I’ve been trying out this particular product for a while now, waiting for it to screw up – it’s rare that I get pleasantly surprised by an application. First, what is StyleXP? Simply put, it allows you to apply a “skin” to Windows XP. What’s a skin? I know you won’t ask that, so lets move along. Now some background. For years, there’s been applications that would allow you to change the way your Windows desktop looked and worked – applications would take over the Window itself, or offer a shell replacement, and that would allow you to put a custom look and feel on your desktop. The most commercial and memorable one, to me anyway, was Norton Navigator for Windows 95 – and it nominally sucked.
What happens with most of these 3rd party applications is that they are either poorly written or they try so hard to change everything that it slows the machine down to a halt. Don’t believe me? Think that the Pentium 4 is fast enough to never let a machine get bogged down? Go give Windows Blinds a try – I was so unimpressed with their performance that I won’t even link to them! – and you’ll see what I mean. They had some great ideas, but either their implementation sucks or I’m really that impatient. I believe it’s the former, than the latter, but you can make up your own minds on that.
Given the above, I was thrilled to learn that Windows XP had the concept of Themes built into itself. Finally we would see some real skins for customizing Windows! The initial install of XP even includes the Bliss theme with three different colours for your windows: Blue, Silver, and Olive. At least that’s what I think they’re called – they are listed under the Appearance tab under the display properties. Anyway, I was also interested to learn that the Plus! pack for Windows XP was going to include three more themes. Yep – giddy with Geek Excitement. That was about eight months ago. Since then, that’s all the themes that have been made available! There’s nothing else out there – honest; and the Plus! themes you had to buy from Microsoft.
Enter StyleXP. This application, from TGTSoft, is a class act because it allows you to use themes for Windows XP, but it uses the built-in Windows XP theme engine. This means that can run without any additional resources! I’ve found it better to run with the little StyleXP application as part of the booting process, but frankly it uses so little resources, it’s been great, even on the notebooks I use. So what’s the deal? More or less StyleXP just works. It makes all the necessary calls to the theme engine that allow the entire OS to be skinned. They also make an application for building new themes called StyleBuilder – I haven’t had a need to use this yet, as I’ve found the included themes to be pretty good and the other online themes to be plentiful. Online themes did I say? Ah yes – StyleXP themes can be found online at http://www.themexp.org/ with a few other things like wallpapers, login replacements, etc. Between the themes site and the two samples TGTSoft includes, I’ve been pretty ecstatic with StyleXP.
To show you what I mean, here’s some screen shots with three of the skins I use on my PC’s. Click on each one if you want to zoom in on it.