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Suck On Skins And UI

CmdrTaco posted more than 14 years ago | from the stuff-to-think-about dept.

Netscape 276

kisrael writes: "Today's talks about how the freedoms designers now have in UI appearance-- starting with the the Web, moving to Skins for WinAmp, ending with the latest versions of QuickTime and the preview release of Netscape 6-- are ignoring visual and interface standards that users have come to rely on." A lot to think about and discuss here: personally I'm a big fan of skins and themes, but it only takes seconds to find countless awful themes. There are exceptions, but they're rare.

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Re:They're for hackers, not users... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1142126)

I doubt the validity of this statement. People using their computer primarily as a tool for typing documents probably don't customize their machine because they don't know how. If they did, I would bet they would. I've worked at various companies, and "regular" users who only use their computers for word processing and excel also like customizing their desktop with a background picture of their family and their favorite colors, just as they would customize the layout of their desk with personal belongings. There are probably thousands of users using the skin customization program for IE, based on the easy install through activeX and the relatively easy install of skins.

The only barrier is understanding and effort. Of course, some people like decorating their house, and some don't.

As for the number of bad themes around, I would base that on the fact that, a) it takes effort to make a nice looking theme; and, b) one man's trash is another man's treasure (within an obvious bounded range).

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling! (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142132)


You want something that conforms completely? Use a 'skin' that conforms completely. You don't want to conform completely? Then use a 'skin' that doesn't conform. Get a life.

(What an ugly use of the word 'skin' this is.)

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (1)

Mawbid (3993) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142135)

Hehe, I do the alt-f4 thing too, only I do it under vmware as well. At least, there's an easy solution under vmware: Keep vmware on desktop 4 at all times :-).

Re:It's all about... (1)

vluther (5638) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142139)

exactly, the link to the star trek theme was supposed to show how unusable it most of us.. but the guy who designed it.. it might be the simplest thing to use.. and the normal interface that comes most apps might have been hard. No one should be forced into one "skin" for the sake of compatibility.. every program that is shipped should come with a default.. "looks and feels like your os" UI. but should allow u to change it if you want. I for one hate the normal skin of winamp. hence i use the AlpineAmp skin. in Gnome I trashed all the default panels and made my own to suit me. something I'm comfortable with. and I thank the creators for giving me the choice. I am not forcing anyone to use my skin/theme.. most people would hate my theme. but it does what i want it to. and thats what counts.

themes/chrome (1)

XenoWolf (6057) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142140)

I agree that bad themes/chrome abound - I look at the chrome that mozilla developers have decided to use, and want to start changing it, but stop, as it looks like Netscape is set on using the mozilla default. Oh well. Thank God for lynx.

UI changes (1)

jscott (11965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142158)

My parents, who are both in their late 50's, cannot program the proverbial VCR -- So I got them VCR+ to take care of that. Now they love sending and receiving email. But all too often I'm called upon to provide some free :^) phone/on-site tech support to undo a change one of them has made. Adding a new UI that itself is customizable, and now those two are really in trouble.

Personally, I love skins, I just hope someone creates a Windows look + feel skin for my folks -- I'm too lazy...

Re:Shareware? Freeware? (1)

ethereal (13958) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142160)

It appears that dmg is a subtle troll. Congratulations, you seem to be the first person to notice :)

UI Consistency? Vaperware (1)

Felinoid (16872) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142162)

Each new generation of Windows (and some upgrade patches) offer a new user interface.

This seems to be the reverse of "It's not a bug it's a feature" now we say "It's not a feature it's a bug".
The user has total control of his computer if he wants a consistent user interface he can have it. If he likes it can be totally consistent with a StarTrek console.

I suspect the users who don't want themes and skins are the same users who let technology drag them around by there teath. Thies users use Windows becouse it is preinstalled.
They may not like certen things but they do nothing about it. They don't switch to a prgram with a consistent UI they don't refuse to install patchs. They don't do anything when things don't go there way. To them if one program dose it they ALL do it. Just stick them on Linux and they'll clame every operating system has cryptic and obscure commands.

I don't care to bother with users who won't do anything for themselfs. Thies are the users who picked Windows over MacOs in the first place. Why? Becouse someone told them it was the standard.
Tell them CP/M is the standard and lets move on with the real users.

Default should be OS specific (1)

Snjit (18259) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142163)

I think skins are great. Just walking around my office (which is primarily Windows) everyone, whether they look at the computer as just a tool or a neat toy, customizes it to some degree even if its just the wall paper and the screensaver. I think given half the chance some of them at least would love to change the look and feel of Windows all together. However, for those that don't, that just want the standard UI, applications like WinAMP, Netscape, etc. should as the default skin use the standard look and feel of whatever OS they're current sitting on. Let it be up to the user of the app to add a weird and wonderful (and potentially unuseable) skin to it. But don't force a radical new look on the user who just wants it to work and look exactly like their other apps. Snjit

Shareware? Freeware? (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142166)

Are you guys serious or subtle trolls?

UI Guidelines (1)

noom (22944) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142168)

UI guidelines and user studies are there so that controls are intuitive for a novice or a first time user of an application (without having to read a manual first). What does this have to do with configurable chrome? Once a user has mastered a program, or if they'd rather install something that looks better or is more suited to how they work, this gives them the choice of how to do so. If they find that the UI is to difficult to use, they can always go back to the default skin -- something that shouldn't be too difficult of they already figured out how to install skins in the first place.

However, programs like QuickTime 4.0 are a different matter entirely. The UI for QT4 is a disaster...

Re:I was really looking forward to skins in NS6.. (1)

MatriXOracle (33400) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142184)

The skin manager program hasn't been added to Mozilla yet, it will be coming before beta 2. But besides that, what Customize button are you talking about? I've got Netscape 6 PR1, and I sure as hell don't have one...

Maybe your mom shouldn't be using the computer (1)

PeelBoy (34769) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142187)


Personally I would be pretty pissed if developers stop writing cool features such as skins into their apps just because a few moms are "scared"

I bet your mom would be scared to take a trip to the moon too maybe we should ditch NASA too.

Re:I disagree... (1)

legoboy (39651) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142189)


This [] looks more like a hacker's theme for Windows than anything else like "Travel" and "Falling Leaves" It pushes those so-called limitations a fair bit as well. Myself, I'm a fan of simple/functional/out of the way.

The screenshot, btw, is from the GeoShell project. Google should find it for you, if you're interested.

Following line: Good example of Fair Use.

of course bad skins are bad (1)

gadwale (46632) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142192)

The idea is to make a program look different/cool. This should not be acheived at the expense of functionality or by breaking standard UI guidelines. There are a whole bunch of bad skins out there because people who do not know how to implement UI but have the artistic penchant decide to design skins.

MS has a good example of skins in their win 98 themes; each theme is different, but it does not mess with functionality. MS spends a lot of time on UI design and this shows in their themes. on the other had is not a good example and granny should not be downloading themes from there!

winamp has a good many themes that do not mess with functionality.

Let good knowledge come to us from all sides
- Rig Veda, 3500 B.C.

Chrome, no thanks. (1)

CokeJunky (51666) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142193)

I have to agree that all this chrome is fragmenting the market and confusing potential newbies.... But then, hey, what is (Linux|BSD|whatever) about?
Lets face it... We are geeks, nerds, and technophytes, and we want our stuff to look cool. Linux was made for fun -- the fun of saying "I am geekier than you", or as one of my friend's them states, "leeter than you".
We buy geek clothes from places like thinkgeek and copyleft, we hang out on slashdot to share our opinions (and gain karma...)... and on and on and on.
Yet windows backlash is creating a new marketplace, one full of people that want to get work done, not look cool.
How many of you have posted screenshots of your desktop on your website? How many of you lost slashdot purity points for doing so with a web browser open showing slashdot?
Get real, I say to us all. Chrome is for games, and for interfaces the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is rule of the day. Or in other words, if you want to use skins, make the default skin look like a normal interface, and let the geeks have fun customising it if they feel so inclined.

I disagree... (1)

NetJunkie (56134) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142194)

They are for hackers until the skins and themes are easy to install. When all it takes is a few point and clicks they become mainstream quickly. Most "end users" I know tha thave used a PC for a little while change the way it looks drastically. Just ask anyone that does desktop support and they will tell you stories of the awful fonts and colors that people use and think look good. :) Every time I go see my mom she has a different theme and color scheme on her PC. These changes may not be as drastic as how "hackers" change themes and such but it's mainly due to limitations in Windows. If Windows could do what X does, no two desktops would look the same.

I was really looking forward to skins in NS6.. (1)

citizenc (60589) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142197)

.. unfortunately, the hard-coded link to the customise page is a 404 error! HELLO NETSCAPE! Isn't this what Quality Control is for? Somebody go grab the mozilla source and fix that thing please! =)

' CitizenC
' WebMaster, PlanetQ3F []

I've known users who go skin-crazy.. (1)

citizenc (60589) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142199)

One of my mother's friends is a new computer user. (She grew up with a typewriter..) Well, not new -- she can find her way around a desktop and Word Perfect. She then discovered the wonder of desktop themes, and mp3s on Winamp. She began to become obsessed with customizing Winamp -- she insisted that her Winamp skin match her desktop theme (which she has mountians of.) She isn't a hacker; she just wants her stuff to look good.

' CitizenC
' WebMaster, PlanetQ3F []

Re:Consistency of the UI (1)

dennisp (66527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142205)

He's wrong about ASP. You can write ASP in more than just vbscript. It's also not the de-fact standard for scripting, even on IIS (see java servlets etc. What he is right about, is standardization of desktop. The backend is irrelevant as long as the front end remains consistent. Of course, skinning and themes don't necessarily change the navigation standard. Now, if you want to provide a non standard UI setup in an application, it must be very intuitive or it is worthless.

Re:Consistency of the UI (1)

DGregory (74435) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142209)

I'm unfamiliar with DCOM, but DirectX and ASP are Microsoft "standards". DirectX doesn't even run on Mac, and Microsoft of course doesn't create a version for Linux. So what would be the point of game designers trying to use DirectX in their games for Linux? As for ASP, the browsers on all platforms work with ASP just fine. I believe though that to serve ASP pages on the server, the server needs to have Microsoft server extensions. And those extensions are only available whereever the hell Microsoft wants to write them for. If I recall correctly, they're available for Linux though.

I have yet to see where your argument holds water.

i don't see this. (1)

jacoplane (78110) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142211)

I don't really see how skins affect the interface really. The different widgets and components are specified by the underlying application.

Obviously for some users it will be confusing if the widgets all look different in different applications, but as has been said before, you don't have to use skins if you don't want to.

I think the real challenge is to get developers to stick to HCI Design principles: this is where many of the real mistakes get made. To see what I'm talking about check out the interface hall of shame [] .

What _is_ so wonderful about skins? (1)

LocalYokel (85558) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142215)

When I'm using Windows, I see one of its advantages being the fact that applications are somewhat consistent in its look and feel. The same is true for Macintoshes, though I don't like the implementation as much.

Frm should follow function, but only to a point. If I may be one to make a computer/car analogy, a Ferrari F-1 uld* look visually different from a Renault Twingo, but once you step inside either car, all of the dashboard controls should have some at least some semblance of consistency in design -- otherwise, the driver confuses the tachometer with the speedometer and that can lead to a bit of trouble. I think applications are like the dashboard controls...

I am not against skins, but I refuse to use them if they are controlled at the application level. My personal belief is that skins are a marketing racket for software companies, and the LocalYokel Law of Software is that 75% of all software is marketing -- I work for a company that exemplifies this...


Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (1)

Shadow99_1 (86250) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142216)

There are several flavors of linux these days for Mac & I believe several other Unix based OS's can run on Mac's (BSD & BeOS I 60% sure of). They are not by the way 'lame-ass slowed down versions like Java' but they aren't 'true' Unix as 'True' Unix doesn't really run on desktop PC's & was never designed to. No overwhelming need to throw away your Mac (I would, but I used to be forced to fix them so I'm rather biased against them ;) ).

& DOS can be hard all told there were about a hundred possible comamnds (most weren't used day to day, but they existed). My dad still has thing she likes to do that require DOS & everytime I'm home I must reexplain how to run a program in DOS... Maybe one of these days he'll understand what I'm saying...

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (1)

linuxonceleron (87032) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142217)

I dissagree...If you look at almost any college student's computer, you'll be sure to find WinAmp and tons of skins to go along with it. The younger people in this world obviously can adapt to these widget changes without being tech savvy. If you're referring to themes as in E themes and gtk+ themes, then you are mostly correct in that, except there's tons of newbie linux users who install it for that 'cool' desktop, and wouldn't be what you would call 'hackers' I think you're right about the themes and work not going together, I have my linux box running E+GNOME and I can never get work done on it, but on my laptop running Win95, its easier to work on...I don't know why...

Re:Skins/Themes can be a Good Thing too (1)

stang (90261) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142220)

From an everday usage point of view, the thing I most hate about Windows is the tendency for new windows to jump to the top and steal the focus. It drives me absoutely crazy, and yet, I have found no way of disabling the feature (if anyone knows of one, please let me know!!)

Upgrade to Windows 2000. When an app tries to bring itself to the foreground, Win2K intercepts the call and flashes the app's Taskbar button instead.

Of course, now there are a bunch of Win32 developers out there whining about this behavior, insisting that their app is so important it must pop up in the foreground, no matter what you, a lowly (l)user might think.

There is a way to code around this, so don't be surprised to see particularly bogus apps forcing their attention on you in the future.

Slash stole my link. (1)

guran (98325) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142224)

the Interface hall of shame is at []

If the above is not a link this time either, I guess /. has a bug.

Netscape and Skins (1)

Carnage4Life (106069) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142232)

Netscape 6 doesn't need skins, it needs to totally redesign the default interface. The UI has so many problems it is unbelievable. The most irritating of which are Home button reduced to 1 line of text and overabundance of links, sponsors, etc. that make it seem like on is browsing and carrying all of AOL with it from site to site.

What bothers me is that I have heard so much talk about how Netscape/Mozilla is working on this skin engine but almost nothing on UI design. The sad thing is that UI design is a whole lot more important than eye candy. Unfortunately, most hackers seem to be really comfortable with skins & themes while lacking in the fundamentals of how to design good user interfaces. Mark my words, Netscape 6's most difficult battle will not be with the entrenched IE market but with users who cannot aclimatize(sp?) to the different (from previous browsers) and unintuitive user interface.

Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (1)

Trinition (114758) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142244)

Can you understand why they're not interested? Business types are not interested in making things look 'cool'. But, you can spin it another way to get them to support it. "Imagine, business guys, you could have your design department customize this application and brand it for your company, making your corporate image even more ubiquitous within and without." Custom branding is the way to sell it to them.

Re:Chrome, no thanks. (1)

Element5 (119310) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142251)

I have to agree that all this chrome is fragmenting the market and confusing potential newbies.... But then, hey, what is Linux|BSD|whatever) about?

Personally, I feel that if a newbie is going to get confused when using a computer solely over a user interface design, then they shouldn't be touching a computer in the first place.


Re:Netscape and Skins (1)

Element5 (119310) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142252)

Mark my words, Netscape 6's most difficult battle will not be with the entrenched IE market but with users who cannot aclimatize(sp?) to the different (from previous browsers) and unintuitive user interface.

And /why not/ acclimatize to a new design? The very spirit of the computer industry (and that of the web, for that matter) is change. Change is a good thing. There will be things about the new design of the Netscape browser which some people will like, and things others will not like. For some that will be the design as a whole, and for those people there will be IE. I believe that if Mozilla had gone with the same old design, Netscape would be criticized for /that/ instead.


Re:You don't *have* to use them. (1)

Element5 (119310) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142253)

Doesn't work perfectly (menu options are messed), but at least it gives a more pleasant view than the ridiculously ugly default Mozilla skin (doesn't Netscape have a single decent graphic designer in the entire company?)

Well, my opinion on the design is that what looks good in an entirely subjective thing (maybe that's at the root of the discussion as a whole). While Mozilla may not be as graphically enticing as some people may have liked, I (personally) don't mind it, and I know that if I do ever get sick of it I can always look for some skins out there or design my own. It's definitely nice to have the option.

Regarding the suck article, I agree to some extent about not having to use skins. In this case though, I think that performance has suffered as a result of implementing that support; XUL has quite a large runtime overhead. Afaik, NS6PR1 doesn't have a lot of debugging code in it, so we won't see any tremendous speed increases on final release. I'd trade the skins support for a small, fast, stable browser any day.

I'll agree with you there. I tried it on my pathetically slow PC at home, and it crawled. But I'm optimistic that there'll be a significant speed increase between now and release. I'm sure they've already received enough user feedback to realize that most users are like yourself -- they'd rather sacrifice some nice features to have a faster, more stable browser.


Re:You don't *have* to use them. (1)

Element5 (119310) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142254)

Yeah ... at the moment, the default browser is pretty bloated ... I dont _want_ a mail client, a news reader, Instant Messenger, blah blah in my browser.

Yeah, but at least that's not a necessary part of the install. I'd like to see that ridiculous internet installer get thrown into the bit-bucket. Also an uninstaller might be nice. :)

Of course, the ultimately cool thing about Mozilla is the component model which means that we can write our own lightweight browser just using Gecko and ignoring all the other crap; I wonder if platform specific ones will spring up after release; would be cool.

Yeah, the first time I heard the size that Gecko can be pared down to for things like handheld hardware and such, I was definitely surprised. That Gecko is damn near a work of art.


Re:Consistency of the UI (1)

mr3038 (121693) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142256)

I think that he was talking about new games. Next to all new (windows) games require at least DX6 and what comes to DX7 and windows 2000 I wouldn't embrace it yet (It surely shows some promises but at least with my hardware it's still even more unstable than win98).

Re:Consistency of the UI (1)

c.r.o.c.o (123083) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142258)

I don't know much about DCOM and ASP, so I'm not going to argue with you on that.

But I _do_ have first-hand experience installing DirectX on my box in NT. First of all, I have to run NT on my box because I have a Dual Celeron, so windoze 95/98 is out of the question. I use it for nothing but playing games. I use Linux for everything else, at least untill my TNT2 is decently supported, and Quake3 works on it (any tips that can help me do that would be greatly appreciated :)

Did you know that DirectX 7 does not work on NT? It was a pain to dig up an old DirectX 6.1 (which I could not find on M$'s webpage), and then waste some more time looking for DirectPlay 6.1a. But nowhere is that specified on the M$ webpage. They were saying that I should use ServicePack6 which comes with DirectX3!!! But Age of Empires2, the only reason why I needed it in the firs place only works with 6.1a or higher.

So much for MS "de-facto standards" and "ease of use"...

My take on WM's (1)

jallen02 (124384) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142260)

Okay so here I am right at about six and a half years of computer use.

That means I started out with MS-DOS Win3.1 :)

Began using Win95 and Linux shortly there after. I have tried every window manager under the sun, I have made really purdy(tm) window manager.

Configurations in E, and tried theme after theme and all kinds of fun experiments and all, then after like a lot of thinking and my life moving towards something that resembles a professional career, I find myself searching for a reasonable look.

I dont need black granite swirling down my title's of my windows any longer just pass me a window manager with a highly configurable interface so that I can make my work time as productive a thing as possible, let me make it pleasing but not 'purdy'.

This is all opinonated but I seriously do not think in general there is a need for a lot of the flashy stuff in most WM's. Spend some of that time doing UI stuff and I think in general Window Managers would improve a whole lot. Sure Linux needs an image and 'purdyies' can go a long way to achieving this but I think there is a serious overemphasis on themes and there importance. I dont mind using themes in fact I find a lot of them nice to look at, but at some point I just found my use for things like that dwindling and my need for better interface and more ways to customize this increasing. Perhaps I am alone in these experiences but for configurability without flashy graphics I have found tvtwm, or fvwm2 with maybe pager to achieve more of my goals in work productvity and interface configurability than any other WM. Old school? Perhaps but I have not seen any major improvements in a window manager in the last 4 years and until I do.. I will stick with what works.


Re:Problems with skins (1)

CaptJay (126575) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142261)

I could not agree more. In the worse case where all your applications are themable or have a different interface, you have a wonderful mess of completely confusing software for users. The time the average user loses going "Now what does this 'thing' (actually a button) do?" is unbelievable.

If theming has its place, its in the way its used in *IX/UX Window managers. Theme EVERY apps and controls, not just every application with a different look!

One of the things that actually made Windows VERY popular is that all applications look the same and behave the same (granted, Apple had this too). I'd rather not imagine what a desktop will look like when "innovation" is synonym with ruining every UI standard that's been developped over the years.

A good point people seem to have forgotten... (1)

Explo (132216) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142263)

Skins aren't all happiness and joy, but there's one pro for them: While using a different operating system than usually, it gives a nice feeling of being home when you install skin/theme that makes the application or user interface to behave like your usual operating system.

Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (1)

chrischow (133164) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142265)

uhh why have u got to throw the mac away to use unix?

Re:I think this is meant to be a joke actually (1)

luckykaa (134517) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142267)

Yeah, you fool. Its spelled humur!

I think this is meant to be a joke actually (1)

Dhericean (158757) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142274)

If you actually read more than a sentence or two into this item then it becomes fairly clear this is meant to be a tease rather than a troll. But then what do I know about humour (look I'm from the UK and can't even spell it).

Re:But people have no CHOICE! (1)

GeZ117 (162744) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142282)

From the developer's point, it's easier to either use standard widgets or themable ones. Mixing both widget libraries is not something funny, and you'll have your code full of unnecessary switches or if/else-if/else.

More simple to propose a default theme who looks like the standard, or to develop for desktop environments that handle themables widgets, thus you don't even have to write the theme engine yourself. Both GNOME and KDE now support themable widgets. If you want to develop for Windows, give a look at Qt, it's a GUI library whose widget can support themes, and the default just looks like the standard interface. GTK+ and Imlib have also been ported to Windows, and I think it can handle themes also (I don't have developed with them yet, but I'll be surprised they can't).

Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (1)

GeZ117 (162744) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142283)

Of course you can. You can run Unices on every computers known of mankind, except for my good ol' Casio FX7700G calculator. Yellow Dog is the most known Macintosh Linux Distro, but you can find other Linux. I don't know about *BSD, but I'll be surprised if there are none running on Mac.

And Java's Not Unix (hum, not a recursive acronym); it's a programming language whose programs run on virtual machines (kinda like an emulator). It's however possible to have a true compilator for Java (I believe GCJ can process native code and Java bytecode).

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (1)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142284)

FVWM 1.24 with a dark grey background works well for me. I've been using it for years, and have the hot keys for it embedded in my reflexes.

Heh -- you should see me on a Windoze box -- Oh, I need to go to desktop 4, I'll just hit ALT-F4. Whoops! ;-)

FVWM 1.24 is really small, really fast, (even compared to FVWM 2.x) and I can use it on all of the platforms I use regularly -- Linux, Solaris/sparc, Solaris/x86, and BSDI.


skins (1)

oog_rocks (165975) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142287)

mozillazine redid their chrome section, chromezone []
check the aphrodite one, it is *very* nice looking.

Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (1)

streetlawyer (169828) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142289)

Do I look like I know? Someone told me that Unix was what they used in PC shops. I never even bothered with DOS (though given the calibre of dumbass that did use it, I can't imagine it was terribly difficult). Can you run Unix on Macs? I mean proper Unix, not some lame-ass slowed down version like Java. I'm a bit out of my depth here, tech-wise

Skins and you (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1142294)

I'm personally fed up with all the hype surrounding "skins" and other little widgets. They're not necessary, and they really take away from the programmer's original vision. Why the hell should the USER decide what his program looks like? That just doesn't make any sense; they're not qualified to do that sort of thing. Does the average user have any idea about design and art? Of course not. And potential users for the program are going to see someone's display, and choose NOT to use that program because it looks ugly. Then I don't get paid, and I can't buy toast. My toaster gets lonely without bread, and eventually I pay the price. Have you EVER seen what happens if you don't appease a toaster? It's not a pretty sight. I still have the scars.

So what can we do about this? Well, for the past two months I've been protesting the use of skins. I have been gradually removing my own skin. It's almost gone now, with the exception of my left leg, which I haven't had time to flay yet. My bloody and raw-muscled face attracts attention, and immediately people understand the importance of leaving graphical interfaces to the people qualified to design them. Occasionally I pass out because of blood loss. Sometimes I wake up in places I don't remember going to in the first place. Like last thursday for example. I woke up in a gutter in Toledo. I don't even live in Ohio. I don't remember going to Ohio. I don't remember WANTING to go to Ohio. Something was quite definitely wrong, but I didn't let it get to me too much. Instead, I let the swarm of flies bother me. They haven't really left me alone since this project began. And THAT is an irritation, let me tell you.

So remember, the next time you see a skinless bloody freak walking down the street, or rather hobbling due to the swelling and scabbing which makes movement very difficult, DESIGN IS LAW!!!!

Re:What about platform consitency? (2)

Ben Hutchings (4651) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142299)

MDI has become deprecated since Windows 95. Supposedly, the UI should now be document-centric - hence the introduction of Explorer and the Start>Documents sub-menu.

Re:I don't really agree... (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142300)

Well, the idea that all applications have to look the same is the invention of Apple in the early Mac years (and least until Aqua they seemed to have a unwritten rule which said they all had to look ugly, too). I've always thought this is akin to saying that all movies have to star Tom Hanks so that people know who the hero is. I *like* diversity in applications and movies.

Skins, customization and standards (2)

ACK!! (10229) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142305)

One of the reasons so many of us chose Linux was the freedom to manipulate our UI environment the way we wanted to.

I do not really see the fuss about choice versus cutomization. Why? Well, the choices given do not confuse the newbie because they can stick with the default views if they care to. How many people do you know that still have the plain jane grey winamp skin? I know a lot of folks that are stuck in this view.

The idea that we have gone too far with allowing the customization of UI in the operating system or various applications is one to ponder but for only half a second. As long as the functionality remains the same then changing the look of different buttons and such is not a great big deal.

The real annoyance in my opinion is how radically different the actual functionality of buttons and options are under many GPLed apps and window managers. That is a major annoyance for the casual or home user. Unless, I want to go completely KDE or GNOME in my choice of applications then I have to go through the time of re-teaching the shortcuts and such to my wife so she gets the full functionality out of the applications.

She could just hunt and peck her way through the app but believe it or not there are home users out there that work on computers all day long that prefer keystroke shortcuts and want to be truly proficient in the use of their applications.

Skins are not an issue. The real issue is that under Linux at least there are so many divergent development tools that no one application looks, feels or acts the same. Many times the apps do not even bother to work together (can anyone say cut and paste into oblivion?)

The debate over development tools becomes even more complex. KDE in my opinion is too windoze like. Other people swear by it and say that development is easier than Gnome. Other people love the GTK tools and I personally like the look and feel of the GNOME apps a lot. Then there are developers using a hodge podge of various tools from all over the GPL landscape each with their own strengths. I love the OpenStep, GNUstep NeXt feel but the apps just are not as robust as some of the GNOME alternatives in terms of their feature set.

With no all powerful company calling the shots on look and feel the desktop with be a tough frontier for the Open Source community to take. However, none of us want one company calling the shots so the whole thing becomes the complex mess of GTK, KDE apps living in conflict with wx, xform and a half dozen other development widget set and tools to make apps.

Sounds like a load of crap to me. (2)

Dast (10275) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142306)

Sorry, but this article sounds like a bunch of crap. First it starts ranting about being "
buried in toolbars, insulted by assistants"--now, I don't claim to be an expert in this area, but after having to use a great deal of MS products where I last worked, you can get rid of those toolbars and assistants. So what is he bitching about here? I agree the assistant is annoying, and almost nobody likes it, but you take away those toolbars users are "buried" in, and they start crying that they don't know where to click.

Then he starts bitching about X widget/wm themes. To me, this is totaly different. I don't need slack-jawed, knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, protohuman lusers insisting that I can't change the way I interact with my computer. Yes I use X; yes I use E, and I do have it themed. And there is almost no left-clicking, center-clicking, or right-clicking involved. I've set up most everything to work with the keyboard, and it is 10 times faster. So woe to the man who wants to get work done. Sounds like this guy thinks that if someone themes X, that theme then infests everyone else: "But who are we to judge if someone's got a thing for nubile teens? Unless, of course, the desire to serve that fetish starts to interfere with our ability to use the damned software." And he links to a winamp skin, bitching like someone is forcing him to use it.

Then he starts complaining about Mozilla. "But on another level, Mozilla is an unmitigated usability disaster. Running on Windows, Nagivator 6 looks nothing like Windows. Running on MacOS, Nagivator 6 looks nothing like MacOS." Now, while I agree on some level here that it would be more favorable for Mozilla to pay attention to some systemwide theme, one has to remember that it is supposed to run on many platforms--putting in code to make it look like every OS it runs on would be impossible. And last I checked, the fact that it doesn't look like the rest of my X apps didn't make it hard to use. It may be ugly right now, but it isn't hard. Personaly, I'm just glad I won't have to stare at Netscape 4.x's ugly face for much longer. :)

Sounds like whoever wrote this article just downloaded some shiny new app for his doze box and couldn't find his local geek to help him figure out where to click.

xmms (2)

wangi (16741) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142314)

XMMS would be much better without skins. Even an option of not loading a skin would be nice. If you've tried to load XMMS on 8bit display you'll understand...

Re:You don't *have* to use them. (2)

stab (26928) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142318)

Until the article writer actually uses the skins option (which isn't available in PR1),

Skins support is available in PR1, but is a bit flaky. I got it to work with the Sullivan skin from Chromezone [] with the usual command line :

netscp6.exe -chrome chrome://sullivan/content/

Doesn't work perfectly (menu options are messed), but at least it gives a more pleasant view than the ridiculously ugly default Mozilla skin (doesn't Netscape have a single decent graphic designer in the entire company?)

Regarding the suck article, I agree to some extent about not having to use skins. In this case though, I think that performance has suffered as a result of implementing that support; XUL has quite a large runtime overhead. Afaik, NS6PR1 doesn't have a lot of debugging code in it, so we won't see any tremendous speed increases on final release. I'd trade the skins support for a small, fast, stable browser any day.

Personally, my team and I are currently working on a cross-platform XML representation that uses NATIVE widget sets with platform-specific code. My ideal crossplatform app is one which renders in the native window manager (win32, gtk, qt, whatever), and not a cross-ported effort. Just looking at a GTK-win32 app gives me the shivers; it just looks so out of place.

Re:You don't *have* to use them. (2)

stab (26928) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142319)

I'm sure they've already received enough user feedback to realize that most users are like yourself -- they'd rather sacrifice some nice features to have a faster, more stable browser.

Yeah ... at the moment, the default browser is pretty bloated ... I dont _want_ a mail client, a news reader, Instant Messenger, blah blah in my browser.

Of course, the ultimately cool thing about Mozilla is the component model which means that we can write our own lightweight browser just using Gecko and ignoring all the other crap; I wonder if platform specific ones will spring up after release; would be cool.

Re:I don't really agree... (2)

31eq (29480) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142322)

I wish I could do more customization with my Win98 (especially get rid of My Documents...

But you can! See this piece at Monkeyland []

Sad misunderstandings. (2)

Znork (31774) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142323)

Its always sad to see people misinterpreting whole ideas this way. Themes, and web design, have originally not at all been about developer control. It has been about taking control over design and layout out of the hands of the developer and putting it in the hands of the _USER_. The theme developers usually understand this, altho the web developers seem to have some difficulty grasping the idea of the users deciding what their page looks like.

The USER is the person doing the interaction with applications and webpages. That is who should ultimately control how things are presented and how the interface works.

Real operating systems have user accounts which can be set up any way the user wants. Ideally, you should be able to just pull your setup with you and have the same UI in another place, whichever OS happens to be running. YOUR UI.

Scratch a UI purist and 9/10 times and you'll find (2)

hey! (33014) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142324)

an elitist. Just look at this article's disparagement of the aesthetic taste of the average user.

After over ten years of hearing pretty much the same homilies, I have to ask the question: Where are the success stories? Now that Apple has abandoned its own HCI guidelines, where are the systems that can be held up as whole examples of UI excellence (and I don't mean a screenshot of an individual dialog box)?

I think a lot of the things the UI purists tell us are worth listening to -- how can you be against consistency? How could making an interface manifest be a bad thing? When is clutter beneficial to the user?

But I've pretty much had it with the attitude of most self appointed UI gurus, who don't seem offer the average person anything other than a sneer and an extended palm. They have no right to be contemptuous of the Mozilla intiative, which is working hard to accomplish something positive.

The tools now exist to put their money where their mouths are. Why don't they put together a UI snob's Linux or BSD distro?

It's All About Choice! (2)

tilleyrw (56427) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142338)

Let's face it, if something CAN be done -- someone will want to do it. In fact, a whole group of people may find they like it.

Give people the choice! X Windows 4.0 should already have skinning capabilities built in.

Instead, it's going to have to be an add-on and further fragment the desktop/window-manager world.

Do I want my desktop to look like a scene from Star Wars? Not all the time, but it is cool when I'm in the mood. Having my computer configured the way I want it does increase my productivity.

About that mother that is scared of change, I say so what? If they don't want it, don't make them -- but I do, so I should be able to.

A breath of fresh air! (2)

teraflop user (58792) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142340)

I thought I must be the only Linux user who hated skinable apps!

I use Linux all day every day. And I want my display to be as clean and as clear as possible. I want my widgets instantly recognizable, equal in size, and consistently laid out.

Don't get me wrong, I am quite happy to change my GTK theme or Enligtenment theme occasionally, as long as everything remains consistent (and clear - why are most of the Enlightenment themes unusably dark? Too much late night hacking? The Sawmill selection seems better). But I usually end up back at Default, because Netscape 4.x and Xemacs don't use GTK widgets, and Default looks closest to their native appearance.

Gecko I love. But Mozilla and Xmms insist on making their own separate (if mutable) identity and sacrifice usability by smothering themselves in decorations which don't reflect the rest of the UI.

Xemacs has the right idea - you customize not the appearance, but the functionality. I want to add buttons to mozilla which turn off images, or disable cookies, I don't want to change what the buttons look like.

Fortunately they are open source. When someone writes a conventional GTK frontend to gecko, I will be first in the queue to beta test, or maybe even code if some of my other projects let up.

I don't really agree... (2)

DGregory (74435) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142344)

After reading the article, I don't really agree with it. If someone wants to have teeny tiny dark blue print on a black background that's their own perogative. I think more customization is a GOOD thing. I wish I could do more customization with my Win98 (especially get rid of My Documents and Temporary Internet Files) and according to things I've read, it seems that MS is getting rid of some customization that users used to have (I always rearrange what's under the start menu to have just 5-6 folders with just the executables - I don't need a folder for EACH company, in addition to all the READMEs and Uninstallers they want to put under there. Even if they close up folders you don't use very often, it still isn't how _I_ want it to be.) Once I get sick of all my windows games, I'll put Linux on there...

Anyways, I don't think that all your applications HAVE to look and act the same. Who is the Grand Pooba of interface design who says that all the applications have to look like Microsoft windows? Just cause MS designed it doesn't mean it's so great and then some. Just because I use Windows doesn't mean I want all my programs to look like Windows. I think that other companies CAN do it better than MS can, so what the hell, why not try?

"nobody wants a hammer with racing stripes and a horn."

Maybe YOU don't... a horn might be interesting, and racing stripes would probably ensure that your neighbors wouldn't steal it. My mom has baby blue spraypainted tools.

MY computer is MY computer.

Re:I don't really agree... (2)

timbo_red (112400) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142350)

>After reading the article, I don't really agree with it. If someone wants to have teeny tiny dark blue print on a black background that's their own

Fair enough, don't let anyone stop you. But when I first start a program, I want it to look like the OS I'm using. Netscape 6 doesn't. The default UI in it is terrible, removing useful functionality from 4.7.

You don't *have* to use them. (2)

Element5 (119310) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142351)

Articles like the one on I usually ignore, because they essentially are going on a rant for nothing. They forget a primary notion about skins -- you don't /have/ to use the damn things.

The article mentions Netscape 6 as an example of skin usage gone bad. Exactly how do people form opinions on an option that isn't even implemented yet? Until the article writer actually uses the skins option (which isn't available in PR1), I wouldn't put too much faith in it. On a discussin of interface design, stagnation is never a good thing. Ok, sure Netscape 6 is a huge divergence away from standard browser design, but my personal opinion is that this is not a bad thing at all. In fact I actually find the design less cluttered and therefor more usable than before. You can use or not use entire sections of the window as you see fit, and remove them if you don't want to. Again, there's choice involved here.


Skinnable UIs -- The Good the Bad and the Ugly (2)

Dante Aliegri (119831) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142352)

First off, I have to say that the writer on is so negative about skins that its a bit hard to see this as anything but a glorified rant against skins/skinnable UIs.

*Please note I am not a UI/GUI programmer, so most of this thinking is from the position of using the apps*

Consistancy among apps is important but I think the reason that there is none is because the computing world hasn't come to an agreement on a best UI. If there was such an agreement, there wouldn't be such a problem. I think THAT is the real problem rather than skins. Skins/Skinnable UIs, especially the ones that seem to remap keys (which is what they bitch about in the fourth paragraph) are more of the search for the best one. From what I've experinced with Skins/Skinnable UIs, I consider them a good thing. I use KDE as my desktop and I routinly browse for good themes. I'm using Photon, while my brother uses Matrix on his box, and we're both happy. I have no problem using his X, and he has no problem using mine, although they look quite a bit different. The simple fact is that yes there are going to be REALLY bad skins. This author is complaining about skins for ICQ that ruin the UI. There have been skins that ruin the UI of the program since Winamp started the trend ( or someone else, the point remains the same ). Some people use skins because they DO want their DragonBallZ pic over ICQ. Thats part of why skins are so popular. This author cares more about using the program than it looking cool. That is their perogative (sp). I feel that way also. The answer? Don't download and use skins that do that! I'm sure there are PLENTY of skins that look cool and don't ruin the UI. I have one for winamp, Xmms, KDE, so I'm sure there are plenty of them for ICQ. In the extreme that there isn't, you can make your own! If you're not an artist you can contact the author of one of the skins you like and ask them. Thats the point of opensouce -- no only can you do things yourself, you can talk to people that can help you with things.

Re:skins bad, flexibility good (2)

paranoidfish (124685) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142354)

Now, see how long that user can survive in a web where stupid designers set background color to white while allowing the user to keep their preferred font color (which is white, in this case.)

Might be worth noting that ie5 corrects for black text on black backgrounds and similar crimes against common webdesign sense. I guess you could call it a feature...

Don't ask me how I know this

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (2)

luckykaa (134517) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142356)

Real hackers don't give a damn about themes

I don't think thats quite true. Although I'm not sure if I count as a real hacker, I care about themes. The problem is that there aren't any themes designed for me.

My demands are different from most other people's. I want to have as little screen space taken up with title bars, menus, taskbars, launchbars, winebars as possible, as much of the control as neccesary pushed to the sides, and I want it to be very fast and responsive. I also want to have immediate access to any application I might need. When I use a different app that does something similar to the one I'm using Iwant it to be usable in the same way. I want a text editor and a word processor to have the same keyboard shortcuts. And for some reason I can't find a desktop theme that suits me. None of my demands are about the aesthetics. Just the ease of use.

It all depends (2)

HiQ (159108) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142357)

I think it all depends on
a) the type of software you are writing
Bussiness aplication should be standardized as much as possible, tools and "fun" programs should be more tunable/configurable.

b) the type of users you are writing for
What is the target audience of your software:
Bussiness type users or hackers/nerds: there is quite a difference in what they want and use.

"are ignoring visual and interface standards that users have come to rely on"
What standards, those in Windows, where every program defines it's own standards?

For a very good site on GUI design and common errors therein, look here [] br

Wooo HOOO!!!! (2)

DumbMarketingGuy (171031) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142359)

While the proliferation of customizable apps is cool, and anything which promotes Linux on the desktop has to be a good thing, I cannot help wonder if anyone out there in "corporate land" really cares ?

I was recently involved in marketing a configuration management tool to some CEOs of a fortune 100 corporation. When I showed them the cool GUI customization features, they seemed uninterested, and in fact kept trying to change the subject onto the boring nuts-and-bolts issues. They did not seem to understand they could make the app look really cool, and customize it however they wanted.

Anyway, we are now questioning whether the development investment required for "configurable GUIs" is actually money well spent.

We may even try marketing our next tool by stressing the elite hacker nature of its command line interface.

thank you


Consistency of the UI (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1142360)

As an experianced IT consultant working on a research project on the small but growing phenomenon of "freeware" projects, as exemplified by Linus Torveldes operating system Linux, I read Slashdot for insights into the "open source" community.

My professional view on the matter of UIs is that this fragmentation of interfaces is very bad from the customers point of view. What people want is a great, innovative UI, sure, but they want it to be the same for everything they use. The Linux desktop, Gnome, has some odd features which require users to think carefully, and many of Linux's applications break these rules to implement their own.

This situation is intolerable from a customer's perspective. They do not want to have to relearn a UI for every application they want to use, and they to not want some of the so-called "features" which Gnome supports. What is needed is a simple, easy to learn and intuitive UI such as Microsoft's Windows UI, which is constantly innovating whilst remaining simple to use and consistant. Until Gnome comes up with something equivalent, Linux will never succeed in the marketplace like Windows has.

How do I change Nscape6 to look like Windows/KDE? (3)

evilandi (2800) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142361)

All I want is a consistent user interface. If people want to skin and customise their browser, more power to their elbow. But what I happen to want right now, more than anything in the world, is for Netscape 6 to have standard Windows menus and buttons (or standard KDE menus and buttons if I'm at my Linux box).

Sure, if I had not grown out of my penchant for late 80's Pop Will Eat Itself album covers, I'm sure I'd love the "new" Netscape 6 interface (well, I would if it wasn't as slow as a bucket of sick, that is- on my P500 I drag my mouse across the menus and they all momentarily open at once forming a horrid Java-like mess).

As it happens, I want to be able to sit down with new software and use it straight away with no nasty surprises. If I learn how to use Notepad, I'm 99% of the way there to learning Paint Shop Pro or any one of thousands of Win95 applications. With Netscape 6 it's like learning a whole new GUI OS all over again.


Yay, open source rules! But so do standards. Nescape/Mozilla chrome sucks!

Oh, and it would help if Netscape 6's cascading style sheets actually worked properly (try changing the colours of A:LINK.FOOBAR and see what I mean).


Inconsistency is why I don't like Mozilla (3)

ToastyKen (10169) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142363)

Maybe people who are used to UI inconsistency are fine with the Mozilla interface, but as a Mac user, I expect my applications to FEEL like Mac applications. I don't even mind if the buttons and text fields look different, but they need to feel consistent, and the UI in Mozilla does not.

The Buttons are tolerable, but the way Mozilla ignores my text-highlight-color setting, the way its popup menus work and feel, the ugly use of Helvetica in the interface instead of optimized-for-screen Geneva, etc., really bug me.

I've always been a huge Netscape supporter since I've always liked the page rendering "feel" of Netscape better than IE, but if this is where Mozilla is going, I'll have to switch to IE. I understand the ease of cross-platform development brought on by XUL, but it is not, to me, worth the crappy interface.

But people have no CHOICE! (3)

ToastyKen (10169) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142364)

But people using programs like WinAmp and Mozilla have no choice! They can't even use a normal Windows or Mac interface if they want to, let alone having it as the default.

I think the way to do things is to have the default look use the standard OS widgets, then have the option of using skins if you really want to.

Thank you... (3)

jscott (11965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142365)

Now that's one of the funniest things I've read on slashdot.
Too bad I cannot moderate.

Skins are nice but... (3)

funkman (13736) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142366)

Before a user can place a new skin on an application. The default skin must have the same look and feel as the OS. Netscape 6's, which I am using right now, current UI would be nice as a skin but sucks as the default UI. How to access (and how they are clicked) the menus are not with the standards of Win32. (Yes I use Win95, sue me, some people don't have a choice). Any application should be consisent with the look and feel of the OS. Mac was great with this in the "old days". Are they still (Just a question, not implying anything)?

Anyways, onto my original rant. I like skins, I like that you can change the UI easily, sometimes without any programming effort. It can let people who know UI focus on UI. UI is the most important aspect of a system. If the user can't use it, the application is worthless, regardless of what the app can do.

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (3)

drudd (43032) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142367)

The great thing about themes is that the people who want to use them can, and the people who are afraid of them probably don't even know they exist to begin with!

The problem with Netscape is they are planning to have a default theme which breaks current GUI standards, thus leading to possible confusion for the latter group.

I think Netscape has to (and really already has) two points:
1) Making your program look flashy gives the impression to the newbie user that your program is somehow "futuristic" and better than the competition without really getting under the hood (sports car syndrome).

2) Giving your program a flashy look may confuse newbie users and give IT managers headaches having to retrain their users.

I think the default skin Netscape chose is at least intuitive enough so (2) is not a very large issue. One of Mozilla's major strengths is its support within the hacker community, which is rewarded with the ability to make it look whatever f'ked up way they want.



MosesJones (55544) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142368)

The basic principle of all UI design has been for years and years Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) or reductive design to give it an academic name. Anything on the interface that does not add to the information is detracting from the information so should be removed. Some people will bitch and moan that it doesn't look "pretty" and they nicely fall under the heading of "Well I Like It" WILI design.

Look at slashdot, bugger all colours, a few Icons for information and basic basic tools. And guess what its pretty much ideal for its target audience. Take a "Tomy" toy for a 4 year old. Big and Bright with easy controls. Take the TV Remote, some people have got only 6 buttons on theirs. Simplicity IS an effective interface.

On the other end of the scale is Themes, their entire concept is based around what looks cool, this isn't the same as an effective interface.

The Mona Lisa is a cracking painting, but it sucks as a User interface.

Re:Consistency of the UI (3)

radja (58949) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142369)

The Linux desktop? hmm.. last I checked there were several desktops available. It's not exactly my point of interest, but there's also KDE (and probably more, but KDE and Gnome are the two largest I think). Let's face it: Windows is not that intuitive either, doubleclicking just isn't a very natural operation. There is no such thing as the perfect UI. Different people want different UIs. I happen to like the strength and flexibility of a commandline, but commandlines have the disadvantage of having a higher treshold than a GUI, if only because a GUI will show buttons/menus/whatever and thus show, on first sight, at least some of the possibilities of the app. This makes a GUI easy to use for new users. What it all comes down to is that people often don't want to be put in a straightjacket of the manufacturer of the software. Not even when they call it a comfy sweater.


Skins: pro and con (3)

Bob Ince (79199) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142372)


...because they'll bring to Windows the same UI fragmentation and confusion that X has always had.

Skins themselves are not necessarily a bad thing. Global, desktop-wide skins where all apps are automatically customised to have a certain look, are clearly a Good Thing. Separate skins for every application causes nothing but pain. As the UI hall of shame [] repeatedly tries to get us to notice, no application is so important that it justifies having its own, completely different, style of UI. That includes Mozilla. Unfortunately, the desirable default state of "use whatever the current style settings for Windows or GTK or whatever I'm running on" is not easily codable.

James Sherman wrote:

Now even microsoft break their own UI guidelines (Have you noticed the way the latest office bypasses MDI?).

and though I agree with everthing he says, I still commend Microsoft for moving away from MDI. I just wish they'd done it by having a global option for MDI-or-separate-windows, rather than just stopping using it. MDI is, IMHO, not a suitable interface for anything at all.

One good use of skins and customisation in general, though, is to cut down on useless clutter. When you've got toolbars and toolbars full of crap put there by marketing people, as advertising space and to show the range of bloatware features available, it's great to be able to get rid of it.

This comment was brought to you by And Clover.

Re:I don't really agree... (3)

guran (98325) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142373)

Yes, by all means, customize your *own* computer anyway you like. Just...

Leave the standard interface as default!!!

On a windows machine: let your apps work like windows programs out of the box
On a mac: let them work like mac apps
On a Linux box: Well pick *some* standard.

Why? because someone will have to learn how to use that app and I bet they would rather spend their time getting to know the real functionality (including any customization) then learning what to click on.

Dont make a hammer with racing stripes and a horn, make a vanilla hammer with racing stripe and horn add-ons!

Some driver might prefer to have the acccelerator to the left in their car. OK so change it. I think you would agree that a car manufacturer should stick to the standard.

Some aspects of the Win GUI suck big time, but if you cannot do *substantially* better, then stick to the standard. Want chrome? Get an add-on. Tired of the whole environment? Get another OS...

And while you're at it, check out the interface hall of shame to read more.

Re:Consistency of the UI (3)

c.r.o.c.o (123083) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142376)

Well, I happen to be a gnome user (I am running Window Maker + gnome), and I tend to disagree with you. It is different from Windoze, but the features you are talking about take just a bit of time to get used to.

But even supposing you're right, there _is_ a desktop environment that does a really god job at copying Windoze. It's KDE.

I set it as the default desktop for the other users on my box, and when one of my friends (one that would fit into that category which would be bothered by differences in the UI) used it, he asked me what cool app was I using instead of the windoze taskbar.

He was talking about the KDE panel.

So Linux has come up with "something equivalent". Actually, all the window managers and all the desktop environments in Linux are "something equivalent". But imho, kde is as close to "something identical" as possible.

Read Tufte, do it _right_ (3)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142378)

Most user interfaces seem designed by people who don't actually know what the goals really are or how to achieve them in a way that actually works for real users. We've been so standardized on 3D widgets, drop shadows, stupid menu layouts, etc. that most developers can't even imagine a better way.

Edward Tufte wrote a series of books [] on visual portrayal of information. In them he analyzes how people actually perceive images & text, and examines high (and low) quality examples of doing the job right.

I made a distinct effort to follow these principles in my last UI project. Other developers fought aginst it, sticking to their pointless and distracting 3D buttons, poor word selections, etc...because that's all they knew and they wouldn't (couldn't?) even consider that there might be a better way. The resulting design, rejecting the de-facto "we've always done it this way" standards, was superior to previous designs.

When designing a UI, take the time to carefully review the actual requirements, and study the right way to do it. Pick up Tufte's books [] and open your eyes.

I agree... sort of. (4)

Ranger Rick (197) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142379)

99% of the skins out there are a usability nightmare. However, I think it's funny that he targets Mozilla/Netscape 6, which is one of the only programs that has an actual excuse for having skins, other than "to make it look pretty".

The newer HTML/CSS/etc. specs require certain standards in size and placement of controls, and other such things, and the only way to accurately match the specs is to implement the same controls on every platform, instead of relying on all platforms to have the same native controls (which is not gonna happen).

By that point, they were already pretty much there as far as themeing (sp? theming?), so they figured "what the hell?" and made a uniform engine for all of the controls in mozilla.

the annoyance of excessive consistancy (4)

tuffy (10202) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142380)

I'm probably in the minority in this, but I don't want all my apps looking and feeling identical - because they're not. For example, sometimes I have the same app performing different functions (such as a certain xterm connected to a remote location) and while it's easy to change the title string, I'd like to have it stand out even more than that. So, I deliberately make it inconsistant by giving it a different titlebar appearance than the rest. The result, for me, is improved efficiency through inconsistancy.

I'm not against consistancy by default; I don't want my GTK windows popping up with random themes in each. But I want to option to make special apps stand out with the use of skins for a variety of reasons. I believe skins are just a tool. Though they can be abused quite easily, I think they have some good potential also.

Skins/Themes can be a Good Thing too (4)

Tim C (15259) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142382)

Personally, one of the things I absolutely adore about Linux is that so many things are customisable to a degree simply not permitted by Windows.

From an everday usage point of view, the thing I most hate about Windows is the tendency for new windows to jump to the top and steal the focus. It drives me absoutely crazy, and yet, I have found no way of disabling the feature (if anyone knows of one, please let me know!!)

Not so under Linux - with WindowMaker and Enlightenment at least, this and a whole host of other features are completely customisable. I can set it up just the way I like it - I can even have shaped window borders, which I love (yes, I know you can have similar things under Windows, but so far, I've only found two programs - WinAmp and Yamp - that allow you to do this...).

The same thing applies to skins. Yes, I know that there are an almost unbelievable number of bad ones out there - but no-one is forcing you to use them. The ability to apply a skin/theme to a program lets the user make it look more pleasing to them, which helps make using it more enjoyable. More often than not in my experience, the default skin/theme(s) that ship with any given program (mp3 player, window manager, whatever) are "plain but functional" at best. That's fine; I'd much rather the programmer(s) concentrate on getting it working well than looking pretty. Let others do that; after all, that's part of the Open Source way :-)

I agree that we need to be careful about designing UIs, to try to make them as easy to use as possible, but that shouldn't be at the expense of customisability and aesthetic considerations.
Surely good software can look good too?



skins bad, flexibility good (4)

PapaZit (33585) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142383)

While skins are simply obnoxious most of the time, they are finally making UI designers consider flexibility. I find it depressing that so many UIs rely on their own hard-coded interface, especially when that interface sucks.

Take, for example, the humble web page. Assume the existance of a user who has figured out that the monitor is not a piece of paper and would prefer white text on a black background. Now, see how long that user can survive in a web where stupid designers set background color to white while allowing the user to keep their preferred font color (which is white, in this case.)

Many programs make this assumption. MS Word uses your preferred background, while forcing a black font, going for a HGTTG-style black-on-black interface. Ghostview for unix used to do this too.

Skins are usually annoying, but if a designer is considering skins, they're far more likely to use the appropriate UI toolkits and implement the extendability properly. This, in my opinion, is better for everyone.

Themability implemented in the wrong place (4)

MartinG (52587) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142384)

I think anything that offers the user a greater choice is a good thing, as long as it is not at the expense of decent performace.

I would say though that many themes are implemented in the wrong place IMO. Themeable widget sets for example are an excellent idea (even better if the theme can be selected at application level like with MUI for the amiga for example (does gtk+ allow this?)), because the application programmer doesn't have to do any extra work to make his/her app themeable (and ithe code is also therefore smaller and probably more easily maintained)

On the other hand, themeable individual apps (winamp, xmms, etc) seem a bit daft to me. If your widget set doesn't allow the themeability you want in your app, why not propose some changes to it, or consider a new/different widget set instead of potentially effectively bypassing a users desired appearance.

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (4)

dennisp (66527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142385)

I doubt the validity of this statement. People using their computer primarily as a tool for typing documents probably don't customize their machine because they don't know how. If they did, I would bet they would. I've worked at various companies, and "regular" users who only use their computers for word processing and excel also like customizing their desktop with a background picture of their family and their favorite colors, just as they would customize the layout of their desk with personal belongings. There are probably thousands of users using the skin customization program for IE, based on the easy install through activeX and the relatively easy install of skins.

The only barrier is understanding and effort. Of course, some people like decorating their house, and some don't.

As for the number of bad themes around, I would base that on the fact that, a) it takes effort to make a nice looking theme; and, b) one man's trash is another man's treasure (within an obvious bounded range).

Is the default score to browse at 1 now, or is it just me?

It's all about... (4)

riggwelter (84180) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142386)


The freedom of the user to choose what he or she wants what appears on their desktop looks like.

What the Suck crew have got right is that where you have to use skins to use an app you want to use - one very important choice is taken away from the user, and that is the choice to have that app look the same (consistent, not boring) as every other one on their desktop.

But that is a problem with specific skinned apps, not with skinning as a concept. As a concept, skinning works, Richard Stallman said "users should always have a choice", he was talking about free software, but it applies to user interfaces as well. If a person wants their desktop to look like the Star Trek LCARS system, let them - it doesn't mean the rest of us have to. Similarly, if a person wants Netscape 6 to look like the rest of their (Windows|Mac|Linux|etc) desktop, they should be allowed to.

You can't legislate for what people find easier to use, or more pleasing on the eye, or more useful for impressing their friends (or whatever reason people customise their desktops), all you can, and should, do is allow them the freedom to do so anyway they choose.


Novelty value soon wears thin. (4)

jamesbulman (103594) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142388)

I like to skin winamp as much as the next man, but skinning things as fundamentally core to the os such as basic windows and menus does not lead to a productive environment.

WindowBlinds had a novelty value for about 5 mins before it was rapidly removed. I need a clean, consistant and clear interface to get work done.

Inability to make a usable winamp (4)

fydfyd (150665) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142389)

In some particularly "consumer" oriented software like winamp, it is often impossible to create an interface that is even visible. I run my screen at resolutions of 1600x1200 and greater. Because of the lack of convention exhibited by winamp, I cannot get the current track information to even be readable. Moreover, the skins are merely chrome and seemingly cannot change the wretched layout of the base application. This is quite unfortunate because the core functions of the program (that is, playing music) are done quite well.

Finally, haven't we learned anything from the bad web pages of days past? Pause the playing in winamp and the single most visible feature, the track time, begins to blink. I had paused the playback because I didn't want to pay attention to the player and now it forces my eye to come take a look. And while I'm on a rant, since when has the exact second of music that I'm listening to become the most salient feature of the interface? In my winamp window I find that I'm listening to "Funkadelic - Good Thought," with half of the title truncated, but I well informed that I've stopped at 7:12 (blink, blink, what, no milliseconds?) and that this particular stretch of music is encoded at 160kbps and 44kHz and that it is in stereo (no, not, mono that word is greyed out). I've got a volume slider that I know is a volume slider only because the volume changes when I move it, I've got a similarly unlabled balance slider for all of those critical balance changes that I always need to apply while listening. And finally, I'm happy to report that the "shuffle" button is twice as big as the "play" button, because, of course, you use it twice as often. Here's an improved winamp skin in only one line of ascii:

Funkadelic - Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts |< || >|
too bad I can't really make this a skin. If I want to "pause" the music then I press pause; if I want to "stop" the music then I can exit the application. I added the "forward track" and "backward track" as convinient chrome. If I want encoding details, I can pop a menu; if I want to shuffle, same thing.

Okay, I think I've gotten that off my chest.

Mozilla skins (5)

Darchmare (5387) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142390)

While I like skins as much as the next guy, I have some serious problems with some projects which are using them as a replacement for good UI design.

For example, Mozilla. For months myself and others had been providing dozens of reasons to implement native UI widgets instead of the hacked up bitmaps they are currently going with. Reasons?

- Non-native UIs are generally slower than native ones, for whatever reason. I guess this could be fixed with enough work.

- The 'look' of the UI is not consistant with the rest of the OS for those who choose not to use themes. Most people, believe it or not, will probably never switch their theme - or want to. Why should their browser stick out like a sore thumb?

- If the look matches, the 'feel' usually does not. This is more important than it may appear to be at first. Something as subtle as how hierarchial menus are handled will often annoy or frustrate even advanced users.

- Using non-native widgets (basically, bitmaps) often stops system-wide skin/theme programs from working. Your non-standard look and feel is rendered internally inconsistant.

- Using non-native widgets is usually done so that less effort is needed to go cross-platform. Laziness. Do you want your Linux or MacOS program to behave like a Windows one, or vice versa?

In the end, I have rarely/never seen a non-native interface, outside of the occasional game, that didn't look like a really ugly port.

After much time conversing with the Mozilla folks, who presented a laundry list of reasons for the UI that were refuted time and time again by myself and others, the truth came out: AOL is giving these guys very little in the way of a budget to make an acceptable cross-platform browser. The way it was explained, we'd only end up with a Windows version if they DIDN'T go this route due to funding shortages. I fully blame AOL management for this.

However, I still feel it is a mistake. Already reviews have been very mixed, even for a beta quality release (Netscape 6). It's not the obvious bugs and performance issues that bug me, but the so-called 'features' that appear very poorly thought-out from the start. Some of it is very very cool, but without a decent UI design, it's not looking good.

I just hate to see AOL/Netscape's internal politics breaking the browser before it ever had a chance. If only Mozilla were truly 100% autonomous...

- Jeff A. Campbell
- VelociNews ( [] )

Interface Hall of Shame (5)

Siva (6132) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142391)

i think this site was posted as a quickie a while back, but i'll post it here since it applies to this story: []

this site is loaded with examples of poor UI design. they do a good job explaining exactly whats wrong with each example; its actually quite educational. its mostly windows and mac stuff, but i think i remember one or two examples from linux apps...


Keyboard not found.

They're for hackers, not users... (5)

Psiren (6145) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142392)

In my opinion, those people who most use themes and stuff of that nature are the kind of people who enjoying using their computer for hacking and learning. Those who just see the computer as a tool for typing documents are not going to go mad over a pretty new widget look. Therefore, those that are most likely to use themes are the most likely to adapt to the changes without any problems.

Now weary traveller, rest your head. For just like me, you're utterly dead.

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (5)

voidzero (85458) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142393)

Shouldn't we get more UI designers to read and use the subtle wisdom of Edward Tufte, the chap who really understands how graphic design affects thinking, decision-making, and emotions. He could really teach these UI designers a thing or two about intelligent and tasteful design.

There are three of his books which I would recommend without reservation:

  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983)
  • Envisioning Information (1990)
  • Visual Explanations : Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (1997)

Problems with skins (5)

Sax Maniac (88550) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142394)

Most skinnable applicaations Suck(tm) because:

- They require skins. I can't make WinAmp look like a normal Win32 application. Skinning should be an option.

- Being bitmaps, they are resolution dependent. WinAmp on a 1280x1024 desktop is ridiculous, the controls are about a micron high. Double-size? Oh great, ugly pixel jaggies. You say I can just get a "bigger" skin? Well, what if I switch res? Why can't I just use it without having to go find these silly extras!?

- They don't use standard controls. Oops, you can't use tabs, alt-accelerators, or the arrow keys,to navigate the controls. (Sure, accelerators work, but they are hidden, unlike the visual cues.) How many times have you been typing in a stupid homebrew text widget, and all the standard keys like Home/End/etc. don't work? GTK doesn't even always get this right.

- People with visual or motor disorders probably can't use it. If I use a standard control, I can make the font larger if I can't see it; or if I might be blind I can attach voice navigation to it. Not on a skin.

- They tend to ignore components of good UI design as much as most cruddy web sites do.

UIs are UIs, including the web, including apps, including skins. A lot of UI research has taken place over the years. As computers go mainstream, we shouldn't be ignoring it, but heeding it even *more*.

What about platform consitency? (5)

JamesSharman (91225) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142395)

I am personaly starting to get concerned about the advent of skinning along with some of the other changes in UI design. A couple of years ago you could sit down at a windoze machine and use just about and applications main features without thinking. Now even microsoft break their own UI guidelines (Have you noticed the way the latest office bypasses MDI?). GUI's under Linux has been struggling with the lack of any decent rules for UI design (At least none anyone pays any attention to) and I feel that something should be done to create a more consistent interface.

Why bother? (5)

(void*) (113680) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142396)

Why can't we just live along together? Isn't skins about customizablility? If some 3l33t h4ck0r wants to put some funny skins on his computer let him.

For the rest of us who want to get things done, something simple would be enough. I propose that judging on useability standards be applied to the DEFAULT (or default few) skin/desktop/window manager. For all others, go ahead and customize it to your desire. (It is customizable, right?)

Re:They're for hackers, not users... (5)

res0 (132546) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142397)

But you also need to remember that those same people who just want to type and look at web pages are going to be using programs like Netscape 6 that, without even asking the user or anything, automatically use skins and the like.

Believe me, my mom becomes confused when the desktop background is changed on a computer. What happens when, for example, Microsoft starts automatically configuring Windows to display an MSN "news summary" or something in the desktop? If my mom upgrades to that new version of Windows, she would be scared to death of the constantly changing background.

She had a hard time adjusting to Windows 95 even because everything was different from what she was used to (Apple IIe/g's, DOS, Win 3.1). I still have to help her do many things.

So regardless of who wants to use themes, the current trend is to say "Screw it, everyone wants themes" and not care about whether or not the users actually want the change in interface.

Agreed: don't bitch about skins (5)

Spiff28 (147865) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142398)

There is no reason to bitch about skins. The thing to bitch about is poor UI design.

The average user wouldn't know what the hell I meant by "skinned app." If you're going to get into skins, you probably know enough about computers to not get terribly frightened when suddenly the 'look' of your program changes.

If there's anything that can be rightfully bitched about it's poor design in the default interface. We Geeks may know enough to get a better interface/skin, but the average user may not. If the default breaks consistency, the average use is stuck with a crappy UI. (example: Sonique though cool looking isn't rectangular in it's default start-up state; they make up for this in coolness and still putting the X in the top-right)

The ability to change the interface/shape of the app is a little worse, cause things will have both moved and changed looks when you change a skin (eg: Sonique, K-Jofol), so even a Geek will get lost from time to time. It's a hazard we put up with.

The biggest advantage to skins/shape changes is they allow you to update the interface about as easily as you update the program. If I release an app that's got full skin/theme/shape support and my design is royally crappy, I can shift stuff around based on user feedback really easily. It's almost like the OOP applied to UI design.

Computers are fast becoming the multi-purpose appliance of today. They are the typewriter, the fax, the e-mail, the internet, the jukebox, etc. If you look at all of those equivalents in real life you will find totally different designs. I see no reason why this can't be in a computer. The best design of all would be to make the computer totally transparent to the user, but that is a far way off.

So.. do not bitch to me about how skins are the downfall of useability. It's just the fact that we're entering a period where computers are used by everyone, not just those of us willing to 'train.' Programs are still being programmed and designed by programmers, not UI experts and designers. Hell, the easiest way to remedy this is to make it as easy as possible for the aforementioned to change stuff about the app and move it around and.. hey! Isn't that what skinning is?

Re:Wooo HOOO!!!! (5)

streetlawyer (169828) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142399)

Yeh, I think you're onto something. At a recent meeting, I was a bit taken aback by a partner on the opposing side. We'd mentioned something offhand that we'd do this that and the other "if we can drag the phone number out of Lotus Notes", and he said that these days they just "stored all that shit in a text file and used grep".

Apparently various versions of Unix (mainly the BSDs -- I don't think anyone who cares about data security is quite ready for free software yet) are the weapon of choice in go-ahead legal and corporate planning departments. The cluelessness of most VPs is greatly overexaggerated; half of them had PCs as status symbols in the old days, so they can use DOS (which works just like Unix), and they quite like the idea of a CLI. And the old Hewlett Packard Financial Analyst calculator is another example of how tech-savvy finance suits can be if it's something they care about rather than something dull and non-revenue generating like network adminisatration

It's getting to the stage where Unix is reaching the corporate desktop -- I've seen a couple of job ads for secretaries and receptionists which state "must be able to use basic Unix commands". So I guess it's probably time for me to throw the good old Mac away and get with the winning side. I don't understand why all the techie elite types are keen to throw away their only unique selling point at all


You are making a bad mistake (5)

streetlawyer (169828) | more than 14 years ago | (#1142400)

But all too often I'm called upon to provide some free :^) phone/on-site tech support to undo a change one of them has made

Never do that. Just because they're your parents, doesn't mean they can get a free ride. Lawyers learn this early on in their training -- if you want your advice to be considered valuable, charge for it. Ask the most popular cheerleader in your high school -- once you've got a reputation for giving something away, it's difficult to charge for it in later life.

Yeh, but it's your mom and dad, you say. You think you have a point, but you don't. First it's mom and dad. Then it's bro and sis. Then it's Aunty Murtle. Pretty soon you're getting woken up at four AM (after being out drinking martinis to three) in order to get down to some fucken city drunk tank to knock out a misdemeanour plea bargain, gratis, for your third cousin twice removed's stepchild from her third marriage. And it's always "Oh Johnny, could you do this just once? We're faaaammmilleeeee! Have you forgotten where you came from?" Yak yak yak. No, I haven't forgotten where I came from, it's just that now I don't have to fucken go back to that craphole in South Bklyn, I choose not to.

The way I play it, is that I don't make my family sign a check. But if they want my professional services, they should be prepared to give me some of theirs. So I get my car washed, my plumbing done, my dinner cooked, and on occasion a little recreational fellatio (only from relatives no closer than first cousin, naturally -- I'm not a fucken pig).

With more and more people having net connections, and all manner of what have you, it strikes me that technology types are going to be almost as much in demand as lawyers in the next few years. So I'd advise you guys to learn a few lessons from the legal profession. We learned the lesson from the teamsters -- Gas, Grass or Ass, nobody rides for free.

--just call me streetlawyer, ma'am

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