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The Golden Age Of Desktop UI customisation?

I wrote this back on 27th January 2003, on my first blog:

I recently subscribed to Object Desktop, the Windows customisation system provided by Stardock Corporation. Costs $49.95 for a year’s subscription, then $34.95 to renew for another year. Once you fork over the readies, you get access to a range of tools to customise your Windows system, from the merely aestetic ( WindowBlinds, IconPackager, WindowFX ), through enhancements ( ControlCenter, ObjectBar ) to complete replacement environment ( DesktopX ). It support all versions of Windows from 98 onwards, although Windows 2000 is probably a safer bet if you want a usable PC. You use the supplied Component Manager to manage your subscription and check for updated components. You can choose as many or as few as you need, and most are updated on a regular basic.

I’ve currently got my home PC set up with WindowBlinds, WindowFX and IconPackager, for a nice faux-OSX look on Windows 2000. [ Warning: some of the more advanced features required a fairly beefy graphics card plus up-to-date drivers. ]

(Gotta love the Wayback Machine for helping me retrieve this, and Bear for converting the text to Markdown and including the links.)

I bring this up because I’d forgotten how big a deal this was in the 90s and the early 2000s. Not just the operating system, but many applications as well either let you customise their appearance, or could be customised using third-party tools or hackery. Of course, some of those customisations could be of questionable taste, and possibly legality too.

But towards the end of the 2000s, most applications started to lock down the ability to customise their user interface, to the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs. And operating systems, with the notable exception of Linux, BSD and the like, have also constrained the ability to change their appearance. (Stardock still make Object Deskop for modern versions of Windows, but I’m not aware of any equivalent for macOS, or if such a thing would even be possible these days.)

To be honest, I’m not sure that I’d want to change the appearance of my desktop OS to the extent that I did back in the 2000s. Part of that is that, for the most part, the operating systems themselves remade themselves to the point that they were less drab compared to their predecessors. But I also have memories of some of the downsides of changing how windows operated, for instance. And while it was kinda cool to make Windows look like macOS, BeOS or even the Amiga Workbench, in the end it was still Windows.

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