Published on November 11, 2004 By d3adz0mbie In OS Customization
Disclaimer: I don't claim to know everything. Stardock is a very successful and generous company that offers a variety of creative software to Windows users. The following is just my opinions and musings as to things Stardock could do to improve it's software lines. Take these entries for what they are... the ramblings of a guy looking for blog points.

DesktopX. It can do almost anything. From simple animated shortcuts to complex scripted objects that can rely database information to the desktop in real time, DesktopX is an end user tool that few could imagine. It is consistanlty in cNets top ten software downloads, yet it receives little or no press. Debate over the worthwhile nature of DesktopX runs rampant, while users flock to less powerful applications such as AveDesk and Konfabulator. So what's it missing? It has the power, it has the flexibility... I have to ask myself, why isn't it dominating the market? Why isn't such a powerful tool used by almost everyone?

Well, it has some problems on the level of the 'average user' that hold it back. Here's what I think could be changed to improve DesktopX:
1.) First, ease of use. Target your audience. Make the standard edition truly basic, make the professional version the version that allows heavy duty scripting and complex image resources. Most people don't want a heavy duty application that requires a computer degree to configure. One of the greatest advantages to AveDesk is that it has a list of bare bone object types that can be added to the desktop, then configured easily by checking a few boxes and dragging a .png or .ico file on top. Animations are included in a pull down list, as are other basic customizations. I can set up an AveDesk desktop with 9 different objects in about 5 minutes. My choices are limited, but they suite my needs. RSS feed, media controller, desktop shortcuts, a trash bin... you get the idea. It takes 30 minutes to set up the same basic configuration with DesktopX. I've been using DesktopX for years, and as it's become more powerful, it's become more confusing. This turns the average user off! Instead of saving time with a powerful information tool on the desktop, instead it becomes a huge learning process, requiring the user to hunt down more information than they want .

2.) Next, make it attractive. I think I have pretty good taste. In fact, I think I'm pretty much obsessed with things maintaining a level of quality. DesktopX has some good widgets that are attractive to the eye, but lets be honest, most of the WinCustomize library is pixellated to hell and back. There is no such thing as color coordination in some of the offered widgets, and people have got to stop offering widgets that they have cut out scanned in images or chopped up .jpgs taken off of some third party website. Many widgets have no sense of scale. I run a 1600x1200 desktop as my standard config. Thats alot of screen real estate. If I open a media controller that is larger than Windows Media Player, I have to ask myself, "What purpose does this serve?" Why run DesktopX to control my media player when the media player itself takes up less room?!
And whats with all the crappy textures on DesktopX objects? Running a Photoshop grain filter over every other object seems to be the rule of the day. DesktopX needs to check widgets for this and throw up "Error: Widget made with crappy Photoshop filter!". Seriously, the question here is how to solve this.
Stardock could write up a series of object standards. Submissions could be approved by a staff member. Maybe popular graphic artists could be hired to help with a new line of objects to help raise the standard. Maybe a combination of all of these things.
One last thing on this subject... stray pixels. I cringe every time a new DesktopX object is offered to the public and it has rough, pixellated edges or even stray pixels over the widget. The widgets have been improving in this area lately, thanks to Stardock pushing for a higher quality. I just think they need to push it alot more.

3.) So now, we have good looking objects that are alot easier to use. Hows anyone going to know? Well, you've got to market the hell out of it. This means making a stink about it. New website, sleek and attractive, all on its own (thanks to Andrew, of Kapsules fame, for this. I stole this idea from him.) Hold contests for quality widgets. Give away things like t-shirts, new monitors, from Stardock. People dig t-shirts. And the best part is, t-shirts are MORE advertising. Here, you won our free advertising, would you like that billboard in black, white or navy blue? When cutting contracts with companies like nVidia and the other big-wigs that do DesktopX themes, get them to add something like "Bring Spider-Man to your desktop with the new DesktopX Spider-Man:3 theme" to their movie commercials. I'd run screaming like a little girl to my computer downloading the new DesktopX Spider-Man:3 theme if I saw that. It can be done, and it would break new ground in software/ entertainment relations. It has to be possible. Has anyone talked to Sony entertainment and told them, add a one liner in a few commercials for us and we'll give you a free way to bring movie advertising to every desktop!
And not just in movie deals and every website you visit. Why doesn't Hewlitt Packard install DesktopX on every new system? Why doesn't Sony? Why is every Falcon NW custom system, hand made and unique, shipped out to customers without the Falcon NW freeware version of DesktopX running? People should think of DesktopX like they think of Windows Media Player or Internet Explorer... and integral part of the OS, delivering vital information with only a few changes in its settings.
Get a catch phrase. Coke and a smile? What the hell does that mean? It doesn't matter - you remember Coca Cola. Because its the real thing. Catch phrases and tag lines are the cornerstone of advertising a product. Apple does it, MicroSoft does it, why doesn't Stardock?

4.) Get creative with widgets. I want a widget that I can lease for $5 a month. It would allow me drag pictures onto it, upload it someplace, and give me a link that I can send to my friends and family. Every computer using grandmother in the world needs this widget. Simple, effective and probably something that could be sold under a liscense to web servers like AOL, Earthlink and TimeWarner. Speaking of these companies, why didn't I get DesktopX widgets when I signed up with these guys?
So, in conclusion, tailor DesktopX to target the consumer audience. Keep a Pro version available for pro's. Clean up how it looks. And make a huge fuss out of it. Everyone should use DesktopX, but it has to be made useable by everyone...
Comments (Page 1)
on Nov 11, 2004
Thanks! Where's my DesktopX t-shirt? XL in black please!
on Nov 11, 2004
Good stuff!
on Nov 11, 2004
Email me your snail mail address and I'll see what I can do.
on Nov 11, 2004
5.) Here's a widget I'd like to see....maybe it already exists, since I've only played with them a little. A download manager (yeah I know download managers already exist) that you can configure to send files you download to specific folders by extension and have the option to put the download in a queue to download later.

6.) Here's another one...a temporary favorites list...let's say your browsing the net and you come across a link to check out, but you don't put it in your favorites and create even more clutter and you don't want to stop what your doing, but come back to it later. Something where you can just drag the link off the page and drop it on the widget to create a temporary link list. Then have the list configurable to keep the link for a range from "this browsing session only" to X number of days.
on Nov 11, 2004
Thanks Draginol. Email sent to your evil alter ego.
I like widget idea #6 alot. Darn good idea.

Next Stardock Outsider article focuses on Windowblinds. And Frogboy, it going to be more than that one little thing I've been bugging you about for the past month.
on Nov 11, 2004
Nicely written DZ.

Point #1, yep fully agree with you there. I'd really like to see some more widgets use an options window like the Core widgets preference windows (e.g. the Core To-Do widget). Maybe someone like _Martin_ could make a template preference window that contains slider, check boxes, drop-down menus and radio buttons for the use of configuring a widget that people can drop into their new objects. I'm fairly sure DX2 can do this already, its just a case of someone writing a script to do this.
on Nov 11, 2004
I agree with a lot of your points. DesktopX is so much more powerful than Avedesk, but Avedesk is so much simpler to use. I would like to see DesktopX improve in that area.
on Nov 11, 2004
Great article DZ. I agree with a lot you have said. I recall downloading the demo of Desktop X a year or so ago, firing it up, and thinking "What do I do next?". It made no sense to me. When I decided to purchase a subscription to ODNT I was still skeptical as to how much I would ever use DX. I still don't use it that much, a stray widget here and there. I think your suggestions could really help a lot.

My final thought is that some new ground needs to be broken in terms of the types of objects/widgets. Sadly, I haven't really been able to think of anything yet, so I don't have any ideas. But I am thinking.
on Nov 11, 2004
tabbed browsers eliminate most of the need for that sort of functionality. If you want to refer to the link at your leisure, just Alt-Click on the link to make it open in a new tab, and keep reading. Then whenever you feel like it, you can check out the other tab. Okay, it is limited to the same browsing session, so if you're looking to cover that angle too, then you would need something else.
on Nov 11, 2004 the other tabs keep loading in the background while the foreground window is trying to load? I'm on dial-up, so one window at a time is all it can handle
on Nov 11, 2004
Well, I've got broadband all over, so I can't speak from experience; but I do believe that, while all loading tabs do load simultaneously, the tab that has focus gets priority in its loading. And if it's already loaded completely, then of course you can keep moving about in it, scrolling, clicking, whatever, while the other tabs load.
on Nov 11, 2004
Thanks trying out Firefox right now.....Sorry DZ about hijacking your thread....just kinda flowed that way.
on Nov 11, 2004
No problem!
Stardock outsider, part.3 is up now. It's more of a continuation of this article than anything else.
on Nov 11, 2004
zOmbie like you I have a large monitor set to either 1600-1200 or 1920-1440, and because of this a great deal of the DesktopX suites do not look good because they are designed primarily for 1024-764 screens. Because of the latter there are some really excellent DesktopX suites out there I would like to use, but can't.

Widgets look like they could be something that has even greater promise then the present day ones. I have no particular widget I would like to see made, however, here is a question: How many calender, and weather widgets do we need? Though I do understand that each DesktopX suites needs its own widget set (no meant to be an answer to my own question).

on Nov 11, 2004
I think a package of about 14-18 basic widgets in DesktopX (Basic) would be enough to cover the range of users needs.