You have seen from Chapter 6, "A Closer Look at Skinning Software," that a large number of premade themes, visual styles, and skins are available for download from the Web. Some of the visual styles and skins are more creative than others, but in most cases, the one thing that all these visual styles and skins share in common is that the creator took a lot of time and effort to create them.
Creating your own themes, visual styles, and skins does require effort and time. When you think about all the elements and objects that make up the Windows interface, a complete makeover in the form of a skin is certainly labor intensive. The energy that you expend to create your own visual styles and skins will depend in large part on your artistic abilities and command of various software packages, such as graphic creation software (Photoshop, for instance), and skin editors.
Don't be confused by the similar names used by skinning engines and skin editors from the same software company. For example, TGTSoft's skinning software is Style XP; its skin editor is StyleBuildersimilar names but very different functions.
Your approach to creating visual style and skins also depends on how dramatically you want to change the Windows interface. If you look back at some of the skin examples from Chapter 6, some skin authors create fairly simple skins, while others modify each and every item of the interface to create a truly unique look.
For example, Figure 7.1 shows a skin that provides a very dramatic background and some modifications to the taskbar and other Windows elements. This skin gives Windows a new look, but most of the changes are relatively straightforward to make (in terms of editing the interface components). Most of the effect provided by the skin is really the result of an interesting (and well-designed) desktop background.
Figure 7.1. A simple skin can still provide a dramatic change to the GUI.
Contrast Figures 7.2 with 7.1. The skin shown in Figure 7.2 doesn't provide quite the dramatic change to the GUI that Figure 7.1 does (although the skin in Figure 7.1 would be easy to create). The skin in Figure 7.2 is actually much more complex than the skin in Figure 7.1.
Figure 7.2. Skins don't have to be complicated to be complex. This skin even provides custom widgets.
Looking more closely at the skin in Figure 7.2, you will see that the icon has been changed for the Start button and the Start menu has been redesigned. This skin also provides custom applications called widgets (which are discussed in more detail in Chapter 14, "But It Doesn't Look Like Windows XP"); note the weather and calendar widgets on the desktop.
The skin shown in Figure 7.2 also provides a number of other enhancements to the Windows GUI, such as custom toolbar buttons, changes to Windows elements, and several other modifications that can't be shown in a single figure. So, although this skin does not immediately provide the visual impact that the simpler skin in Figure 7.1 provides, the skin in Figure 7.2 is a great deal more complex. But the author of the skin (the skinner's nickname is brewman and the skin is a WindowBlinds skin available on the www.wincustomize.com site) used the blue and other standard colors for the GUI that we readily associate with Windows XP, so we immediately feel comfortable with the new interface even though it is quite different from the Windows standard interface.
Skinning Windows doesn't really end with the creation of a skin (and all its various elements) or custom boot or logon screens. You can go beyond interface modifications and create truly unique environments with custom widgets and other elements. We discuss the idea of extending the Windows desktop in Chapter 14.
Again, as I said at the outset of this section, the time you want to put into creating a skin is really up to you. And it depends on whether you are looking for a dramatic and entertaining look (such as that provided in Figure 7.1) or want to redesign the Windows GUI based on usability or productivity (such as the modifications shown in Figure 7.2). One word of advice I can provide is to spend time downloading and applying the many skins that are available for download (which will depend on the skinning software you are using). You can learn a lot about basic design and also see some of the clever modifications various authors have made to the Windows interface in their skins.