinning world adapts to becoming mainstream. In my mind, that's the best way for skinning to grow while saving its own soul.

Hopefully, people aren't taking what I'm writing as "complaining".  What I am doing is making observations about how the skinning world is evolving over time. The mainstreaming of it is altering the perceived relationship between the people who make stuff and the people who use stuff. The unspoken social contract between the two was traditionally that we developers make our stuff cheap and in return the users make the content and help us track down problems in an open and symbiotic way.  But that relationship has changed to being more akin to a traditional producer/consumer relationship. Which is fine if that's what the...market has chosen.


Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 11, 2008
It seems to be the way of the world these days.
So many people who want everything handed to them without doing anything for it.
on Feb 11, 2008
I must say, having only been here a short while, the question of "Why doesn't it work on my computer?" has always intrigued me. I will say that I have had minor problems, usually caused by my zeal to press keys or use the mouse to click before I read, (stupid human).  

I don't have a top of the line computer with the latest hardware installed, and really have no problems, save the minor bugs in beta software, getting things to work.  

Most of the problems you see people having generally, not always, come about by what they have loaded as software on their machines and their capability with Stardock. It does make interesting reading as people identifly the problems they are having. Most of the time it takes about 20 replies to find out what they really did or what happened to caused the problem. Yes, sometimes it is a bug, but the human element usually finds a way to work into the situation.

Since we are a community, and with some very intelligent folks I might add, I see nothing wrong with us being the "guinea pigs". I dare say that other folks feel the same. The ones that don't, well they don't have to use the beta version.

If you are taking a vote, I would be sad to see DesktopX not survive, I use it on every desktop.

Keep up the good work, even if some don't agree.     
on Feb 11, 2008
On the beta testing issues, would it not be a better company policy to ask for volunteers to test the beta products before they go out on general public release? I am sure you could get a large 'pool' of participants from WC to 'private beta test' for you. A 'pool' of say thirty or so users from WC should be suffient and I'm sure some of the 'specialists' in certain applications would love to participate as well as some of the 'general users'. One of the things that can sometimes affect the successful launch of a new application or a major update is bad publicity. When a potential user visits these forums and sees numerous threads reporting problems it is bound to have a negative effect on people wanting to use it and more importantly to potential new buyers. More and more people are turning to personalizing their computer setups and your products give them everything they need but some are maybe put off by some of the things they read on these forums. I just think the 'private beta testing' scenario is a better - excuse the pun - way of doing things and then the product you are presenting to your customers is far more 'polished'. You won't discover every bug but you will eliminate most. And then you won't see what happened recently where half the posts on the first page of the forum were from people reporting problems with CursorFX. That's not 'good show' and a 'deal cruncher' to some people, especially new users.

on Feb 11, 2008
I've always assumed (I know) that these public betas made available for ODNT subscribers were a nice perk and that, generally, we we were not looking for bugs. I wrongly assumed that you had gleaned 'beta testers' from the community over the years with the widest possible mix of machines and software.
I stand corrected.
on Feb 11, 2008
Somewhat away from the point, I'm reminded of the term, insurance poor, when I think of software. One could have too much insurance, can't afford the premiums paid out every month, but there's always room to sell him more. The same with software. We have our critical programs - antivirus, firewall, spy, perhaps registry and office. Then we have the stuff that's eye candy, or programs that make everyday pc life a little easier, too numerous to list here. If you're a skinner, the needed programs grow, expensively I might add; not only do you need the paint, mpeg, cursor and icon programs, but you also need the software you're skinning. The end result is that the nifty new laptop you purchased takes a back seat in the total expense of your pc world. But there is free stuff to be had that's not pirated. Cursor fx is free as long as cursor size isn't an issue. An excellent alternative to WinRar and WinZip is ZipGenius 6 (a great compression tool). IBM is even knocking on Microsoft's Excel and Word door with their free Lotus program. There's a lot of good, free stuff out there, and it does require tracking it down and time spent, but it's worth the effort. Object Desktop has become so critical to me over the years, that if you took it away, I'd bleed. Which is also to say that there's no way to avoid paying for some good software.
on Feb 11, 2008
I agree that that customer base has most likely expanded and shifted. This would hopefully be a good thing.

A couple of observations that might help make everyone's life better all around:

In the support forum, stickies were created for SkinStudio and Windowblinds feedback. I think that's an excellent idea, it would likely be good to add more of those for the major products. It's not too late to add one for CursorFX.

I could be wrong, but it seems like a fair percentage of the CursorFX issues were/are related to the customer not uninstalling CursorXP and rebooting before installing. I suspect many people think they are "updating" CursorXP, not replacing it. I did the "uninstall/reboot/install" routine thinking that I was being conservative, and it worked fine. It would probably be a good idea to state such things on the stardock product page, in big clear letters. And a good starter post for a sticky thread if you choose to create one.

I'm certainly not trying to be critical, I'm hearing what I believe to be frustration from both the Stardock side and the consumer side, and I'd like to help relieve some of that tension so that everyone can better enjoy what Stardock has created and Stardock can more enjoy creating it. Success would hopefully be a good thing.   
on Feb 11, 2008
I don't recall the exact thread, but I've seen a discussion about peoples attitudes when it comes to the software and content on the internet. "How dare you release a free product that doesn't work on my PC!"

Perhaps if all beta software has a submit problem button plastered on the main window. That way users could just click it and it would automatically collect system details and submit it. It could even have a comment text box and an optional Stardock login. With Vista, a program can capture the fact that it is crashing. If it were easier, then maybe, some people who wouldn't normally bother would actually provide some information.
on Feb 11, 2008
On the beta testing issues, would it not be a better company policy to ask for volunteers to test the beta products before they go out on general public release? I am sure you could get a large 'pool' of participants from WC to 'private beta test' for you. A 'pool' of say thirty or so users from WC should be suffient and I'm sure some of the 'specialists' in certain applications would love to participate as well as some of the 'general users'.


I agree with Leo ... and if not a beta tester pool, at least a more structured avenue for getting bug reports. As it is, Stardock is largely leaving it to the users to determine how and when they submit bug reports.


on Feb 11, 2008
How about a web based bug report form?
on Feb 11, 2008
I don't deny what you've said is accurate, but when you try to idiot proof software you're going to find that there are some idiots you can't fathom.

I do want to point out that after running CXP on my home system and on my office system I got on IRC the morning after it's release and reported via Nickie the "autoload" issue. Later in the morning I chatted with zargon/Alberto to define what problem I was seeing and I did it to try to be helpful not as a complaint. I provided descriptions in the forum of my work around as well.

I have BETA tested programs since the late 80's early 90's and found that the best way to have the cutting edge software was to help in the development. I'd hate to see that system fall into disuse.
on Feb 11, 2008
I agree with beta testing products .I beta test new products from microsoft . It works great . They let us download the software and fill out perodic surveys on how the software is preforming or not . Sometimes I have had to uninstall and reinstall but mostly it works . One of the incentives offered is a free working version of the final software . I have to admit that is how I received a free DVD of Windows Vista Ultamate .
The point is , beta testing DOES work and you can draw a diverse group with a little incentive .
on Feb 11, 2008
Well I must say money has now become the motivator for the developers and the skinners alike. This little bit of news could easily be seen as warning that the cost of Object Desktop and the individual software components are about to have a price increase. It’s not hard to see Star dock charging 50 dollars for Windowblinds, DesktopX, Icon packager, etc. etc and 100 to 200 dollars for the Object Desktop Suite.

I have to say that the community is changing. Since customizing the GUI has become more main-stream, not only the price will change but the community as well. Since the main goal of “wondering how much everyone will like this” to “wonder how much money I can make from this” will cause the attitudes of all the end-users to change with it. Maybe this is where this type of community is headed. Maybe all the communities in the tech-world make this transition and maybe the customizing community is finally making its way to join the rest.

I have to say Wincustomize has sped this along with the implementation of the master Skinner project. Before the MSP (master skinner project) came along Wincustomize was a portal for all skinners to share their art. And quite possible allow a skinner to offer services by advertising their talents. And if a skinner was so inclined he/she could say “visit my web page for some more of my work”, but now that is no longer necessary. Because WC has become a selling point for their products, which I think pulls away from the true nature of WC and that is for people to share their stuff. Some artist have only offered their good stuff (the worth using stuff) for a price. Don’t get me wrong I have supported a few artists for their work. But I think that it shows that we are at a point where the community has made it to a point and changed the community forever. Money is now the motivator to offer good software and great skins. I think you will be lucky to find a great skin being offered by the so called Masters for the sake of sharing.

It seems to be the way of the world these days.
So many people who want everything handed to them without doing anything for it


True and not true, I'm not asking for free, but this community has always been about sharing, and that is slowing changing. And with that change comes the change of attitude with the users and artist and the devs. With the need to exchange money for all this will change this community to being more inpersonal

Since we are a community, and with some very intelligent folks I might add, I see nothing wrong with us being the "guinea pigs". I dare say that other folks feel the same. The ones that don't, well they don't have to use the beta version.


I agree, I like being the guinea pig, it made me feel more like a part of the community. A great satisfaction comes from discovering bugs and then someone fixing them.

I don't really think that this is a fair assessment of the state of things here at Wincustomize. Yes, it's true that the Master program exists and encourages skinners with a recognized superior level of ability (gained through exercising a certain degree of talent as well as putting in many hours of work) to sell their skins at modest prices. However, most, if not all, Master Skinners regularly contribute plenty of high-quality, free skins. In addition, there's a lot of content here in the galleries that represents excellent work done by people who have not yet achieved Master rank that is also freely available to all.


True, but what gets me is that some artist only offer the great stuff for cash and the rest is stuff you would be lucky to find a fit. Again I support it but, it seems now money has become the reason to make great skins not because they want others to say "wow” There is an artist that seems to make only Master skins. Since the master program began what percent of your skins to you offer for free compared to price.


As far as paying for what Stardock charges for their products, I have no problem paying these fees. Improvements will come, though I have to agree with some of the argument, that some of the bugs do get resolved rather slowly. I personally don't have issue with bugs, but read the forums and you see some old bugs that haven’t been dealt the needed hand and should have. But this part of software development. And do not forget that development is a permanent fixture.


Community content isn’t the be all end all.



Community Content is what started and built desktop customization to what it is today


If it wasn't for Community Content, you wouldn't be here.

To put this into a nutshell, the fact is that the community is changing and i have to say not for the best. The community will eventually fade out because the customization of desktop will become main-stream. This is how it goes.
on Feb 12, 2008
The community will eventually fade out because the customization of desktop will become main-stream.




I disagree, while Desktop customization may become mainstream,there will be us Old duffers, who will still congregate together to share our customization efforts amongst friends. Like we did here at WC, coming from various other places that closed their doors or became places we didn't want to be.

The community will not change much, it hasn't over the last 10+years?. The base is the same,"Skinners,Developers,Active community members" and the "average user" (buys the software and uses it with no real intent of getting involved with development).

The only thing that is changing is the #'s involved. In the beginning we out numbered the average user base, today our numbers have dwindled while the average user base has exploded, as Desktop Customization hits main stream, we need to add new skinners,developers,etc, to keep up with demand.



If SD has to start dedicating more $$ to building skins to take up the slack, something will have to give either development will slow or be dropped on lesser popular programs, or prices will go up on the current ones we have..

Possibly a big reason skinning is on a decline???? Folks with ego's and bad attitudes bashing new beginner's works. This has majorly hindered replenishing the ranks of new skinners, as many have given up on skinning before ever being offered the chance to bloom...



on Feb 12, 2008
I've been a beta-tester for products for a few years, and I don't recall seeing the post that called me to arms here....

Where is the post that simply outlines in a positive way how interested members could further support Stardock and by association, skinning?

There are enough titles/awards around that nobody understands, I'm fairly sure you'll find folks that like me, have immediate system recovery ability, and are more than happy to wear the beta-badge if that's what it takes to create a team with a shared understanding of standards for testing/reporting.

I concentrate on what 'we' may be able to usefully offer if invited, because I expect that the 'community' can only try to respond for itself. We can't as easily follow Stardock to an ever larger, less centred customer base and speak to that.


on Feb 12, 2008
Possibly a big reason skinning is on a decline???? Folks with ego's and bad attitudes bashing new beginner's works. This has majorly hindered replenishing the ranks of new skinners, as many have given up on skinning before ever being offered the chance to bloom...


Well put HG. Take making a Windowblind. It is quite a lot of work and effort. Imagine how the new skinner feels after putting in so much work, only to get shot down by critics after uploading.

What I'd like to see, is a mentoring program. To help new skinner get the hang of things. It would be nice to see skinners of higher rank/experience offering their services to newbies. Who knows, you may be making the next Master skinner
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