Published on January 17, 2004 By _Martin_ In WinCustomize News
Boring Buttons

"I've upgraded my Windows 2000 Professional installation to Windows XP Professional, but I can't see the new XP style of buttons and so on. I still get the same flat Windows 2000 look, though my Start button menu layout has changed. Did I miss an option when I ran the upgrade, and do you have any recommendations as to how best customise the default setup of Windows XP, as while I quite like the new look-and-feel I think it could stand some improvement."

No, you didn't miss a thing: when you upgrade Windows XP, it takes into account that you might already have a customised Desktop, which is no bad thing - you wouldn't be amused if the upgrade stomped all over your careful customisation and presented you with the default Teletubbies look that people who install XP from scratch have to endure.

To get the XP look-and-feel for your buttons at least, right-click on the Desktop, select Properties and its Appearance tab, then 'Windows XP Style' from the Windows and Buttons drop down and hit Apply. To start from scratch, click on the Themes tab and select 'Windows XP' from the drop-down list and then start your customisation from there.

The problem is that when you begin to customise XP you'll discover your options are quite limited using the default Windows feature set (especially if you have 'Windows XP Style' enabled).

You'll probably want to go further, and the answer is to use an application that supports 'skins', letting you change the appearance of your Desktop (without disabling half its functionality) and offering features cribbed from other operating systems where applicable. Stardock is a good example of the breed. You basically go to and start downloading from the library of skins, add-ons, cursors, icon sets, wallpapers, Desktop objects, dashboards and more.

I've also had loaded in my skinned Internet Explorer browser for so long it's almost burnt its image into my monitor screen - you'll find out about it after you've been to Stardock.

But before you get carried away, one of my pet peeves when I'm trying to teach people how to use Windows is discovering that they've already learned how to customise their mouse cursor even before they have the vaguest idea how the OS itself works. They complain they can't do some tricky task and I find it's because some bloated animal with a waggling rear end is obscuring the item they were trying to click on. CursorXP, part of the Stardock offerings, has a range of cursors that are not only more attractive than the defaults, but are also useable, although some of the effects might be a little more than you can comfortably handle.

My own favourite tools are WindowBlinds and ObjectDock. I've always preferred the Mac OS X look-and-feel (apart from its dumb one-button mouse), and on Stardock I found a WindowBlinds skin called iSkin by Mark Andrews (aka Judge), which gives me the brushed metal Mac OS X look and also that lovely Mac function that just rolls up so only it's titlebar is showing.

ObjectDock is a skinnable dock/taskbar/launchpad that can be fixed to the top, bottom, left or right-hand side of the screen and works pretty much like the Apple dock, especially where the animation is concerned. I discovered that I initially still liked haveing the Windows Taskbar around, so I opted for ObjectDock to go at the top of the screen until I could sort out my system to the extent that I could get rid of the taskbar completely. To date, I must admit I still have it in place, however, but find that having the ObjectDock at the top of the screen with its taskbar enabled gives me a much better range of control over how I use Windows.

The next item you may want to take a look at is DesktopX. This sits on the Windows Desktop, takes it over and enables you to load it with objects created specifically to enhance your Windows experience. These objects range from complex items like MP3 players, though calendar applications, calculators, Desktop tickers, browsers and much more. If you can program, it's possible to use VBScript or JavaScript on objects to extend their capability, and you can, of course, create your own objects should you so desire.

As you'll see when you visit the Stardock site, it's possible to create entire Desktop themes base daround DesktopX and the other packages, and distribute them within your own company, or even join the army of people posting components for the programs to

Other applications include WindowFX, which basically adds fancy effects to your windows, especially when you drag them around. WindowFX will place a strain on your graphics card if it isn't up to scratch, and it even goes so far as to check your current driver and tell you if you'll need to upgrade it or not. A keyboard app handles the creation of more hot-key shortcuts than you can reasonably shake a stick at, another applet thanks care of menu creation and extra bars, yet another lets you design your own skins, there's another to handle icons and so on. If fact the plethora of applets works slightly against the Stardock suite, as you can quickly drive yourself nuts trying to work out which one to use in a given situation.

Instructions for use are somewhat thin on the ground, and I found it a cas eof suck it and see on occasion, but most of what I did seemed to work out fine. I had a couple of problems with downloads - the latest beta of DesktopX 2 wouldn't unpack and a control centre app that gives you multiple Desktops kept losing the ObjectDock when I switched between screens, although a quick mouse pass over the area in which it should have appeared soon restored it to view.

While trying to sort out how each item works can be a bit of a pain, there's no doubt that you'll be rewarded should you choose to persevere with these applications. Most can be bought individually, or you can lay out $49.95 (£29) for the whole Object Desktop suite, plus another $29.95 (£17) for the all-singing, all-dancing version of SkinStudio - the basic one is free. Upgrades are free for a year too after the initial purchase of the suite. Payment unlocks functionality in quite a few of these applications, but you can see what will be coming your way should you decide to take the plunge and buy the whole suite. I strongly suggest you check the suite out, but also suggest you take advantage of the evaluation period before you shell out.

Making changes to the appearance of Windows can seem nice for a while, but you might find yourself hankering for the tried-and-tested layout to which you're accustomed. If you really get into this, it's great fun, but be aware that if performance is your ultimate aim things like WindowFX are going to work against you. There's a fair bit of eye candy here along with serious functionality. You'll have to decide whether the benefits of one outweigh the possible disadvantage of the other. Have fun. You should also try to get hold of a back issue of Dennis Publishing's Custom PC (issue 004/January 2004), as it devoted a whole section to Windows XP makeovers and covered more applications than those I've been able to mention briefly here.
on Jan 17, 2004
CoooooL  I will go buy the magazine today....... Thanks Martin.
on Jan 17, 2004
Martin.......mine came through the letterbox this morning and you beat me to it
on Jan 18, 2004
I've got the issue of CustomPC they mention at the end.The article in that is very pro-Stardock.Ironic, as I'm pretty sure the Andy Hutchinson who wrote is the very same Mr Hutchinson who posts as Dokt (Aka Mr Stardock is evil).
on Jan 19, 2004
Is this guy on the payroll?
on Jan 19, 2004
"Most can be bought individually, or you can lay out $49.95 (£29) for the whole Object Desktop suite, plus another $29.95 (£17) for the all-singing, all-dancing version of SkinStudio"

As far as I know, my $49.95 Object Desktop suite includes the full Skinstudio. Is this incorrect?
on Jan 20, 2004
This is not good news everyone.This kind of advertisement for stardock will slow the servers down with all the extra trafic created!!!!! ,, PS How much did you pay him??
on Jan 22, 2004
Sir Aschell, no the text here is confusing. You will have the full SkinStudio.