I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since WinCustomize.com first launched.
Today I’m taking a look at the 4th iteration of WinCustomize during that time. The iterations have tended to reflect the particular skinning age they were developed in. Let’s look at them.
The First Age of Skinning
This was the age of “Skinz”. It was literally a cottage-sized community. Mian. Toasty. Shoggot. Doreen. These were just a few of the names from back then. Skinning was such a niche back then that there were only a handful of skinners. The tech was primitive, buggy and often unusable. But it was fun.
WinCustomize launched at the first age was ending. The original skinz.org went down along with other skinning sites as the “dot com bomb” went off taking out the means to pay for these sites. Software developer Stardock decided to create a site and hand it over to the community. That was the original WinCustomize concept launched at the end of March 2001.
The first WinCustomize was designed as a quick way to get to a ton of different skinning libraries and had a major focus on the skinners themselves. When you came to WinCustomize.com, the home page focused a great deal on the skinners themselves.
The Second Age of Skinning
The Second age was the era of intense competition. Some might call it the golden age of skinning. Skinning had gotten popular and there were lots of people making skinnable programs.
We had widget wars (DesktopX vs. Konfabulator vs. Samurize vs. etc.). We had skinning wars (WindowBlinds vs. Msstyles). Media player skinning wars (Winamp vs Media Player).
This was the period of the GUI Olympics where the popular skinning sites (back when there were several) got together and competed in making skins of various types.
The Second age was the noontide of diversity in skinning. The second WinCustomize focused much more on the world of skinning itself rather than on the people who made it. It still had quick access to all the libraries but the focus now was on the skins themselves.
Skinning had gotten mainstream. It also came to an abrupt end on January 30, 2007.
The Third Age of Skinning
The the age could be described as the twilight of skinning. I’m just calling a spade a spade. Windows Vista had begun to make skinning seem quaint and retro. Who are these weirdos taking a perfectly clean, nice OS and adding a bunch of crap to it?
The number of actively developed apps started to drop quickly. By the end of it, Stardock was the only company with full time developers still making programs for the express purpose of skinning things. Konfabulator had been bought by Yahoo. Hoverdesk was gone. TGT Soft had closed down.
There were still people out there making skins professionally. WinStep continues forward. The Skins Factory created Hyperdesk and updated it to support Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.
There was also a GUI Championships in 2008 where China emerged as a leader in skinning.
The skinning community had changed drastically. It moved from being a community of skinners to being a community of consumers. The expectations on the quality of the software and quality of the skins had increased to the point that only full time professionals could really produce the king of “assets” that were acceptable to consumers. Part of this was because Windows Vista/7 had become so good on their own that the bar had been raised beyond most casual skinners.
In the beginning, skins were made by guys like me:
Early skins were easy to make: This screen shot represents all of the art assets in the whole skin
Today’s skins require a great deal of time and effort.
The software, when it ran, tended to crash often. The skins were simple. But compared to Windows itself, it was all an improvement.
By the end of 2009, skinning, which had started out as a niche techie hobby had become a niche consumer hobby. Nothing highlighted this more than the recent updates to DesktopX and ObjectDock where users complained loudly at various aspects of how the beta was handled. They weren’t users anymore. They were customers of a product.
The challenge to skinning in this new age remains daunting. Producing high quality software and content in which people expect to pay nothing or virtually nothing for. In a world where a 500 line iPhone game sells for $0.99 and can sell 50,000 copies easily, it becomes harder to produce a 250,0000 line program that people are outraged to pay $20 for – even it if includes professionally created skins and themes.
And so that’s how the third age ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.
The Fourth Age of Skinning
The goal of the fourth age is to get back to skinning’s roots: Appealing to techies who want to do interesting things to their computer. The new website tilts very much back over to skinners. The home page provides quick access to the top skinners (the age 3 site didn’t even list skin authors on the home page). It’s also designed to be much cleaner and more approachable.
There is a definite migration away from commercialization and back into grassroots. While “Master skins” and such are here to stay, there’s a lot less advertising on the site. The subscriptions will soon be changed to only be $19.95 but no longer provide “premium suites” as part of the subscription but instead site specific services and features.
The site will increasingly return to the original mission of being a community site for the customization of things. The site’s new design lends itself to a lot more user customization (for subscribers anyway). We’ll talk more about that in the coming weeks.
We are pretty excited about the new site and the new era for skinning. Over the coming months, we expect to be able to introduce more and more features that allow skinners and the community to interact and share creations.
The Fourth Age is scheduled to begin this month. But you can see a sneak peek at www.wincustomizetest.com.