Object Desktop 2005

Reviewed by: Lianne Reitter, September 2005
Published by: Stardock
Requires: Windows 98 through XP, Pentium 1 GHz CPU or equivalent, 128MB RAM
MSRP: US$49.95

I originally reviewed Object Desktop over a year ago and after taking a good look at the 2005 version of the software, I must say that my enthusiastic review stands the test of time. Stardock, the developer of Object Desktop, has done nothing less than improve on this already great software. If you are familiar with 'skins', software that allows you to manipulate the look and layout of an interface for a program, Object Desktop could be described as the mother of all skins. It allows you to your whole computer operating environment.

We do all sorts of things in our work and home environment to make it our own. The color of paint on the walls, the pictures we hang, the bric-a-brac strategically placed here and there. Somehow, it makes our space our own; it says a bit about who we are to the casual on-looker, and to ourselves. So why should the environment that we look at just about all day long (oh go on admit it, you sit there in front of that monitor just as long as I do) look like everyone else’s? Even the formerly novel Windows XP environment must be wearing thin on you by now. If a little individuality, style, and statement is what you want for you computer, look no further than Object Desktop 2005.

Object Desktop 2005 is really a suite of programs that, alone or in tandem, change the look and feel of your desktop and Windows environment. For instance, with the WindowBlinds module (so popular that it is also available as a separate download for $19.95), you can apply new styles to the Windows operating system to change the look of your title bar, menu buttons, push buttons, radio buttons, scrollbars, and even the Start menu. And I'm not talking about just the color either, I mean the look and feel of everything in your Windows OS—the way it responds as well as the way it looks. There is a whole community of users and artists that design new looks and make them available to other registered users for no additional charge. These fine generous souls make use of SkinStudio which is included in the Object Desktop 2005 suite. SkinStudio will aid in the development of your own skin if you have some graphic design skills.

And what would a different looking window be without a cool effect to accompany it? With the WindowFX module, all your windows can be animated to open with a side scroll or furl down, you can have them close with a twisting motion or just fade away. You can set the transparency level of windows not in use or have them only come into full view when activated. There are dozens of effects and settings in the module.

Three other included modules, IconX, IconPackager and IconDeveloper, will give your desktop icons new meaning, not just a new look. I use IconPackager because I'm really just an avid end user and the StarDock community of users/artists are a talented bunch and they have already developed hundreds of free icons for me to download. For the über-organizer, IconPackager will let you create a separate icon for every drive on your computer and—wait for it—every folder on every drive. If you are of the mind, IconDeveloper will help you create your own icons, even from previously designed bitmaps or .PNG files. IconX is a program for your icons that allows you to resize, zoom on mouse over, drop a shadow under them and just generally give them some energy.

How about that Start menu? We can change the look of it using WindowBlinds but really, we can do even better with Object Desktop. How about a more powerful, fully configurable Object Bar instead? In late 2007, Microsoft Vista will have just such a gizmo. But you can have it now with Object Bar. Maybe that cool Mac OS X dock is more your style? You can choose your Object Bar from hundreds of offerings on the web, or design the perfect one yourself.

Do you feel you have choices missing from your context (right-click) menus? Object Desktop includes RightClick, a little program that allows you to fully configure, reconfigure and redesign the context menu.

The Gadgets module provides desktop level applications to control your MP3 player, monitor stocks or visit web sites among hundreds of other uses. Have a calendar ready at hand, or the local weather forecast. You may be familiar with similar mini-programs (sometimes called Widgets) on both the Windows and Mac platforms. Object Desktop’s gadgets are similar in nature and functionality. The DesktopX module is designed to take your desktop to a new level with custom icons and functionality through Gadgets.

You can mix and match the aforementioned modules to redesign your desktop or you can use the Theme Manager to just get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Want to have everything looking like a Picasso painting? A kids Cartoon? An H. R. Giger fantasy? This is the place and the Stardock community is more than willing to cater to your every whim. Nice folks.

I've only scratched the surface of this suite. Also included in Object Desk 2005 are the following components:

  • TweakShell – control your start programs and more
  • ObjectZip – support ZIP files, vastly improves on the ZIP function in Windows XP, includes password protection
  • ObjectEdit – text editor
  • DriveScan – graphically displays where you are using your hard drive space
  • ObjectMedia – get the benefit of a full blown media player in a simple program designed to take up as little memory as possible
  • Keyboard Launchpad – assign hot keys to your favorite programs and window actions
  • Spring Folders – no more double clicking, just drag a file over the folder and it will open up for you

A lot of the power behind Object Desktop exists because Microsoft has opened up the architecture of Windows XP for this type of manipulation. But the thoughtful planning, design, programming and configuration features which go into Object Desktop are all Stardock.

Cons: With all of that said, nothing is perfect. I have been using Object Desktop for a couple of years now and I have never had a major problem related to its use. However, some programs (Adobe are you listening?) do not want to be skinned and that can be an issue. Fortunately, you can exclude individual programs. My biggest complaint might be the absence of a robust printed manual rather than the online help. The FAQ section on the Stardock web site also seems pretty lean. The individual components are very easy to use, but SkinStudio was over my head and I had no clue where to start. For this, you need a good manual to curl up with. Once again, there are online help files available and web tutorials from several sources (all accessible through the help system) so if you are feeling ambitious, check it out. I'm just glad that there are those out there greater than myself, who will allow me to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Pros: One of the most thoughtful aspects of Object Desktop is the ease with which individual components can be reconfigured or removed entirely. Every component can be accessed from an icon that sits in your system tray. Open up the program configuration panel and change your desktop, objects or icons on the fly. At any time, you can also unload each component meaning that you never have to uninstall anything. You can have your favorite configuration load at startup, or load (and unload) each component as the mood strikes you.

I have a blast with this software. My system is running fine and looking even better with this latest version of Object Desktop. On top of that, I have configured my system in a way that is unique to me and my way of working and accessing programs and data. If the same-old Windows XP has become tiresome, Object Desktop 2005 will certainly inject some much needed spirit into your daily computing experience. Highly recommended.





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