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Microsoft has blessed WindowBlinds by giving XP beta testers access to WindowsBlinds XP. Stardock's Brad Wardell assures us that this should by no means be viewed as official endorsement ("It's a very unofficial, casual thing") - but as we see it having your code on Microsoft's beta code servers is a lot nicer than not having it there.

the beta Redmond has posted is a version of Stardock's WindowBlinds XP which Stardock modified to work within the visual styles framework. It extends the capabilities of Microsoft's Visual Styles to enable outlandish themes or, as Wardell puts it, to allow beta testers who want more skins to have them.

Microsoft laid out some hors d'oevres last year by promising that Whistler (as we then called it) would support themes. And then it declared the restaurant closed, by adding the rider that third party themes were unlikely to be approved.

Like Apple before it, Microsoft twigged that letting users and OEMs customize Windows beyond recognition might diminish the expensively-marketed brand, and precipitate a tech support nightmare. After all, if users start asking for the freedom to decide how a program should look, then the next thing they'll want is to decide what it does, and before you know it, they're knocking on your door demanding the source code. And where's your business model then? So the new arrangement should please just about everybody.

Stardock and Microsoft have already co-operated with Redmond helping Stardock on skinning Office. Late last month Stardock released a beta of Skin Studio, a revamp of its BuilderBlinds skinning IDE, now extended to create XP themes. ®

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