WindowBlinds 5 Brings Vista UI to XP

One of the most anticipated features in Windows Vista is its redesigned user interface that features glass-like title bars and alpha blended windows. But with the upgrade a year away, Stardock has released WindowBlinds 5 to offer Windows XP users the same capabilities right now.

Version 5 of Stardock's flagship Windows customization software has been in the works for over a year, according to company CEO Brad Wardell. Initially, Wardell's team was dubious that such features could be added without severe performance lag to Windows XP, which lacks Vista's new advanced graphics subsystem.

However, the recent shift to DirectX-enabled graphics hardware from ATI and Nvidia has opened the door for the next-generation of user interfaces. Windows Vista will utilize hardware acceleration to ensure a snappy UI, and Stardock says WindowBlinds 5 does the same for Windows XP.

"We knew we crossed a threshold when WindowBlinds started to show up on our game developer machines," Wardell told BetaNews. "Most of the drawing occurs in the video card now."

Unlike previous versions, WindowBlinds 5 requires no extra process to run; it loads up as an extension to Windows XP and replaces Microsoft's own theme system. Wardell hopes the change will finally put to rest complaints that WindowBlinds is not "native," and says the release can even improve default interface performance by tapping into DirectX.

The "glassy" Vista look is achieved through per-pixel alpha blending, which "means that every given pixel can be blended to whatever's behind it." The result is a smoother look to all windows and controls. "If you look closely on Windows XP, the curved borders are jagged," explained Wardell.

For those running older graphics hardware, WindowBlinds 5 will continue to work as it has in the past -- without the advanced blending. However, improvements will still be seen in the number of programs WindowBlinds can now skin, including those Windows XP itself does not support. The Start Menu can be completely changed as well.

End-user interaction with WindowBlinds has been greatly improved in version 5, says Wardell. A new configuration window makes it easy to preview and browse through available skins, and tweak toolbars and other settings. Stardock is also preparing to release SkinStudio 5 that will enable designers to easily create skins that take advantage of the new release.

"Our goal with WindowBlinds 5 was to provide a program that allows users to personalize Microsoft Windows without slowing down the system or using up extra memory resources to do it," said Wardell.

WindowBlinds 5 runs on 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP. Stardock plans to re-brand WindowBlinds 4.6 as "WindowBlinds Classic" for users of Windows 2000 and 9x. A shareware download is available to try, and the application can be purchased for $19.95 USD.

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