Cursors ROK!

Of all aspects of your GUI that you might modify, probably the single most used items are your cursors. I mean, you are always looking at your pointer (on the screen you smut-head). Among the numerous other features available in Microangelo, you can make cursors from scratch–even animated ones. This is a little collection that I made for my own use. The only one I didn’t make is the spinning cube, which is so cool I could just poo, so I included it. I use the “X” cursor for my main pointer, but I’ve provided alternatives. The “hot spot”, which is the single pixel that is active, is set square in the center of the “X”. This was inspired by the cursors that come with Linux. I couldn’t find anything quite like it for Windows so I made my own.

Guess what colors they come in. Download PokPok’s Cursors to a temporary directory and unzip them to your C:\WINDOWS\Cursors folder. Then use the Mouse applet in the Control Panel to create a new cursor Scheme.

Build Your Own Custom Startup Screen

Make your Windows 9x customizations complete with your own StartUp splash screen in place of the boring old default one. Make it with its very own waving Windows color bar, just like Windows 9x have done for years. You can do it and impress the snot outta your neighbors and countrymen in the process. If you’d like to see what I mean, download PokPok’s personal Splash Screen. Unzip it to the root directory of your Windows 9x partition and reboot. Here’s a taste:

You can do this quite easily with XrX Addbar, a freeware beta utility for combining any bitmap image with a waving color bar. I found that it is best to ignore one part of the instructions. They indicate a required size for the bitmap that I was unable to utilize. This is what I did to create my LOGO.SYS file.

  1. Download the latest version of XrX Addbar to a temporary directory.
  2. Unzip the contents of the file you downloaded to a permanent directory.
  3. The installation is now complete. You may delete the temporary directory along with the ZIP file.
  4. Simply double click the executable to run XrX Addbar.
  5. Use whatever graphic you prefer to generate a 256-color bitmap. Make sure it is sized 320 pixels wide by 240 pixels high, and uses 236 colors (read this) and is “legible” at that size. What I mean is, that it looks good when viewed at full screen at that resolution.
  6. In XrX Addbar, click the Load button and browse to your new graphic file.
  7. Once your graphic is loaded and you’ve chosen whether or not to load the image to Maintain Aspect Ratio and to Leave Room For Bar …
  8. Click OK and then click the Add Bar button. Choose the color combination that suits your fancy and then …
  9. Click the Save As button. Save it by the name LOGO.SYS in the root directory of your Windows 9x partition. If you already have such a file in your root directory, first rename it to LOGO.OLD so that it is not over written.
  10. Reboot and enjoy!

The Shell Game and Other Insanity — All Others

Everything I’ve suggested so far are customizations which once effected will not cause any significant change in your machine’s performance. However, there is an entire class of GUI modifiers that are designed at least partly with the intent of improving your machine’s performance while making wholesale, dramatic changes to how you interact with the operating system. It is arguable at best, that these shell replacements offer any significant performance advantage, but there is no doubt that they have a major impact on your GUI.

Shell replacement programs generally work by replacing Windows Explorer, the default shell for all 32-bit Windows operating systems, with one made by someone else. Often this is done by editing just one line in System.ini in Windows 9x, and by similar methods in Windows 2000. Fortunately, undoing the change is as simple as changing that one line back again.

Considering the incredible sophistication and astoundingly broad range of features made available by Windows Explorer, it isn’t surprising that aftermarket shell replacements can’t match its versatility and power. My experience with shell replacements is limited, but in my opinion DarkStep is the best there is, and yet it simply cannot compare to the power of Windows Explorer in the Windows 98 or 2000 environment. Microsoft have simply done a better job at making a shell for windows. This should come as no surprise. In fact, the surprise is how good DarkStep is at providing an attractive and efficient alternative interface for your operating system. Nevertheless, while I wouldn’t want to hamper a curious mind, I cannot in good conscience recommend shell replacements as a customization. However, if you are just plain curious and you have a computer that isn’t mission critical, by all means, have some fun with your shell.

If you decide to try a shell replacement, talk to Bob Wells over at DarkStep. He is by far the most helpful and best organized proponent of any of the radical shell replacement folks I’ve dealt with. DarkStep is a very nice piece of work, and if you’re up for the work it takes to get it working and then configured for maximum advantage you’ll enjoy working with it. The average user will probably need a little help getting DarkStep set up and configured, so stay in touch with Bob. He’s a top notch guy, very dedicated and an excellent ambassador for the product.

There is one other type of shell replacement that bears mention. Win98Lite was developed out of necessity. Shane Brooks, then a student at a Maryland university, was trying to get Windows 98 to work a little better on his only computer, a 133MHz laptop. He developed a hybrid using some Windows 95 shell components, which allowed Windows 98 to be installed without Internet Explorer, which Microsoft said couldn’t be done. The result is a very stable and quick operating system environment which lacks some of the enhancements built into Windows 98, but still retains others not available in Windows 95. The best of both worlds as it were. Win98Lite doesn’t really qualify as a customization as described in this article as it isn’t primarily directed at personalizing your graphical user interface. However, it is worth a look if you have an older computer that you just can’t afford to upgrade and you’d like to run Windows.

Finally, there is another class of tweaker programs out there that can do some remarkable things. Desktop X and WindowBlinds and similar utilities are programs that must be run at start up. Unfortunately, programs of this type take too great a toll on resources, so I can’t recommend them. They can however, make changes that you would have thought were not possible. With care you can produce some striking themes of your own, very cool stuff. The only versions of these programs with which I have any experience were betas. They were buggy and caused instability in an otherwise rock-steady system. I have absolutely no doubt that they’ve improved a great deal since those days, however they now charge a not-insignificant price for the privilege of using their product. If you’re curious and have a few bucks to burn, have a look at the Object Desktop.

A Brave New World

These customizations should get you started. If you like doing this sort of thing, let your curiosity guide you. There are a bazillion ways to modify, customize and generally tinker with your Windows operating system, this article just scratched the surface. I’ve had a great deal of fun playing with my GUI, and the nice thing is that you need not be a certified nerd, just curious and a little adventurous. I hope you get as much satisfaction from all this as I have.

;~* … PokPok


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