More updates coming

I have some more updates and fixes lined up for the site. There are some issues with the RSS feed among other things that need to be given some attention.

More soon.

Theme Playground

I have always loved the idea of skins. There is just something on the cool side of having software that is intelligent enough to change itself to how the user wants it. Allowing the user to store UI preferences like menu positions is only so fun (okay, so not fun at all, only functional).

I like to see what people can come up with when they add a little creativity to the mix. I am a huge fan of digital graphics and it is great to see something that has been designed and put together well. It doesn't matter if it is a wallpaper or skin, UI or site design.

There is a lot to be said for things that look great. Many a great product has failed because it didn't look good, while others that looks great, but didn't do anything, went a lot further because the interface made a decision maker go 'Ooooh, I like that!'.

Anyway, (back on track) the other day I was reading the latest APC mag and it had an article about skinning. PC mags have covered skinning many times in the last year, but I always want to see what they think about it.

One thing the article talked about was the Microsoft XP themes. I like the idea of XP themes, but didn't like the fact that there were only a couple of themes installed in the OS. I had looked into getting more a couple of times, but I didn't want to pay for anything. This meant that I couldn't get the additional, but limited, set of themes from Microsoft or software like StyleXP which gets around the theme security issues as explained below.

My free limitation meant that the few times that I started to look into getting some XP themes, I stopped looking as soon as I started. That was until I read the above APC article. It outlined how the themes are loaded and what is required.

XP themes are loaded (and rendered???) by uxtheme.dll which lives in Windows\System32. When it attempts to load a theme, it checks for a digital signature that ensures that the theme is safe, genuine and not tampered with etc etc. This means that you will have a lot of fun finding free themes that are digitally signed, hence why I gave up each time I looked into it.

APC made references to hacked versions of the dll that cause the dll to not check for the digital signature in the dll. This is the easy workaround because cracking a digital signature in each theme you want to load isn't possible (well, at least not feasible).

If you want load free themes, the following is what you need to do. Beware though, that changing this dll will render you as not being supported by Microsoft. I don't really have a problem with doing this to my computer because I have never called, let alone needed, Microsoft support. Also, don't complain to me if you computer dies. You do this at your own risk.

1. Get a hacked uxtheme.dll from somewhere like Softpedia, but make sure the hacked dll version is correct for your XP SP version.
2. Copy that hacked dll somewhere that is easy to access, like C:\.
3. Reboot and press F8 (or whatever you need) to get into the boot options. Select Safe mode with Command Prompt.
4. Enter CD Windows\System32
5. Enter ren uxtheme.dll uxtheme.dll.old
6. Enter copy C:\uxtheme.dll uxtheme.dll
7. Reboot.

You have now installed the hacked version of the XP skinning renderer. You should now be able to load any theme whether it is digitally signed or not. Places like DeviantArt or Customize are a good start looking for themes. My current favorite is Passion.

If you have a favourite theme, post a link to it.

Enjoy.

Microsoft's New Toy

I'm sure Microsoft likes to play with their new toys as much as any other, even if they do pay a lot of money to buy up another company to get said toy. Their new anti-spyware program (which they bought from GIANT) is no doubt another one that quick fingered Microsoft developers wanted to get their hands on.

I downloaded the Microsoft AntiSpyware beta version yesterday. I had read a few blog posts about it and thought that I should give my new laptop(ish) build a test.

The application installed fine and I set it off on a scan. It did a good job, or at least I hope it did because it didn't find anything (That's good right????). I did have a few issues with the interface though.

The UI is clearly not Microsoft developed as it doesn't fit their UI standards. For example, the menu system doesn't act like a normal Microsoft menu which is a bit unusual. This however isn't a major problem.

The main beef I have with it is that in the middle of the scan, I wanted to change some options like when the scheduled scan is to run. The menu system was enabled so as far as UI design is concerned, I am able to change the options while scanning. So off I go and try to access the options, only to be told that the scan has been aborted.

Excuse Me?!?!?!?!?!?

You would think, again from a UI design point of view, that the menus would have been disabled while scanning, requiring the user to cancel the running scan first, or at the very least, allow the user to use the menus and give them the option of canceling the scan if they want to continue into the menu system. The designers of the application, however, decided it was a much better idea to cut everything off at the knees. As much as I might complain about this inconvenience, it isn't a deal-breaker as the whole scan only took 10 minutes anyway, but its the principle of the thing.

Aborting the scan did also highlight another thing that was a little over the top in the UI. The developers seem to have a bit of a thing going on with the MessageBox API. It is everywhere. If you change the options and click save, it pops up a MessageBox saying the settings are saved (just in case you weren't aware that you clicked the save button). It does this type of behavior in so many places and is a little annoying.

On the plus side, I do love features like the auto-update. That will be great for set and forget style operations. Overall, I think it is a great program, but it needs some definite Microsoft UI attention.

In South Park style

Several weeks ago, Geoff made some images of himself, his family, our team leader and myself, all in a South Park style. This is his impression of me:

RorySP

What do you think? I can recognise myself at least.

Just your typical hobby developer

I am a technically minded person. I kind of have to be given that I work in IT. One of the reasons I am good at IT (Geoff, back me up here!) is that I love to develop my own stuff. That's great for my employers because they get an obvious benefit from that tinkering, but I am really doing it because I like it.

I call it hobby development because I do it on my own time, it doesn't make any money and I don't get any time to do it. Sounds like a hobby right? Ring any bells with you???

There is a major problem with this hobby developer (and not any of the problems that are currently going through your mind). The problem is that I start developing a project because I have a good idea or I want to achieve something. So there I go, developing this latest idea. I get part way through the project and realise that I really need [insert name or purpose here] tool/utility to help me continue in the original project. So I start working on a new project. Part way through that project, I realise that I need [insert name........

You can see where this is going. This is one of the reasons that this time-limited hobby developer struggles to get stuff done. BTW, stuff does get done though.

What I want to know, is does this happen to anyone else? I have this sudden desire to see that I am not the only one. Perhaps there is hope. :)