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Gets under XP's skin
You won't have any trouble installing WindowBlinds or using it to swap basic skins. WindowBlinds integrates most tightly with Windows XP, where it slips itself into the Appearances tab of XP's Display Properties dialog. To change a skin, just select a new look from the Windows And Buttons list and click OK. (Under Windows 98, Me, and 2000, WindowBlinds adds a new Skins tab to the Display Properties dialog.) Best of all, you can change skins without rebooting the PC, though it typically takes as long as 30 seconds for a skin to take effect, during which you just have to wait.
Adding a new skin to your PC isn't a big deal, though you may have to manually move the new folder to the directory where WindowBlinds expects to find skins. Pay $20 to register WindowBlinds, though, and you'll see a section in the program configuration window that lets you easily install skins from the Web or a disc, search for skins, and preview any already loaded on your system.
There are thousands of WindowBlinds skins on the Net, all of them free for the downloading. The easiest place to find them, WinCustomize, touts more than 1,450 WindowBlinds creations.
To tweak a skin once you've downloaded it, just click the WindowBlinds button in the Windows Display Properties dialog. Here, you can turn specific parts of the skin on or off, such as toolbars, buttons, Windows Explorer backgrounds, and scroll bars.
You can also exclude applications from using a systemwide skin or assign a different skin to one application but another to all the rest. For instance, we told WindowBlinds to leave Internet Explorer's toolbar as is when we didn't like the way a new skin changed it. This per-app skin feature is nifty and necessary because WindowBlinds 3.1A is still incompatible with some apps. (In fact, as it installs, WindowBlinds scouts your hard drive and automatically excludes apps with known incompatibilities, including Adobe Illustrator, MSN Explorer, and earlier editions of Quicken.)
Not just a pretty face
WindowBlinds doesn't just change the appearance of your screen. Depending on the skin applied, it can also add functionality. Our favorite such feature is the roll-up window skin; like in the Mac OS, it rolls up a window when you click the button at the upper left. Skin authors can also add clocks, media player controls, and the like to windows.
Skins may slow you down
Some systems may experience a performance hit while running WindowBlinds. Stardock claims that WindowsBlinds 3.1A uses less memory than Windows XP's own equivalent visual styles. It's true that most 3.1A skins are small; many of the XP-specific skins we downloaded were less than 200K.
But even on our Pentium III-900 with 256MB of memory running XP Pro, WindowBlinds 3.1A put the dampers on some activities. Internet Explorer 6 crashed and locked up several times until we excluded it from using skins. And with numerous windows open, some skins slowed down screen redraws, scrolling, and window dragging. Slower systems equipped with memory-skimpy video cards will run even slower. Our advice: Try WindowBlinds and numerous skins before registering. Your $20 registration will give you color customization and skinnable scroll bars but meager tech support: just a short FAQ file, an almost worthless help file, a support e-mail address, and, best of the bunch, a newsgroup where you can ask questions of knowledgeable WindowBlinds users.
We love a new face
WindowBlinds' ability to turn Windows into something it isn't makes it a fun extra. Sure, most of the available skins look amateur--hey, they're made by authors who aren't getting a dime--but some are gems. If you want to create icons and such, you should use Microangelo 5.5. If you just want to tweak icons, try Desktop Architect instead.