The State of Skinning 2004

A look at the year in skinning

Saturday, December 18, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

With the end of the year upon us, it's time for this year's "The State of Skinning" message. At least in terms of how we see it.  For the nearly million new registered users who may be reading this, I should probably provide a little background before going into the meat of this.

Skinning is a general concept of changing the way your computer's interface looks and feels. And in the beginning, there were two websites dedicated to this. One was called Customize.org and the other Skinz.org.  When the Dot-Com hype collapsed, the advertising revenue that powered much of the Internet disappeared taking those sites with them.  At the time, the only significant general customization site around was the new deviantART.com.  So Stardock decided that it couldn't exclusively rely on third party sites for providing the content its software customers wanted. The result was the launch of WinCustomize in March of 2001. 

Eventually, Customize.org and Skinz.org returned but under new owners and much about them has changed since then. Other sites have come as well and the problem other skin sites have run into is money. That is, if the website gets too popular, it becomes too expensive to maintain.  WinCustomize.com receives a monthly grant from Stardock plus it gets income from people who subscribe to the site.  We have remained exclusively customization site.  Our friends at deviantART took the path of becoming a general art site. They do have a healthy customization section though that I recommend you check out.

And that's where we are today. So how did this year go?

The Lawsuit

Well, the year started out with a nasty lawsuit that I think permanently changed the community.  Developer TGT Soft filed a lawsuit a week before last Christmas demanding that Stardock allow it to use its IconPackager .iptheme format without having to license it. Needless to say, we weren't too happy about that. We felt it went to a core issue of skinning - if you want to use someone else's "stuff" you need their permission to do it. Several months later the suit was settled out of court and TGT Soft ended up having to license the format for Stardock (the details of which are confidential per the settlement). So it was good news, in our view, for the skinning community.

The GUI Olympics

There was also the GUI Olympics this year. It had Winamp, IconPackager, and WindowBlinds as the 3 sponsored programs.  ATI helped out a lot and it was a great success. But there won't ever be another one. Why? Because the US Olympic committee demanded that we not use the phrase Olympics so future ones will have to be called GUI Championships (one lawsuit is enough per year thanks ).

Triumph of Rainlendar / SysMetrix

2004 was also a year of consolidation. Widgets got talked about a lot and the net effect is that the widget programs gobbled up the user base of a ton of small one purpose programs. There's still a Beatnik section on WinCustomize.com. And it still gets new submissions. But the widget programs (DesktopX, Kapsules, etc.) have taken a bite out of the momentum of specialty programs because they can do so much. But there were two notable exceptions to this - SysMetrix and Rainlendar.  SysMetrix lets people build system monitors really easily. And Rainlendar is a really nice skinned calendar program. The widget programs haven't touched them.

Year of the Widget

But while those exceptions have thrived, there's no denying that 2004 was the year of the widget. Konfabulator came out for Windows with much anticipation. DesktopX 2.x made widget creation very easy. Avedesk rose to become a popular program. Samurize (which Stardock hosts) grew in popularity. Kapsules came into existence and made headway (and its developer will be a full time Stardock developer here in Michigan starting in January).   You can see what they're all about in the Widget Wars article.  But the jury is out whether widgets are going to become mainstream. I can tell you that right now, they're most definitely not mainstream. They're like where skins were in 1999. Consider these numbers: Konfabulator, with a perfect storm of publicity (News.com, slashdot, etc.) has a download count (non-unique users) on its widgets whose mean is around 1500.  DesktopX's widgets have a mean download on new stuff of around 500 and the other widget enablers considerably less than that (when there are download counts to measure).  By contrast, a typical new WindowBlinds skin can get 2000 downloads in an afternoon. So the widget detractors (i.e. the people who get on me for covering widgets so much) have a point - they've gotten much more publicity than their popularity warrants.  That said, I still love em. Still gonna make them. And still think they're the next "big thing" in customization.

WindowBlinds Victorious

More time than I would like to admit goes into monitoring download statistics on various content on various sites as well as the creation of new content for various programs. It's graphed out. It's analyzed. It's projected. Some skin sites are less accurate than others in terms of their downloads (some sites increment downloads on a skin if you just look at it funny on the page. Other sites only count completed downloads. And still other use cookies and account tying so that even if you re-download a skin it will only count that as 1 download total -- that's what WinCustomize does).

So I can say that while it was a close thing in 2001 and 2002, this past year WindowBlinds skins became far more dominant than msstyles in terms of # of new skins made as well as (to the best we can tell) number of active users.  There's some good msstyles out there but 2004 wasn't a good year for them. It's as if the msstyle community collectively decided that Longhorn and "Royale" were "good enough".  That isn't to say there weren't some good msstyles made -- there were. But they were far far more uncommon than in 2001/2002 (decline started in 2003 and accelerated in 2004).  And next year Longhorn will show up and msstyles won't work on there (if there's a "msstyle" format on Longhorn it'll be a new format entirely almost certainly).

So the lynchpin of what makes WinCustomize.com so popular grew in popularity in 2004. Partially sparked by the GUI Olympics, 2004 saw a lot more creativity in skins as well as simply "more" skins over 2003.

Critical mass for Object Desktop

2004 was the year that Object Desktop's user base soared at an astounding rate.  Our basic belief on this is that enough of the programs that make up this suite of desktop enhancement utilities matured to the point of being ready for the mass market that people started buying it in higher numbers than before.

The Docks

Some people really hate commercialism in skinning. But one thing that can't be denied - free things tend to disappear and non-free things tend to keep being developed.  There were 3 docks at one point..  All 3 very good programs.  All 3 freeware.   One of the 3 free ones got a letter from Apple and disappeared. The other stopped being updated. We got a letter too but we have lawyers. 

But ObjectDock came out with a "Plus" version this year. And updates for it have continued. In fact, ObjectDock Plus now rivals WindowBlinds in terms of sales popularity. The tabbed dock is here to stay.  The free one will continue to be free and continue to be updated. But it's clear from user screenshots that having tabs on the dock is the way to go.

WinCustomize 2K5

For months it was in development. And this month it finally was launched. The first major overhaul of WinCustomize.com since its original launch back in 2001. The first two weeks were very bumpy. Which is why the official announcement won't go out until this Monday.  But things have improved greatly since then and each day new features and tweaks get made to it. 

The results have been good.  According to Site Meter, the site was averaging around 440,000 visitors per day.  Now it's already up to 540,000 visitors per day average. That's 100,000 more visitors per day!

Paying the bills

WinCustomize is still very dependent on that monthly Stardock grant.  But WinCustomize subscriptions have made the difference.  Without subscribers, there would have been no WinCustomize 2K5 which cost around $90,000 just in IT costs so far.  We'll probably have another subscription drive in January to help buy some new servers to help keep the site growing.  The way the new site was coded will save us substantially on hardware and enable the site to grow much faster without straining the resources so much.

So what's next?

I can't predict what 2005 will be like. The Longhorn beta will show up in late Spring and we'll know how that impacts skinning.  In theory, Longhorn should be a huge windfall for customization. It includes a compositor which means you can do a lot more visual stuff that is hardware accelerated.  So that could be very exciting if they keep is open enough for third parties to get in there and expand on what's there.

I think you'll see more premium suites. The demand for these is very high. Natural Desktop (www.naturaldesktop.com) has done incredibly well. So has Aquarium Desktop. So I think you'll see an increase in these kinds of things next year.

I think 2005 will be a very exciting year because of Longhorn bringing interest and the community features on WinCustomize helping people participate in more ways.

Widgets will grow more popular I think. With ObjectBar 2 supporting widgets being embedded in bars, I think that'll have a big impact.

So that's where things stand from our perspective. Tell us what you think is going to be big in 2005. 

First Previous Page 1 of 2 Next Last
ExodusCrow
Reply #1 Saturday, December 18, 2004 4:21 AM
It has definatly been a great year for skinning.
I think a big congratulations is in order for Stardock. Well done!
fudoshi
Reply #2 Saturday, December 18, 2004 8:00 AM
i agree with exoduscrow ther have been more skins avaliable since the fantastic site begane and a great deal smoother even though a few hicups in begining wich is to be expected on such a large venture well done stardock
WOM
Reply #3 Saturday, December 18, 2004 8:07 AM
Yes the site has had a great year.I look forward to seeing what good things we will have this year.
Apocalypse_67
Reply #4 Saturday, December 18, 2004 8:25 AM
Indeed it was a long and bumpy ride on 2004 but it was fun to be on it. I’m really glad to read all the positive things that came out it and how much stronger the drive for skinning has become.
2005 looks very promising. With all the new programs and Longhorn coming out, I’m sure skinners will have a field day coming up with new ideas and designs.
I'd love to see a holographic skin design, but I guess I have to wait a few more years for that
All and all, I want to thank WC, staff and members for all the help and support and for sharing all these great skins/themes.
And Brad, even though I don’t agree with you on some issues some times, I thank you for all the work you've done and for keeping this trend going.

Because the US Olympic committee demanded that we not use the phrase Olympics so future ones will have to be called GUI Championships

I didn’t know Olympics was a copyright word.
Apocalypse_67
Reply #5 Saturday, December 18, 2004 8:26 AM
Grrr, the double post bug
WARCRY
Reply #6 Saturday, December 18, 2004 8:30 AM
whats up tgt softs butt a rotten pan with a dead roach on it i think there products suck WANG!i guess they starting trouble cause they have no bizz i guess dont know
Solosturm
Reply #7 Saturday, December 18, 2004 9:44 AM
i cant wait to see right-click ... that is what i am waiting for!
sryo
Reply #8 Saturday, December 18, 2004 10:02 AM
mmm, shells are lacking in this article, bblean (a bb4win branch) specifically, using the bbinterface plugin started a whole revolution there, with about 25 new styles being released every week ondeviantart, that's a number that cant be taken unnoticed.
there's been a lot of development in other shells but those only were important mostly to the old users.

hopefully we'll se many new freeware and opensource applications this year
Island Dog
Reply #9 Saturday, December 18, 2004 10:11 AM
Great job.
BlueDev
Reply #10 Saturday, December 18, 2004 10:34 AM
Interesting article Frogboy. 2004 was a fun year for skinning for me because it was the year I finally really got into it. For me, it was really the releases of newer versions of some of these programs, and the amazing work I was seeing with the GUI Olympics that really drew me in.

2005 should be exciting as well. I just want to thank Stardock and the community at WC for all their work to make this an awesome hobby and community.
Brock Beesley
Reply #11 Saturday, December 18, 2004 12:59 PM
Thanks for the info Brad. I'm glad to have been able to contribute and support Wincustomize, Stardock, the whole kit'n'kaboodle. I can't wait for more premium suites. They always seem to be great quality and most of us really like them. I know I'm going to get some people upset at me for this, but I hope Tiggz and some of the other Skinning monsters go premium with their work. I think it will help to raise the bar and promote greater excellence. well, on to another great year!!!!
craeonics
Reply #12 Saturday, December 18, 2004 3:18 PM
I'd say it was a bad year for skinning in general. If you look outside of this site, the diversity of apps is severely dwindling. Only a handfull are (regularly) updated and the rest just vanish. And I doubt it's the widgets that are the cause of this.
JMB1984
Reply #13 Saturday, December 18, 2004 3:57 PM
great article brad, very good info. long live skinning!!!
dukeofchutney
Reply #14 Saturday, December 18, 2004 5:04 PM
Craeonics - you make me chuckle, you really do, everyone else is upbeat except you. You should consider changing your nick to Eeyore.

No offence meant - I'm pulling your leg, you just make me laugh with your "downer" comments sometimes that's all.
craeonics
Reply #15 Saturday, December 18, 2004 5:31 PM
craeonics has this nasty habit of moving against the flow

I get an itch to look the other way and see what's on the other side when all noses are pointing in the same direction.
Phar0e
Reply #16 Saturday, December 18, 2004 9:51 PM
I think Crae is right. A lot of the original skinned apps\programs\whatever are disappearing or dormant. The alternative shell scene has barely more than a pulse. It looks like most of the original skinners and innovators have left.
I would say that Stardock's apps are thriving though. So it appears the skinning scene has morphed into what we see today.
Better than the "old" days? Depends on your perspective, I guess. Having had my feet in both "days", I feel both excited about what's coming out, and yet also feel like something has slipped away (lost perhaps).
JDavidHarper
Reply #17 Sunday, December 19, 2004 12:25 AM
I never got into the alternative shell scene because I was under the impression that you could seriously break something by doing it. With the Object Desktop suite, I can skin stuff and not worry about any permanent damage.

But, anyways: Thank goodness for the GUI Olympics: It brought a lot of innovation to the table; if you look at the stuff coming out in the month or two before GUI Olympics, it was boring, unimaginative stuff. GUI Olympics really provided a greak spark to the creative process.
Jafo
Reply #18 Sunday, December 19, 2004 1:09 AM

Crae and Phil [Phar0e] are on the button, really.

It's difficult to ignore the early years of blanket optimism [before dot-com disasters]...when everyone was eager and all was new.

Now, new strengths have emerged, but at the same time there's a list of [tiny, comparatively] 'skinnables' that ain't no more [or at least of any current significance]....and that brings a tear to the eye of some.

Litestep has probably been on 'idle' at best over the past 12 months.

On the other hand, thanks to the people at Stardock, there's a significant improvement in Skinning's long-term survivability with both on-going product development and a stable outlet for its product and that of many others [Wincustomize].

2K5 is a significant advancement in our interaction with our community.....but it's not a 'final product'.  There's plenty of scope for additions and improvements over time...so the joint will just get better and better by degrees...

The important indicator of community growth/health is the sea of new names of people submitting works to the site, and looking around, there's plenty.  Thinking back to the Skinz.org days it really was quite a tight, small group in comparison.

2K5 [the year] should be fun......[and someone, somewhere, some time ago coined the phrase "'cos skinning is supposed to be fun"]....

joeKnowledge
Reply #19 Sunday, December 19, 2004 2:04 AM
Some people really hate commercialism in skinning.



No Frogboy, you should have wrote some people REALLY hate COMMERCIALISM in skinning.

Personally, I feel that there isn't much of a problem, but there is a responcibility by the community to keep it fresh and relativily untouched by the oligopoly thinkig of coporate structure and idealism.



Because the US Olympic committee demanded that we not use the phrase Olympics so future ones will have to be called GUI Championships


I still think that is major. It means the word got out so far that the olympic organizers found out about it.

I'd say it was a bad year for skinning in general. If you look outside of this site, the diversity of apps is severely dwindling. Only a handfull are (regularly) updated and the rest just vanish. And I doubt it's the widgets that are the cause of this.


Crea, I would love your input as to why you feel this way for my Art and Skin Report. I think you have a eye for some things that other might not notice. I think your article would be a great addition and possible counter point to the whole report. I have seen some bad side of commercializm of skinning, the growing popularity and growing 'personalities' tearing away at the family of skinners. Is there a community of skinners? Skinartisrty Maybe? Is WinCustomize now officially a community because of the blogging powers? Interaction bewteen mulipul user sites?


I have to say its hard to try to contact the skinners of old. I have no idea about the alternitive shell other than Aston Shell (and I thought that was updated recently)
alphabyte
Reply #20 Monday, December 20, 2004 2:31 PM
Loved the GUIOlympics. It really perked my interest in customizations after seeing some of the truly remarkable and creative skins posted during the contest. 2004 was a great year for skinning and I'm sure 2005 will be even better.

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