Published on November 13, 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 its software lines. Take these entries for what they are... the ramblings of a guy looking for blog points.

Keeping it simple. In Stardock outsider, part. 1, I discussed a few ideas for improving DesktopX. The first of these points was to re-vamp the DesktopX interface, making it easier to use. DesktopX in its current format is a maze of options that confuse and confound new users. A new DesktopX object has the potential to become anything, with a hundred different options. While this offers powerful choices that have often resulted in some very original and unique DesktopX widgets, it is often overwhelming for the majority of DesktopX users.

Should DesktopX step backwards and become less? Should it continue forward with a better organized interface? What should be done?

The answer to this question comes from another question I was asked about 3 months ago. I was talking to a widget developer that was amazed at the loyalty and support behind a new application available to users. The developer (not related to Stardock) asked, "Why does everyone love this app?". The app in question isn't as powerful as DesktopX. It doesn't have the years of support that DesktopX has. But this application did have something DesktopX is missing. It wasn't the resource use or the polished interface - most of the widgets were designed to be clones of Apples new Dashboard system. Some deductive reasoning ensued, and I think I have the answers. People love this app because it gives the user what they want, and nothing else.

This is exactly what a basic widget of DesktopX should do. Here's a sample model of my vision for the new DesktopX:

1.) Defined DesktopX widget. This is a widget based upon one of several templates, pre-scripted, pre-made. The templates can be a variety of things, mail checker, media player controller, file or directory shortcut, calendar or even something odd, like random sentence creator (see Konfabulator fnorder widget for a good example). These pre-defined widgets work 'out of the box'. They can be built upon with the Pro version of DesktopX, but at the basic level only a few options can be changed with each widget.
2.) Widget size allows users to resize a widget. Not everyone wants a 256x256 sized notepad on their desktop, when a 50x100 size works just as well. Maybe somebody wants huge shortcuts to their apps on the desktop, this option is very straightforward.
3.) Drop shadow allows the user to add a shadow underneath the widget. This doesn't affect the function of the widget, merely gives it the illusion of it 'floating' above the desktop. It's eye candy.
4.) Animations is on of the most exciting options a user can apply to a widget, and should be the only tie-in DesktopX has with IconX on the basic user level. The entire IconX mouse over animations should be available in a pull down menu or checklist here. IconX, if you aren't familiar, is a 'sub-application' Stardock has tied into DesktopX. It adds neat effects to your regular desktop icons. I've always wondered why it was in DesktopX, but doesn't actually allow a user to assign its effects to a DesktopX object.
5.) Widget skin. Only one other widget app has a skin tab, and it's an amazing feature. Don't like the look of Core weather? Download a new skin, like you would for Winamp, and select it from a pull down menu. Keep it simple. Creating new skins can be done through either the main DesktopX interface (not the widget menus), or through the classic method decompressing the skin file and re-building it (again, like Winamp).
6.) Widget labels. Every widget should have a text field that a user can type in a name and it appears. Options like font type, color, etc., can be done in the main interface of DesktopX.
7.) Transparency. Every widget should have a slider, from 0-100, indicating how opaque it should be. 100% and it's at its normal level. 0% and its invisible.
8.) Position. This includes the widgets X,Y & Z coordinates on the desktop. X & Y coordinates should place an object by position according to screen resolution. Drag and drop will still work on the mouse/ widget level. Z should give the depth of the object, being either on the desktop, a window order or always on top.
9.) Widget specific preferences are determined per widget type. A media controller might have an option for you to choose which media player you want it to control, with a drop down menu of iTunes, WMP, Winamp, and so forth. The weather widget might let you choose area code, temperature units and more.

Of course, these ideas greatly limit what can currently be done with DesktopX to a basic user. But it actually offers so much more by giving the user exactly what they need with a quick setup time, an ease of use, and a certain familiarity that users have acquired through years of Windows use.

The end is near! I'm not talking about these long-winded articles. What I mean is that something has to be done with DesktopX soon to keep it as a viable choice. Widgets are here today for Windows users. AveDesk, Konfabulator and Kapsules have all made an impact within a small group of Windows users. But Longohrn, Microsoft's next operating system designed to replace WindowsXP, will change all of this. Widgets will be a key part of the Longhorn interface. And we all know that if you aren't eating a big piece of the pie when Microsoft sits down at the table, you might as well get up and leave. True, Windowblinds survived msstyles quite nicely. Windowblinds is simple to use, and doesn't bombard users with a million overwhelming choices. You find the skin you like, open it and go. And Windowblinds skins are more versatile than msstyles, had a strong base to build off of. Will DesktopX have the strengths to survive the same type of ordeal?
on Nov 13, 2004
Great article and definatly some good Ideas on how to simplify the DX interface.

I agree that this has to be done, a user should be able to set the basic things from one options panel or a right click menu and not have to drudge through the DX properties panel for the widget.
on Nov 13, 2004
I think that Stardock could perhaps address the ease of use issue and still retain the power of DesktopX. Give widgets these options for ease of use, but still allows objects to be as totipotent as they already are. I don't know how hard that would be to do, but I think making the widgets a bit more powerful than they are at the current time (we have seen great strides with this in the Core series with color adjustment and simple sizing), but leave objects to still have all the possibilities they currently do. That just makes me wonder if this would complicate the currently uber-easy conversion of an object to a widget.

Another good article DZ.
on Nov 13, 2004
Widgets need a common user interface. which would lead me to think that the widgets could still be the same as they are now, but DX would have to supply the options from the backend.
on Nov 13, 2004
Good ideas.
on Nov 14, 2004
Thanks. Can you tell I like DesktopX?