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[community] Transparency & Windowblinds


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I've been in on a few discussions over the past week about a question very important to the core of this site, "Should WindowBlinds add transparency support?" Today, on WinCustomize.com, Brad Wardell writes "One of the internal debates right now is whether to support Aero-style semi-transparencies in borders." This is the second time in the past 8 days that Brad has touched on this subject, which leads me to believe that this issue is being debated inside Stardock right now.

What would this mean to you, the end user?

First, you'd be able to use futuristic pane glass effects, like this:


This glass pane window is nice, and I personally I think it's a very classy look. This single feature opens up endless possibilities to the GUI skinner.

You would also be able to apply a higher quality window border. Go back and look at the above image, specifically the rounded corners; in this skin they are almost perfectly round. Thats due to the ability of transparency allowing for 'softer' edges, causing a better blend for curves. Compare it to a current Msstyle:


There is a huge difference in what you can achieve with the blend effect offered by transparency. This allows not just better window corners, but more professional buttons, sharper control glyphs, and artistic highlights to any skin supporting transparency.

So let's demand transparency now!

Not so fast, there is a drawback to transparency in skins. Performance takes a hit, and depending on the amount of see-through effects added to a skin this additional drain could be high. Any customizer has long ago decided some of their resources are a small price to pay for a better interface. But what kind of performance hit are we looking at, and is it worth it?

Using Avetext and Nexplorer as a base (both support both .bmp and .png's in it's skins), we can establish a rough performance difference between transparent and opaque skins.

Avetext Opaque border: 6,072k*

Avetext Semi-transparent border: 7,556k* (24.4% increase)

Nexplorer Opaque border: 7,990k*

Nexplorer Semi-transparent border: 8,760k* (9.6% increase)

You can see a 15% difference in the semi-transparent memory loads here. There are several factors in this (the Avetext transparent border used glass effects AND shadows), yet on average you see an 18% increase in memory useage. Let's see how this would effect a current WindowBlind skin, the recently re-released Slate 4051 by Voodoo_FreaK, against a potential WindowBLinds skin using semi-transparent borders:

WindowBlinds Opaque border: 3,840k*

Projected average WindowBlinds performance with Semi-transparent border: 4,531k** (18% increase)

Wait a second! This projection shows that a WindowBlinds skin running semi-transparent borders would use less memory than an instance of notepad.


Keep in mind, that this projection is based off of two applications that are not designed for steamlined drawing of a skin, like WindowBlinds is. Chances are that this projection is probably higher than what would actually be implemented by Stardock.

And there's even better news...

It can be assumed that this increased performance hit would only be seen in skins that use semi-transpaerncy. Your current favorites would maintain their current performance use, and users would only see a greater performance demand when skins actually make use of semi-transparency. To the point, this addition wouldn't effect those people that don't want to use semi-transparency in their WindowBlinds skins.

What's the point of all this?

Semi-transparency is the future of skinning. We first saw it impact the Windows interface with 32bit icons in WindowsXP. Now the skinning community has a chance to make another leap forward into the future with semi-transparencies added to window borders. Many of you already know that MicroSoft has added this feature to Longhorn, but why should we have to wait until 2006 when this feature can be added now? We shouldn't have to wait at all. It's time for the community to take action and do what we can to convince Stardock to add this to WindowBlinds as soon as possible!

If you want Stardock to add semi-transparency support to a future version of WindowBlinds, please post in this article at WinCustomize.com that you want this feature! Please keep your posts positive and to the point. If we can get enough responses to Stardock it is very possible that community input could shape the future of skinning.

*Peak memory useage of single instance used as reference points. CPU and GPU load were negligle (<1%) for single instances of windows in all comparisons.

** Projected peak memory useage of single window instance + taskbar

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Here's what I posted at the expire board:

Well, I really doubt it could be possible to achieve border transparency for borders only. or with a lot of dirty stuff (like a layered window emulating the border and non client area) :)

Let me explain the different rendering depths involved:

- RGB, which is 1 byte per channel: 1 * 3 * 8 = 24 bits

- XRGB, which is RGB plus a 1 dummy byte: (1 * 8) + (1 * 3 * 8) = 32 bits

- ARGB, which is RGB plus a 1 byte alpha channel: (1 * 8) + (1 * 3 * 8) = 32 bits

So let's not confuse what you are using when you set your screen depth to 32 bits. Actually it is XRGB, NOT ARGB.

The way the win2000 graphic core handles blending is done without GDI (actually, GDI paints on a XRGB surface when set to 32 bits, looking at the true pixels with the SPrintWindow lib confirmed that). The alpha blending is done afterwards by the kernel.

But i'm not the god father of the GDI core, so if Stardock can make it, then do it ! :)


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You guys are making this way too hard.

It's not about 'if it can be done' or 'if you like how it would be implemented', this is about pushing for a new feature for those of us that want it. It's like saying you don't want leather seats in your Mercedes, so nobody should have leather seats either.

Just support it if you care about the community - you dont have to use it. Making the issue overly complex is like an anchor around the progress of GUI customization. If it can be done without effecting those that don't want to use the feature then there is no reason to hold back.

Don't be the Amish of the customization community.

BTW, my reference to 32bit icons was an example of progress being made in a specific aspect of customization. I did not reference semi-transparent borders as 32bit.

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Before XP was generally released, there were loads of skins mimicing XP for previous versions of windows. Just take a look at the old libraries in wincustomize. Isnt that practically the same thing? Granted XP and older versions of windows dont really have gigantic GUI changes like the differences between OS9 and OSX, but its the same basic principle.

Why should we do it? Because its cool! Why shouldnt we do it? We could get a big performance hit? I'd still use it.

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Originally posted by herd@Sep 17 2004, 02:39 PM

Agreed. Those who really really can't wait, are all freely invited to attach a better spoiler to their Mazda 323 F and believe its the next Ferrari Testarossa.

I said I can live without it and the main argument was:

To bypass Windows' shortcomings, we can, from a devs view, only use more calculation to achieve an effect that makes vents blow all the time while costing responsiveness on the desktop.

If you start a technical discussion, you'll see tech comments, thats only natural - now for opinion as in discussion board I expect this baby to become as sloppy as running WindowFX effects on a Pentium II, even if it can be done. By end of '06, that's another country, without global hooks and makebelieve. I must confess I am really tense about the real thing; in my book it will be an as huge leap as from 3.1 to 95, or, reminiscent of where we are, from classic to X so forgive me the following preoccupation - nobody stuck on OS 8 tries to mimic X, hence: should we?


Your expectations are premature as to WindowBlinds failings. I happen to have inside word that the performance hit would be minimum. ;)

And let me rephrase the your question about mimicing OSX on OS8... we mimic OSX on WinXP. OSX supports this semi-transparency feature. If you don't want to at least try to mimic this, what are you doing here?

Herd and Siwu's arguements are reminiscant of what I heard when myself and others were pushing for development of an OSX Dock on WindowsXP. Newspost after newspost we pushed for the dock, inviting developer after developer to move on this. Over and over again people said performance would suck, or it just couldnt be done. Eventually the call was heard. Of course, those naysayers probably forgot all about their concerns and negative input once they actually had a choice of 3 different working docks on WindowsXP.

Like before, its irritating the hell out of me that people are trying to stand in the way of prgress. Especially from the members of Aqua-Soft. Guess my expectations of this site shouldn't be what they once were.

Stop being afraid of the future. Either support it or don't, but please don't stand in the way of others.

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Funny Unbeliever.

Here's my point: people can be entitled to their opinion (or oppinion), thats fine. But Herd is standing in the way of whats trying to be accomplished here, and I take offense to it.

This thread is for the SUPPORT of adding semi-transparency to WindowBlinds. To post against it discourages people from actively participating in contacting Stardock. You don't have to encourage it, but don't tear down my thread.

I never said this would be the Ferrari of WindowBlinds, just another option. I never said this would detour all other Stardock development.

What I did was lay out a case for people to post a positive response to Stardock concerning this issue. What I get are two well known developers shooting me down instead of letting it just just work itself out.

Yes Herd, you are standing in the way. Thanks for raining on the parade. :)

It's no wonder that this place is dying - a guy can't even rally the troops without getting shot down by 'supporters' of the community. Transparency in WindowBlinds will be a nice feature. It may not run on all systems, but it would be a damn fine option to have for those of us that can utilize it.

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regardless of if it can be done or not

i think this would be something that will make windowblinds better then what stylexp is..

as of now its almost the same except for some minor differences visually and some added functions with the buttons and such.

but if what deadzombie is saying is true about the mem usage is diff depending on the skin i wouldn't see why stardock wouldn't try and do this(if its possible)

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WB already has a lot more available functions than MS Styles... built in rollup feature, built in set window to always on top feature, built in transperize feature (to set the whole window transparent from a button), lots of actions you can assign to buttons including smartbars (winamp controls etc.), ability to put titlebar at bottom of window, animation for window controls and titlebars, sound effects, per app skinning, colorisation, built in Y'z toolbar type function, log off screen skinning, progress animation skinning, titlebar scripting not to mention added hardware acceleration features all of the above which I don't think are minor additions. Not only can you move the titlebar buttons to the left but you can have them act like they do on OSX and attach sounds to them. All while keeping memory usage under 2mb while MS Styles take up 25mb.... if you are running styleXP along it then it takes more unless you have styleXP unload after which then it takes 25mb again and when you try to add things to MS Styles with seperate programs you raise that amount. So I don't see why WB is not better than MS Styles as it is right now. This will just be the icing on the cake.

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I wrote it elsewhere and somebody replied that this transparency feature in WB (MAYBE) will work only with Avalon (as you may all know MS will backport Avalon to XP). It's very hard to get information from Frogboy. I asked him but he wrote a very short message for me and he didn't answer my questions and he didn't mentioned the word "Avalon" at all.

I suggested this several times in the last few years but maybe not everybody understood it.

Now more ppl understand it because the Aero Glass skin is reachable as an individual skin for several skinnable applications.

I'm sure nobody should worry about the performance hit and others because the GUI must be developed. The GUI itself is a resource-intensive thing. We can't spare anything if we don't have per-pixel transparency at all.

If somebody afraids of the performance hit then use CLI, not GUI ;)

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Originally posted by sen@Sep 21 2004, 04:18 PM

I'm sure nobody should worry about the performance hit and others because the GUI must be developed.

The GUI itself is a resource-intensive thing. We can't spare anything if we don't have per-pixel transparency at all.

If somebody afraids of the performance hit then use CLI, not GUI ;)


What is CLI?

Anyways I've posted on the Wincostumize discussion in favor of the transparency for a new WB version. I saw there had been a lot of postings so we've hit a new hot item. One could consider this to be a more Aerosoft-thread, but as stated earlier by someone else OS X contains transperancy too, which makes this a valid discussion IMO.



p.s.: is AndreasV still missing?

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Originally posted by wiebeest@Sep 21 2004, 12:39 PM

What is CLI?

Anyways I've posted on the Wincostumize discussion in favor of the transparency for a new WB version. I saw there had been a lot of postings so we've hit a new hot item. One could consider this to be a more Aerosoft-thread, but as stated earlier by someone else OS X contains transperancy too, which makes this a valid discussion IMO.



p.s.: is AndreasV still missing?


Yeah all themes on OSX contain transparency even if it's just used to antialias the border like the rounded edges in Aqua (32-bit mask for the titlebar) and going back to the original OSX up to jaguar it had a transparent out of focus titlebar which is theme dependent. So this isn't really more of a Longhorn discussion though Aero does seem to be a hot topic recently. I kinda actually think of it more to do with OSX because it's actually out and has the feature where Longhorn isn't.

BTW, CLI = Command Line Interface

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