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The Skinny on Skinning Whistler

Whistler to look like... er... any version of Windows

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BetaNews has reported fresh rumours that Microsoft will build skinning into future versions of Windows, in an attempt to give the OS the theme capabilities of Linux. Right now these are only available from third parties.

(The BetaNews gang spotted a job ad back in January where Microsoft was hiring developers with experience of extensible Window managers.)

We've heard these rumours too and can shed a little more light on the project. We hear that Microsoft does indeed have such a development project on the go, although it's only got semi-official status, and is comprised of developers who worked on the Real Media Player 7 and MSN Mars projects. The goal is to introduce basic themes into Whistler, the consumer version of Windows 2000.

The team has already put together a couple of themes which alter the title bar bitmap and window button bitmaps, but so far, not much else. So in other words, the Whistler version of Windows can be altered to look like... er... Windows.

Redmond's Whistling Skinners (and we'll be disappointed if they don't have their own Morris Dancing troupe) haven't got as far as letting the position of these buttons be altered - a la Macintosh - or introducing effects much beloved of eye candy connoisseurs (and Steve Jobs) like alpha blending.

And whether they can get that far is up to political as much as technical considerations. Many of the users of today's skinning applications use them explicitly to get away from the Windows look and feel. And we can imagine that Redmond wouldn't be pleased with millions of users migrating to say, Mac themes.

Then there's the tricky part of working with legacy applications, as many popular apps such as Eudora, or the Notes client can't be reliably skinned, and find their way into exclusion lists of the more responsible third-party skinners.

And finally there's the really tricky business of whether Microsoft wants to enable or crush the thriving third party skinning business.

Finally we can't help sending this one to the over Department of Strange Coincidences. Over the weekend Stardock - which leads the skinning business with its WindowBlinds add in - announced details of its next generation DesktopX, which takes this all way beyond the current expectations of eye candy. Oh yes, Redmond moves in mysterious ways... ®

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