Many of the logon screens available on the Web are hacked versions of the logonui.exe file. A copy is made and then a tool like Resource Hacker (discussed in Appendix A) is used to point to an alternative graphic file. If hacking files makes you a little squeamish, there are alternatives for creating logon screens.
Software utilities do exist that can be used to create logon screens. Examples are ChameleonXP (do a search for "ChameleonXP" using your favorite web search engine to locate a download site for the software) and Stardock's LogonStudio (which is freeware and can be downloaded from www.stardock.com). Because we have discussed a number of the utilities that make up the Stardock Object Desktop, let's focus our discussion on LogonStudio, which creates logon skins in a special format that can then be applied by the Object Desktop's Theme Manager utility.
LogonStudio creates logon skins in the file format .logonxp. As already mentioned in the chapter, all the Stardock products use their own unique skinning engine and strategy for changing Windows XP interface elements. Using a skinning engine that sits on top of the Windows default skinning engine (uxtheme.dll) can provide some added protection from system failure because you aren't editing or hacking actual system resource files. The downside is that, in some cases, you will experience a slight performance degradation within Windows.
LogonStudio provides a simple interface that allows you to create, load, and manage your logon screens (see Figure 13.13). You can create a new logon screen from scratch or edit existing logon screens.
Figure 13.13. LogonStudio allows you to create and manage your logon screens.
To create a new logon screen, click the New button. The Create New logon dialog box opens. Enter a name for the logon screen and other information, such as the author (your name), author email, and any notes related to the logon screen. You don't have to enter all the information if you don't anticipate uploading the logon to the winCustomize.com website to make it available to other users.
After you have entered the information in the Create New Logon dialog box, click the Create button. A message appears letting you know that a new folder was created for the logon using the logon name you entered. Click OK to close the message box. The LogonStudio Editor opens, containing the default Windows logon screen (see Figure 13.14).
Figure 13.14. The LogonStudio Editor provides the tools for creating a new logon screen.
The strategy for creating a new logon in the LogonStudio Editor is similar to the strategy we used to create Windows visual styles in Stardock's SkinStudio (see Chapter 9). SkinStudio provides an interface that makes accessing a particular element of the Windows interface, making changes, and then previewing those changes easy. In LogonStudio Editor you have access to each element that makes up the current logon screen, and these elements are listed in the Elements panel. You can access a particular element by selecting it in the Elements panel. The main panel of LogonStudio Editor also provides a preview of the logon screen; you can click part of the screen in the Preview panel to select that particular element.
When you select an element in the Preview panel, the properties for that element appear in the Properties panel. For example, if you select the Center panel of the logon screen, which is the large blue area you see in the default Windows logon, the element is selected and its properties (such as the bitmap for the element and color attributes) are listed in the Properties panel (see Figure 13.15).
Figure 13.15. The LogonStudio Editor enables you to change the properties of each element in the logon screen.
So, you can change the various properties of the logon screen elements to create a new logon screen. The first thing you might do is change the bitmap picture for the Center panel (again, this is the largest area of the logon screen). With the Center panel selected (click it in the Preview panel), go to the Properties panel and click the Browse button to the right of the Picture property listing.
The Edit Picture dialog box opens. You can edit the current picture in your favorite image editor by clicking Edit, or you can replace the picture with a bitmap picture of your own.
To replace the current bitmap for the Center panel, click the Browse button. Use the Select a Bitmap dialog box that opens to locate the bitmap you will use as the replacement. Click Open to return to the Edit Picture dialog box. Click OK to return to the LogonStudio Editor.
To select the default image editor for LogonStudio, click the Options button on the main screen. The LogonStudio options appear. Click the Select Bitmap Editor button and browse to locate the executable file that starts your software.
Your replacement bitmap picture is applied to the Center panel. To see this in the Preview panel, click the Refresh Preview button on the editor's toolbar.
You can change how the bitmap is placed on the logon screen by clicking in the Style box of the Properties panel. A drop-down list appears that enables you to change the placement of the bitmap; the options are Tiled, Fixed Size, and Stretched.
After you have the new bitmap for the Center panel, you can change the other elements in the current logon screen. Select each element in turn and then modify the bitmap or the properties of that element until you achieve the desired effect.
You can delete the divider lines that show on the default logon screen by selecting the divider line in the Elements panel. Then click the Browse button for that divider in the Properties panel and remove the check mark from the Use Picture check box on the Edit Picture dialog box. This, in effect, deletes the divider line from your custom logon screen.
Save the changes you make to your new logon screen by clicking the Save button on the editor toolbar. Figure 13.16 shows a logon screen I have created. I changed the center panel bitmap, removed the center divider line, changed the position of the User Account box, and played with some of the fonts.
Figure 13.16. A new logon screen can be created with a few simple modifications to the default Windows logon.
When you have completed your logon screen, you can save it, apply it, and test it by clicking the Save and Apply button on the LogonStudio Editor toolbar. You are taken to the logon screen. Click your logon name to return to Windows and the LogonStudio Editor.
You can close the LogonStudio Editor window to return to the main LogonStudio window. Your new logon screen is now listed in the logon list.
LogonStudio also lets you download additional logons from www.wincustomize.com, the default skin element site for the various Object Desktop products. More importantly, it also allows you to quickly restore the default Windows logonparticularly nice if you are having trouble with a downloaded or edited logon. Click the Restore Default XP Logon button to return to the default XP logon screen.
Creating logon screens can be as much fun as creating visual styles and the other elements, such as icons and backgrounds, that make up your Windows skins. As with the other skin elements, the possibilities are really limitless, so let your creativity and imagination take over as you create your own logon screens.