After creating Windows Sidebar gadgets to replace some missing desktop shortcuts: Computer, Documents, Network and Internet Explorer, in previous editions of the Windows Vista Report Replace Vista's missing Computer desktop icon with a custom gadget on the Windows Sidebar and Create gadgets in Vista to add three desktop icons to the Windows Sidebar, I've had a renewed interest in the Windows Sidebar.
As I focused more of my attention on the Windows Vista Sidebar, I began wishing that I could do more to alter its look and feel — particularly its background. While the Windows Sidebar's transparent gradient shadow background is quite stunning, I really wanted to be able to experiment with changing it. For instance, I wondered what the Windows Sidebar would look like if it had a solid background.
So I began searching around to see if I could find some hidden settings or a set of registry tweaks that would allow me to tweak the look and feel of the Windows Sidebar. Unfortunately, I didn't find any. However, I did find a neat little tool called the Windows Sidebar Styler that would allow me to do what I wanted and much more. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to get and use the Windows Sidebar Styler.
Downloading Windows Sidebar Styler
Windows Sidebar Styler is a FREE program designed by Stanimir Stoyanov, a developer from Bulgaria, who is a developer and an administrator at AeroExpereince a community for Windows enthusiasts. You can download Windows Sidebar Styler from his Web site: Stanimir Stoyanov's Blog. At the time of this writing, the most recent version of Windows Sidebar Styler is 2.0.6 and it was released in August of 2007. Keep in mind that there are separate versions for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista. You must also have the most current rendition of .NET Framework 2.0 installed.
Once you download the installation program, which comes packaged as a MSI file, installing Windows Sidebar Styler is a snap. You just follow the steps presented by the setup wizard and respond with the appropriate action in the User Account Control dialog box.
Running the Windows Sidebar Styler
Once you've installed the Windows Sidebar Styler, you'll need to close the Windows Sidebar before you launch the program. To close the Windows Sidebar, just right click its icon in the Notification area and select the Exit command from the context menu.
You'll find a submenu on the Start | All Programs titled Stanimir Stoyanov. When you launch the Windows Sidebar Styler shortcut, you'll see the programs main interface, as shown in Figure A.
When you launch Windows Sidebar Styler, you'll see the Available Image Resources panel which shows all of the various graphical elements that make up the currently loaded style.
The large scrolling panel on the left is the Available Image Resources panel in which the Windows Sidebar Styler will show you each graphical element that makes up the currently loaded Windows Sidebar. As you select any item from the list, you'll see that item in the preview pane on the right.
The tool panel at the bottom of the window is the main navigational feature of the Windows Sidebar Styler. Figure B shows the toolbar and points out the functions associated with each of the main buttons.
The tool panel at the bottom of the window is the main navigational interface.
Clicking the Load a Windows Sidebar Style button will display the Open dialog box, shown in Figure C, and you can pick one of the eight Sample Styles that come with the program. Once you choose a style, click Open. When you return to the main interface, you can then click the Toggle View button to see a preview of how the style will look on the Windows Sidebar, as shown in Figure D.
The Windows Sidebar Styler comes with eight sample styles.
When you toggle the view, you can see a preview of the style that you have selected.
If you like how the style looks in the preview, you can make it your default Windows Sidebar Style by clicking the Apply Style button. You can then launch the Windows Sidebar by typing Sidebar in the Start Search box, selecting the correct item, and pressing [Enter]. You will then see how your altered Windows Sidebar appears, as shown in Figure E. If you decide that you don't like the style, you can switch back to the default style by clicking the Revert Images to Default button.
When you click the Apply Style button, the selected style is applied to the Windows Sidebar.
Creating your own styles
As you would expect, you can download other prepackaged Windows Sidebar styles on the Internet from sites such as WinCustomize (http://www.wincustomize.com/skins.aspx?libid=66), a site that specializes in skins, wallpapers, themes, and icons for customizing Windows. However, if you are inclined to do so, you can create your Windows Sidebar styles using your favorite graphics editor.
You can use the various images in the Available Image Resources panel as references for each necessary item. As you select each item, you can see its dimensions as well as what it looks like. You can even right click an item preview and save it as a PNG file that you can then modify. Keep in mind that most of the prepackaged Windows Sidebar styles that I've seen so far simply change the background elements and leave all the other elements the same.
In any case, once you create an element, just double click the corresponding item in the Available Image Resources panel and you'll see an Open dialog box. Once you locate the element, that you have created, click the Open button to insert the element into the Available Image Resources panel. Then click the Save Windows Sidebar Style button to save your style. You'll then click the Load a Windows Sidebar Style button and choose your style from the list. Finally, you can click the Apply Style button to make it your default Windows Sidebar Style.
What's your take?
Are you satisfied with the default look and feel of the Windows Sidebar? Now that you know about the Windows Sidebar Styler, will you use it to create your own custom Windows Sidebar styles? If so, please drop by the Discussion area and let us know your experiences.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.