Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on April 22, 2008 By Draginol In OS Customization

 

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Take Windows to the next level

A look at how to completely transform your Windows experience.

Executive Summary

Object Desktop is a suite of desktop enhancement utilities that can completely transform the Windows experience. Once installed, a user can literally remake Windows to fit their specific needs. Its capabilities include the ability to alter the Windows GUI, icons, display animated wallpaper, create and use widgets, and much more.

What’s new from Object Desktop 2007

Historically, there has just been Object Desktop. But over the years, the number of programs and features in Object Desktop grew to the point of being intimidating to new users. This year, Stardock took the path of creating two versions of Object Desktop:

  • Object Desktop ($49.95)
  • Object Desktop Ultimate ($69.95)

Object Desktop provides the core components of the suite to allow users completely customize the desktop experience. It does not include the various editors and utilities that Object Desktop Ultimate includes.

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Figure 1: Object Desktop makes it easy to control the Windows experience

Specifications

Title: Object Desktop 2008
Publisher:
Stardock Corp.
Price:
$49.95, $34.95 to renew access to new features after 1-year.
Website:
www.objectdesktop.com
Requirements:
Windows XP, Windows Vista
Hardware:
1 GHz Processor or faster with at least 512MB of total system memory.

The Windows Experience: A Primer

If you wanted to change the Windows experience, what would you need to change? How would you do it?

First, you would need to consider the different pieces of your desktop experience:

  1. You have the Windows graphical user interface (the GUI). This would be the windows themselves, the start bar, the buttons, and other standard controls you see.
  2. You have the icons like folders, the Start menu icons, the recycle bin, and the dozens of default file types. As Apple has demonstrated, nice looking icons can significantly enhance the perceived “polish” of the desktop.
  3. You have the wallpaper which is typically static but in an age of 3D accelerated video cards can now be animated without slowing down the computer. Windows doesn’t support animated wallpaper out of the box, however.
  4. You have the sound scheme. That is, the start up sound, the logoff sound, and optionally sounds for virtually any activity on the desktop you may want.

What Object Desktop does is provide 4 programs to change each of those 4 pieces. In addition, it also includes a program called DesktopX (the X stands for eXtend) for users who want to extend their desktop with new features like widgets or sidebars and such).

And lastly, it includes a program that lets those 5 programs work together to apply premium themes created by professional designers.

With Object Desktop, there are, literally, thousands of free icon packages, WindowBlinds skins, DesktopX widgets and themes, and so forth. Plus there’s the professionally created MyColors themes. For users who are looking for the ultimate desktop experience, Object Desktop is a one-stop solution.

The Components

Object Desktop comes with 6 components. Each program is designed to allow users to customize a certain aspect of the Windows experience. These components are:

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WindowBlinds – WindowBlinds applies new visual styles to Windows. A visual style can change the title bar, title bar buttons, push buttons, radio buttons, scrollbars, the Start bar, and much more. New controls can be added to the user interface of Windows such as roll-up buttons, always on top buttons, media player controls, and more.

image DeskScapes – Give Windows Vista animated wallpapers. DeskScapes supports both video as animated wallpaper as well as dynamic animated wallpaper.
image IconPackager – IconPackager can apply “packages” of icons. A user who wants to change all their icons in one click would simply download a package of icons and apply them.
image MyColors – Apply premium MyColors themes to change your entire desktop experience in a single click. Object Desktop comes with several MyColors themes with additional ones available for purchase.
image DesktopX – Suites include all of the above into a single file called a .suite file. When a suite is applied your GUI can be changed, your desktop changed, your icons changed and gadgets added to your desktop to give your Windows experience a complete makeover both visually and functionally.
image SoundPackager – Windows no longer allows users to easily exchange different sound schemes. SoundPackager makes it very easy for users to exchange packages of sound schemes.

 

 

 

WindowBlinds

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Figure 2: WindowBlinds lets users change the Windows GUI (title bars, push buttons, Start bar, etc.). Thousands of free skins are available to choose from.

WindowBlinds allows users to change the Windows graphical user interface. It works by applying a new “skin” to Windows XP or Windows Vista. It’s not commonly known but the default Windows XP and Windows Vista looks are actually “skins” that replace the “classic” look of Windows. WindowBlinds works by extending the “skin engine” of the operating system to support additional features including enhanced hardware acceleration, additional buttons, animations, free form borders, and much more.

Highlights of WindowBlinds:

  • Enables users to add more visual styles to Windows.
  • Can change the color or brightness of a visual style on the fly.
  • Allows additional title bar buttons to be added (roll-up, always on top, MP3 player controls, etc.).
  • Allows users to change their Internet Explorer and Explorer toolbar icons.
  • Allows users to change their Windows progress animations.
  • Supports hardware acceleration in nVidia and ATI cards to improve system performance.
  • Right mouse click on title bar can be used to minimize applications.
  • Supports different visual styles for different programs.
  • Can skin non-theme aware applications.
  • Supports animated Start menus

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Figure 3: A WindowBlinds skin with an animated Start menu. Explorer background is semi-transparent.

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Figure 4: WindowBlinds can move buttons, add buttons, add new functionality to the Windows GUI.

 

IconPackager

IconPackager allows users to change all their Windows icons at once by applying different sets of icons called “icon packages.” It also lets users create their own icon packages to save for later or distribute to others.

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Figure 5: IconPackager allows users to apply packages of icons that can change virtually every icon in Windows.

Highlights of IconPackager:

· Can change icons on both Windows XP and Windows Vista

· Supports live-folder icon changing on Windows Vista (only program available that does this)

· Allows users to change the colors of icons on the fly.

· Will automatically upscale older icons to support the new Windows Vista icon format

· Thousands of icon packages available on the Internet for free.

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Figure 6: A complete icon package can alter the Windows experience dramatically

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Figure 7: Users can add effects and alter icons on the fly with IconPackager.

 

SoundPackager

SoundPackager is a program that makes it easy for users to manage various Windows sound schemes.

For years, sound schemes were very popular with consumers in the Windows 95 or 98 time line. When Microsoft went with the Windows NT code-base with Windows XP, the easy sound scheme support of the Win9x builds disappeared.

SoundPackager restores this functionality and takes it a step further by making it easy for users to package and customize their own sound schemes.

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Figure 8: SoundPackager UI

DesktopX

DesktopX does what its name implies – extends the Windows desktop. The previous programs of Object Desktop customize existing elements of the Windows experience. DesktopX is there to let people take Windows a step further.

DesktopX is arguably the most powerful desktop enhancement program in existence. It can create user interfaces that exist virtually anywhere. Docks can be made with it. Sidebars. Entire new shells. Even video games have used DesktopX for creating their UIs (including the award-winning Galactic Civilizations and The Political Machine).

DesktopX breaks down user interface creation to its fundamental component: Objects. These objects can be put together to create things like widgets or to build entire desktops:

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Figure 9: Individual objects

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Figure 10: Objects can be given functionality and combined together to create widgets

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Figure 11: Or objects can be put together and used to build entire Windows desktops.

Object Desktop 2008 includes DesktopX 3.5 which can even create Windows sidebar gadgets!

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Figure 12: An individual object

DesktopX works by extending Windows support true desktop objects. A user can create a new object onto their desktop and then assign what it looks like to different states. Users can use Javascript or VB Script to give the objects functionality and DesktopX supports animation as well. When done, users can export their creations as either a widget, a Sidebar gadget, or a desktop depending on what their goal is.

If this seems too much for the casual user that’s because it is. Most users will simply make use of the thousands of objects, widgets, and desktops created by other users that are available on WinCustomize.com (Stardock’s customization website). But other users who are interested in dabbling in development or just want to create something cool can do so as well.

 

MyColors

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Figure 13: MyColors allows the components of Object Desktop to work together by applying MyColors themes.

 

One of the challenges in making desktop customization popular has been the difficulty for new users to change the way Windows looks and feels. Historically, users would go out and find different programs that could change some aspect of Windows (like icons or the GUI or the Start menu or whatever) and then look for a “skin” to go with their program.

MyColors is a new feature of Object Desktop whose themes contain everything the user needs. A user of Object Desktop will receive at least 4 free MyColors themes over the course of a year after purchase with additional premium themes available for purchase (typically for $8 apiece unless it’s licensed content).

MyColors uses the various parts of Object Desktop (WindowBlinds for the GUI, IconPackager for the icons, SoundPackager for the sounds, DesktopX for the gadgets, DeskScapes for animated wallpaper) to apply MyColors themes.

MyColors provides a great way for users who don’t want to hunt down quality content to simply press a button and have the desktop they want. Put another way, MyColors lets users who only care about the themes to focus on that.

Impulse

Impulse is Stardock’s next-generation digital distribution client. It will not be formally launched until June 17th but Object Desktop users are able to make use of it now.

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Figure 14: Impulse in action

Impulse allows Object Desktop users to download updates and new features to Object Desktop as they are made available. It takes care of installing and configuring for the user. It can even keep track of themes.

Having Impulse available to Object Desktop users before the rest of the world is one of the hallmarks of Object Desktop – it lets users see the future today. Impulse also allows users to access features of Object Desktop that are still in beta if they so choose.

On June 17th, 2008, Impulse will be made available to the general public and allow users to purchase software from most of the major PC game publishers as well as a growing number of utility and application developers and publishers. It includes community support, blogging, live chat with the Stardock team and much more.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are questions we receive from reviewers and end users on a regular basis.

Q: Will Object Desktop slow down my system?

A: In general no. In most cases it should make Windows perform faster thanks to extended use of hardware acceleration.

However, some content is designed for more of a visual punch and that can come at the cost of performance. For instance, DeskScapes supports playing video as an animated wallpaper. But playing video as your wallpaper will affect performance some since the video has to be decoded.

Q: What do I get when I purchase Object Desktop?

A: Object Desktop includes all of its components, plus a full year of updates, along with any new programs added to Object Desktop during that year. At the end of the year, users can renew their access to new updates and new components at a discounted price of $34.95.

Q: MyColors is new, I don’t like the idea of paying for themes.

A: An Object Desktop user can turbo-charge their Windows experience without having to pay for any content. However, for those users who want professionally designed themes, MyColors premium themes are an option. Object Desktop users get 4 premium MyColors themes for free each year.

Q: Impulse is the new distribution client, what about the old one? Stardock Central?

A: Existing users of Object Desktop can continue to use Stardock Central to manage their digital content. It will be supported for the foreseeable future.

Q: Does Object Desktop support 64-bit Windows Vista?

A: Yes.

Q: What about Object Desktop Ultimate?

A: Object Desktop Ultimate targets power users. It costs $20 more but adds programs such as IconDeveloper, Keyboard LaunchPad, ObjectBar, SkinStudio, TweakVista, and WindowFX.


Comments (Page 1)
on Apr 22, 2008
Is there any way to get DeskScapes without getting Object Desktop? I'm thinking about getting OD, but I would like to know if I can buy DeskScapes alone. (I have Home Premium.)
on Apr 22, 2008
Is there any way to get DeskScapes without getting Object Desktop? I'm thinking about getting OD, but I would like to know if I can buy DeskScapes alone. (I have Home Premium.)

When it becomes finalized, it should be available as a separate purchase (like most the other ODNT components).
on Apr 22, 2008
I have purchased WB, IP and not to long ago tweak vista. Is there anyway that I could have a discount if I would like to purchase object desktop 2008?
on Apr 22, 2008
Yes, it's a $34.95 upgrade price for the regular version from a stand-alone component, and $54.95 to get ODNT Ultimate.


http://www.stardock.com/products/odnt/purchase.asp
on Apr 22, 2008
MyColors is a new feature of Object Desktop whose themes contain everything the user needs. A user of Object Desktop will receive at least 4 free MyColors themes over the course of a year after purchase with additional premium themes available for purchase (typically for $8 a piece unless it’s licensed content).
Will these be currently unreleased themes or are they going to be ones that are currently for sale? I would hate to buy one and then find out that I would have gotten it for free if I waited.
on Apr 22, 2008
Will these be currently unreleased themes or are they going to be ones that are currently for sale? I would hate to buy one and then find out that I would have gotten it for free if I waited
Unreleased.
on Apr 23, 2008
So you have to pay a premium to get the programs to make the skins? That doesnt make much business sense to me- a huge part of the windowblinds experience is user-created skins and having the ability to tweak skins. This strikes me as an incredibly short-sighted move for a company which has built its business partly on community-created content!
on Apr 23, 2008
You can still make skins with the free version of SkinStudio.
on Apr 23, 2008
So you have to pay a premium to get the programs to make the skins? That doesnt make much business sense to me- a huge part of the windowblinds experience is user-created skins and having the ability to tweak skins. This strikes me as an incredibly short-sighted move for a company which has built its business partly on community-created content
I think Stardock has realized that at this time there are two markets, the mainstream users who just want to apply a skin (for their car, school, team, etc) and don't want the confusion (and yes, for n00bs there is confusion) with all the apps involved in a theme/suite.  So for them there;s MyColors.  Everything is done for them.  For the hobbyists/skinners they can buy the themes at a discount and tweak here and there with the ODNT apps they have.

I think Stardock is not being more exclusive, they are being more inclusive to a new market.  And who knows . . those new users may just convert over.  
on Apr 23, 2008
Maybe I'm confused... Impulse is available to OD subscribers now? I can't seem to find where to download it. I don't see any links from here, and I can't find it in Stardock Central.
on Apr 23, 2008
Maybe I'm confused... Impulse is available to OD subscribers now? I can't seem to find where to download it. I don't see any links from here, and I can't find it in Stardock Central.
It's a quiet release . . almost a preview.  I've see this link passed around though: http://www.impulsedriven.com/about.asp
on Apr 24, 2008

I am a disabled oldie who messes around with computers to pass the time of day I've purchased Object Dessktop ultimate which includes Windows Blinds. However I have purchased Unorthodoxx skin pack but on trying to install it tells me Windows Blinds is not installed.

on Apr 24, 2008
Unorthodox is a pretty old skin pack but should still install.
It may install to the old WB location though.
A few things to try:
In the WB config, on the first tab, above where the skins are, click on "Skin Options" then "rebuild list".


Otherwise, continue with the installation and install teh skins to your desktop.
Then copy all the skin folders to C:\Users\Public\Documents\Stardock\WindowBlinds
Lastly, rebuild the skin list and you should be fine.
on Apr 30, 2008

it says that object desktop supports 64 bit vista, this is not entirely true, it does not support icon packager, or a few others, i wish these people would tell the whole truth not just the bit thats appealing, they are like polititions only telling the truth on the bits they want you to know, and even their own team they have conflicting views on what supports what on vista.

on Apr 30, 2008
I misses a faster stream of updates. Manye apps are starting to get outdated.

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