Feb 7, 2008

Windows XP Themes - free and easy

Customizable interfaces that's what we love. Users today spend a large part of the day staring at the same screens, sometimes they want a change but there's not much to have.

Microsoft Vista, window operating system's new avatar, did come out with a lot of that stuff - but it turned out to be something that doesn't go smoothly on your average computer. The result is that many, including me, are now choosing to use the older Windows XP. Seeing the problems in Vista, we are learning to appreciate the relative stability of WinXP, it's compatibility with nearly all popular software products, and ability to get the job done without too much fuss.

Yet, there's still much left to be desired. This blog is about the limited 'themes' in WinXP. By default, you'll find that out-of-the-box you get only 3 themes in WinXP - Windows XP, Windows Classic and 'My Current Theme'. Not very inspiring. 'M themes online...' link never leads anywhere useful.

Now since Microsoft is not very helpful, we end up seeing third party software such as StyleXP. Many of these are not free, which these days is means unusable. Some have custom software to do the configuration. Ideally one should just be able to get themes online and set them using the default WinXP setup shown above.

There had to be an easier way, I found it with Multipatcher - here's how to use it:
  • Get the software here (file is uxpatcher.zip), currently it is at version 5.5. Note that this software will only work on Windows XP/SP1/SP2 or Windows Server 2003 (with Themes enabled)
  • Unzip this to get the file UXTheme Multi-Patcher 5.5.exe. Run this program. This edits the Windows dynamic link library file uxtheme.dll, so that it can accept theme files that have not been signed off by Microsoft, otherwise any other theme files will not be recognised.
  • On running you will get the following dialogue widow:

  • click the 'Patch' button to go ahead with the install. Following window will then appear:

  • This checks out your windows system. Click the 'OK' button. A new window will appear:

  • This warns you about the Windows File Protection dialogue appearing. I'll explain about that further, for now click 'OK'. Next window is:

  • To restart the computer after install, click OK. Make sure any unsaved work on your computer is saved before doing so.
  • Before you restart a Windows File Protection dialogue may appear:

  • For which click 'Cancel', or the following may appear:

  • for which you can click 'Yes'
  • If you are uncomfortable with patching your uxtheme.dll file, note that running this program again will un-patch the file.
Installing Themes
  • You can find WinXP themes at varous online locations such as - here and here.
  • To install these, put the *.theme file and any associated folders in C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes
  • Then double-click on the file *.theme and it will open in the standard Display properties window shown above. Choose the theme and click 'Apply'.

Feb 5, 2008

Code Poets, Software Engineers

The following article by Jonathan Wise has been resonating online with the Software community. A lot that has been written applies to me and my colleagues everywhere. Our job titles are perhaps deliberately confusing enough to keep you guessing our 'real' work. The following excerpts highlight the best and easiest bits, but you can read the full article here to get the complete description.

  • And believe it or not, I don't fix computers for a living.
  • There's these organizations, some (not all) still stuck in the 70s and 80s, called “I.T. Departments” who's official purpose is to fix computers — but who's actual purpose is to attempt to prevent their users from doing anything dangerous (read: useful.)
  • A software developer must be part writer and poet, part salesperson and public speaker, part artist and designer, and always equal parts logic and empathy.
  • A piece of software starts, before any code is written, as an idea or as a problem to be solved.
  • It is always tied to a human being — their job, their entertainment… their needs.
  • Once you understand what you need to build, you still don't begin building it. Like an architect or a designer, you start with a sketch, and you create a design.
  • Its not uncommon for the design process to take longer than the coding process.
  • You put on a sales hat and you pitch what you've dreamt up… then wait with bated breath while they dissect your brain child.
  • Software that can't be understood can't be used, so no matter how brilliant your design, if your interface isn't elegant and beautiful and intuitive, your project is a failure.
  • To make something easy to use requires at least a basic understanding of human reactions, an awareness of cognitive norms.
  • Only, unlike a salesperson selling someone else's product, you are selling your own work, and are inevitably emotionally-attached to it.
  • Maybe its more like music ...
  • ... the pieces are added up, each in itself a little work of art, they make, if programmed properly, a whole that is much more than a sum. Its is an intertwined, and constantly moving piece of art.
  • ... next comes a Quality Assurance Engineer (or QA) who tries to break your code, question your decisions, and generally force you to do better than what you thought was your best.
  • it takes a true artist, or at least an earnest student, to understand just how brilliant — or how wretched — the work behind it is.
  • As a lead developer on a project, it falls to you to instill confidence, to speak articulately and passionately about the appropriateness and worth of your solution.
  • ... user's are never really satisfied. So you think back to the design process, you remind them when they had a part in the decisions ...
  • And you write and you teach. ... responsibility to educate people on the uses of our technology ...
  • Then there's a party, a brief respite, where you celebrate your victory ... And you start again. ...
  • ... you are only as good as your latest victory.