26 April 2005

Disciplined Breakdown: Day 2

April 26:

I'm going to make an effort to make my blog posts shorter. They tend to get long and I know you could get bored or lost in reading them, so I'll try to take things a day at a time, here.

I covered "moving shortcuts" on the last post, and that stuff already being out of the way I can simply tell you what I've done. The entire shortcuts bar (contains multiple images including a bar.bmp which is the top image, then all the shortcut images directly under it, then an end bar), the top bar and the end bar are toggle buttons that minimize and maximize the shortcut bar. However, when the whole thing minimizes, only the top bar remains. There is also a "Hover" image, which means that when I hover my mouse over the top bar it turns slightly blue because LS is using a different image for that (covered in the shortcuts section).

I fixed all of my shortcuts to go with the programs that I use. For example, the email lookin thingy goes to my email (currently iScribe), web browser goes to Mozilla Firefox, "Amp" goes to Foobar 2000 lite, Graphics goes to Gimp, the book thingy goes to OpenOffice...etc. I haven't found a new use for the topmost "terminal" button that leads to a DOS prompt currently. The method of doing this is covered in the last post. Here's a picture of what the shortcut script would look like: (click for bigger picture)


I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but since I nixxed so much of the original theme (VWM, etc), I moved all of the unused graphics into an "unused" folder. This lets me make sure the theme doesn't require any of those before I go deleting them forever. Plus, what if I want them again? It's a personal decision.

A small fix but important: When I moved windows over my clock, the clock would always go on top of the window. Bad clock! Easily fixed with "ClockAlwaysOnTop False"

Yes. These entries are backdated to when I made the changes. Deal with it ;)

Next Post: I actually did the changes in the next post on April 26th, but it deserves its own post because it's all about how I flipped the taskbar and shimmied it in between the shortcut bar and the system tray.

Yes. This is interesting to me. If it's not interesting to you...don't read it! :-P

25 April 2005

Disciplined Breakdown: Day 1

APRIL 23, 2005:
Good news! I haven't gone completely insane. I've had a few problems modifying some things, but other than that I'm doing fine. So here's the skinny...

I obtained the "Blue Heart" theme, which was actually made a long while ago as evidence by the changelog that came with it, but I have the most recently modified by Chris Fofiu. This picture actually came with the theme, and is what the theme usually looks like on a 1280 resolution (I have a 1024x768).


So I loaded it up as my new shell, and it coincidentally went very well with my new wallpaper. However, I immediately identified some unnecessarily/unsightly items...the first and most major offender being the virtual desktop (VWM--virtual windows manager). Think about it as picture in picture for your desktop. Now, one of the reasons I highly enjoy Litestep is that it takes up a lot less memory.

Size of litestep.exe at this very moment:
Mem Usage: 2,744K
VM Size: 6,164K

I encourage you to take a gander at your task manager and see what yours is. Keep in mind that my computer (P4 1.8 Ghz with 256mb of RAM) came to me, in box, with Windows XP Home Edition the summer of 2002. This computer never ran particularly well with XP, and I know I have seen performance increases just by switching to Windows 2000. Honestly, I don't think this computer was ever built to handle XP. That's another story. While I don't see a "mad skillz" increase by using Litestep, every little bit helps!

I also disabled loading of my desktop shortcuts (xDesk module).

Here's what it looks like after my original fixes. Explanation below.


I don't have a picture of the original load on my computer with the VWM. I immediately disabled it in the script. The bar that was originally at the top of the screen didn't do much except control the VWM and add "aesthetic value". Unfortunately for it, I did not find its value so...valuable. Nixed. (I commented these out, putting semicolons ; in front of all scripting commands. See my flickr account for a picture of this.) Also, notice how there is no foot looking thingy on top of the clock and volume control bars anymore? I didn't need it there (to lead to my file manager...), so I cropped the gray box that loads behind the clock and volume and help/recycle button, and had to move it down a little
(Note: When LS loads graphics, the point that you position it with is the upper left corner. So if this gray box named "gnomev.bmp", is positioned at X, Y, and I crop it 20 pixels, and want it to load only a couple pixels above the help and recycle buttons, I'd have to reposition it around y+/- 15. I'm still trying to figure out the coordinates system. That grey box is at 0, -201, and the help (?) is at 2, -195)

So that looked all well and good until I minimized everything....

I'm sure you can see a few weird things. First of all, everything is in different places, so my effective desktop space is VERY small (I don't want to cover any of these items with a window).
Secondly, why are there TWO re-expansion buttons for my clock/system tray? Thirdly, the entire shortcut sequence at the top left needs to be shifted upwards to be flush with the corner of the screen.

Also, there is a nifty desktop area command in the jdesk module:
jDeskWorkArea "x,y,x,y" so you can define your desktop area. This is the area a window will expand to when maximized. This will NOT prevent you from dragging windows on top of your bars. Here's a picture for your education:

If you want to see it bigger, or with my notes, click on the picture, which will lead to my flickr account.

A little lesson on shortcuts. I HIGHLY suggest you visit this site for a breakdown of common commands for litestep. Though different module versions WILL DIFFER from these basic commands, this gives a very nice introduction if you've never scripted before. See the help files for individual modules for a list of everything they can do. More on that later.


This is the basic setup of a shortcut. It is included in the shortcuts section of a script, usually near the end. Note that you don't have to include the click.wav for every shortcut IF you want ALL of the shortcuts to make the same noise. In this case there is something you can put before you list any of your shortcuts:

ShortcutSoundClick $Sounds$ButtonClick.wav

Where $Sounds$ is your designated sound folder, which is defined at the beginning of your theme. But don't worry about this unless you're planning on building from scratch.

The most important thing to see about shortcuts is how to change what they do or where they lead. This is included in the ACTION. So if I wanted to make the shortcut with the G on it lead to GIMP, it would look like this:
*Shortcut "Graphics" 0 252 gimp.bmp gimp_H.bmp .none #4 ["C:\Program Files\GIMP-2.0\bin\gimp-2.0.exe"]

If you know your default programs, you can also do this:
*Shortcut "Firefox" 0 117 WEB.bmp WEB_H.bmp .none #4 ["$browser$"]
-This will open my DEFAULT browser, Firefox. This will save you from inputting the filepath, as long as you are sure the program is your default.

To change the positioning of a shortcut...that's right.. change the numbers (x y). So if I wanted to move my Firefox shortcut 17 pixels in the y direction, I could put:
*Shortcut "Firefox" 0 100 WEB.bmp WEB_H.bmp .none #4 ["$browser$"]

To change the picture the shortcut usually shows, you would change "WEB.bmp". To change the picture when you roll over the shortcut, change "WEB_H.bmp. This theme has no different picture for when you CLICK on the shortcut, but if you want, you can do that too.

There will be more on shortcuts later.

Lastly, I moved a bunch of images I knew I didn't need anymore into a different folder. I like to be organized.

NOTE: If you accidentally crash your theme or explorer.exe, DO NOT PANIC. This has happened to me many times. Some themes cannot handle recycling when you have the config file open. Simply log off or restart and you'll be fine..unless of course you've rendered your theme unloadable, which I doubt.

There is so much more left to do!! This was only my first crack at this theme (my first day on this theme), so expect more changes to come.

24 April 2005

Can't I Change More Than the COLORS?

Okay, so maybe we can change more than the colors in Windows...the wallpaper, the sounds, maybe even the look of the start bar or startup screen...but it still looks like Windows. Some of us get enjoyment from hacking Windows. Others use Linux in order to get away from Windows entirely. These two methods are great, and I have nothing against them; however, what if you don't have the savvy or patience to do either of these? (I'd become a Linux girl myself if I had the time/patience to learn. That'll come later, I hope!) But what about right now? Am I to suffer with the same old Windows shell until I learn Linux?

Fortunately the answer is no.

A year or so ago, I was recommended to try using programs that would allow me to create "alternate shells" for Windows. The "shell" is basically just explorer.exe, which runs the pretty start bar and system tray and clock, etc... try crashing it and see for yourself. I got my hands on LiteStep (LS). The homepage, litestep.net, is currently down or else I'd link you. For some good ideas on what it's all about there are many other good webpages, including those about themes themselves. Fortunately you can still acquire the download other places. I run the Omar installer, and though it doesn't particularly matter which you rock, you will need to know especially if you ask for help on a forum!! Omar comes with a sample theme (different installs may be different, don't shoot me if yours isn't exactly the same), called Austerity. It's a really nice theme because it still has a partial Windows feel so you can break yourself into the idea of a new shell without screaming, "I can't find ANYTHING! What the hell is this stuff!" and ripping your hair out.

To get a chance to look at the Austerity theme and see some LS setup (as well as to preview some of the material for my next post), visit my flickr photo page. As you can see, Austerity's start bar is made rather pointless by the standard LS replacement-- the right click. Right clicking on the desktop pulls out a comprehensive menu through which you can access..well.. a lot! I had a theme once that accessed my mp3 folder directly so I could browse all my songs. That got a little out of hand.

Now, once you get used the feel of LS, I don't recommend getting into building your own theme right away unless you're very patient and would like to learn all the scripting (or you're already familiar with it). It's much easier, though frustrating, to download pre-made themes and modify them. For you who feel like jumping in headfirst, there's a handy "how-to" floating around.

Get ready to mod a theme. I've taken the "Blue Heart" theme by Chris Fofiu (most people who make LS themes give absolute permission for everyone to change it around. If litestep.net was up I could tell you to comment on people's themes, too. Either way I still give people their props). Preview.jpg on the flickr site will give you a good idea what it originally looks like on a 1280 resolution (I'm on 1024).

For anyone who wants to follow along, I'll point out a few key programs you might want to check out when you want to start modifying: (they're all free, by the way)

Color Cop becomes handy when you need to match colors when changing them in the display or any kind of color.ini (which pretty much just changes the windows appearance in the properties-display box).

The Gimp ROX MY SOX (pardon my English) when it comes to graphics editing. Though you people with Adobe Photoshop may find the Gimp much different (I've had a testimony that it's tough to learn Gimp if you're used to AP), it's helped me through many problems. It doesn't matter whether you're seriously trying to edit or just roating or changing a few colors, or even if you know NOTHING about what you're doing, this program will help. You'll learn, I promise.

Metapad: You may have noticed if you've glanced around the photos that text editing is a big deal here. Notepad is good but metapad is better. I'm not doing a whole post on it, so go check it out.

Irfanview: A beautiful little program for viewing and semi-editing photos.

Coming soon: Let's hope I can fix the "Blue Heart" theme to suit my liking! Will I fix it or will I go crazy first?