Tired of this damn color and all the tasteless interface of Windows?

    Let's face it, Windows' interface is far from being a great work of art. And the worst is that we see it every day! Well, you can do something about it: simply modify it! Here's how to change the aspect of your Windows 95/98 as of your tastes.

    First, if you use Windows 95, you may not have Microsoft Plus!, which was a single software title before but now "kind of" integrated to Windows 98. This tool won't really give you more power, but it gives you the opportunity to change all of the Windows' standard display options (wallpaper, WAVE sounds, screen saver, colors, fonts, hour-glass icons) all at once. Effectively, once MS Plus is installed, you can install themes which, with one click, will modify all of these options. For exemple, if you download a Star Wars theme, you go into Windows parameters, click the Desktop Theme icon which is added when MS Plus is installed, choose your theme's file and all the Windows' options mentionned above will be changed automatically. Also, MS Plus modifies the Windows' icons and makes them a little bit more attractive. Unfortunately, this software must be bought and it isn't in stores anymore. If you want it, you will have to look around you to find someone who has it. :) The themes, however, can be made by anyone on any subject and they are free. Tucows FreeThemes is a good Web site for downloading some. If this isn't enough for you, you can always try the very popular Webshots Desktop, which allows to randomly choose an image from its directory of image files every x minutes or every time Windows boots up, and sets it as Windows wallpaper. Webshots Desktop is available at its official Web site: http://www.webshots.com.

    Then, there's a little software from Stardock called WindowBlinds. It can actually change your windows and message boxes completely, put a bitmap picture on your task bar, modify the radio buttons, check boxes and command buttons of the Windows objects, round the task bar start button, put a bitmap image in the back of  Explorer windows, well, it can greatly improve the visual aspect of Windows. Once you'll get used to it, you won't be willing to see anymore the ugly squared blue windows with the three ugly squared buttons in the up-right corner that are standards of Windows. An important thing, however, is to have at least the version 0.80 that fixes an important bug. Before that, the border of a window could get over the window itself so you may be unable to see a part (sometimes some buttons, like in the MS CD Player) of your application. The version 1.1 or above of WindowBlinds is available for free on Download.com or on Stardock's official Web site, which redirects then on Download.com. However, you're encouraged to pay 19,99$ for it if you use it often.
Note: Only 4 skins for Windows' look come with WindowBlinds, and they're not the prettiest. The best thing to do is to go on  Stardock's Web site and download skins that fit your tastes.

    Another software a lot less known but non less useful is Perfect Menu. It gives you the possibility of adding a little button bar on the side or on the top of the pop-up menus that appear when you right-click in Windows. You can make shortcuts to your favorite programs (or some other stuff like the start menu) that are a lot faster to reach than the shortcuts of the Windows start menu. Try it; it is free on Download.com.
Tip: Install Perfect Menu and modify the standard bar to put in some applications that you use very often like the Notepad (notepad.exe), Windows Calculator (calc.exe) or any software you could want a fast shortcut for (for exemple, me, I added Winamp and WordPerfect).

    When I first released this file, I said I heard about a X Window emulator for Windows 95/98 and that I was about to give further details about it when I get some. This program, it was LiteStep. It is more exactly a shell, which is a way for the user to interact with the operating system, that can be used in replacement to Explorer, the default "shell" of Win32 (all versions of Windows from 95). For those who didn't realise, the Windows Explorer isn't only the fiel manager accessible from the start menu, but it is also the taskbar, the desktop, the "My Computer", the start menu and much more. Just imagine that you replace all that by just another way to do, the LiteStep way! Still using Windows kernel and structure so staying compatible with almost all Windows applications, you can completely change your interface for something that looks more like what we see on X Window, like for example the window managers WindowMaker and AfterStep. The result is something prettier, but also unfortunately something less stable. The project is still in development and is improving constantly, but for the moment its stability is a little bit worse than Explorer (which isn't excellent itself!). If you'd like to try it anyway, you can grab it for free on http://www.litestep.org , install it, and change shell=EXPLORER.EXE by shell=c:\litestep\litestep.exe in the file C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.INI. The "c:\litestep" should of course be replaced by the directory where you installed LiteStep, but be warned that it isn't compatible with the long file names, so the path "c:\litestep" is an excellent choice.

    Finally, there is an even simpler solution for bringing big changes to the interface of your Windows:  NextSTART. No shell replacement, no line to change in any file, just launch it, from Windows, when you want. With one click, it will transform your Windows in an imitation of the operating system NextStep; it will make this ugly grey taskbar disappear and replace it with big and nice icons, and the start menu will be completely different, nicer but with the same content, and accessible simply by clicking anywhere on the desktop, like in NextStep, AfterStep and WindowMaker. This one is certainly going to interest many of you! Like the others, it is available for free on Download.com.

    Let's be honest, the Windows interface is boring. However, with MS Plus, Webshots Desktop, Stardock WindowBlinds, Perfect Menu, LiteStep and NextSTART,  it will be much better and its utilization should be more enjoyable. If only there were that simple small programs to make Windows more stable!

1999/07/16 -Update: 2000/05/23

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