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Skins and skinnables (Gatchaman and other)





What is a skinnable?

It is a computer program that allows users to enhance its interface by importing their own art/scripts.

What is a skin?

It is the file or collection of files loaded into a skinnable to change its appearance. (A skin made to alter the appearance of a whole operating system is more commonly called theme.)

What kinds of programs are skinnable?

WinAmp probably wasn't the first ever program to be skinnable, but it's the most well-known. A webpage heading "WinAmp skins" was my first, cryptic encounter with the skinning phenomenon. Since I've never been interested in MP3s and consequently never had a reason to install WinAmp, it remained cryptic for a long time. My second encounter was Windows 95 and its themes (yes, I clung onto Windows 3.11 until well into the WinAmp era) and the third, a funny little program called XXCalc, which sat in the Menu bar for a long time being funny and doing nothing else. The first skinnable I ever had an actual use for was NotePad Pro, followed by kewlpÄd.

Possibly because of WinAmp's success, less frivolous applications like browsers and archive managers also began to leave elements to the user's creativity, ranging from a single skinnable toolbar to a complete set of controls; but skinning is still mostly connected with MP3 players.

How many skins and skinnables are there, and where can I get them?

In all, there are currently more skins and skinnables than anyone could shake any number of sticks at. For a long list of skinnable applications (and a huge archive of skins) see skinnables.org (so far, ad-free) and Skinbase, which requests a login membership for uploads, although I'm not sure about downloads. Both have links to other sites (on Skinbase, scroll down and look for a column to the right headed "Partners"). A third general art site that has skins is DeviantArt (under "Customization") which does have ads, of which visitors will be rid after subscribing. So far the subscriptions are free, but those sites will probably turn into paysites at some time in the future. Anyway, I'm personally not too fond of sites I have to become a "member" of. There are a number of other skin sites, some of them already at the donations stage, but for the purpose of this page, these three will do.

My own meagre contribution to the world of skinning (which for copyright reasons I couldn't upload to a public archive anyway):

Except for PowerArchiver (as of version 7), these programs are free. Unfortunately, they're all for Micro$oft Windoze 9xx, although the MaciGame port was written for Windows 3.xx, and Zinf also has a Linux version. I hope to pay more attention to other OSes in the future.

Before I show off my efforts, I would like to stress once again that the characters/logos/other copyrighted stuff are the property of their creators (Galactor belongs to Tatsunoko Studios, Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon, Notepad belongs to Microsoft and Farscape belongs to...?) and that the skins below are free downloads and (mostly) works of fan appreciation, not intended to infringe any copyrights.

And now, on with the skins!

Notepad Pro (version 1.5)

Notepad Pro, not to be confused with Notetab Pro, the other Notepad Pro which is a shareware editor for Windows, and yet another Notepad Pro for the Mac, is still freeware, and now at version 2.91. Its own site is gone, but it can still be found at Softpedia.com (watch out, the big Download buttons will download something else).

This Notepad replacement is NOT RESIZABLE. I stress this because if it was resizable, I couldn't make such fancy skins for it. It also has a number of neat features, of which the following deserve attention: it creates PDF files, is multilingual (the Dutch translation is ugly, though) and has a setting to capture keyboard input, i.e. I can type in it while another window is active. A Notepad Pro skin consists of: a background; four buttons (Menu, Close, Minimize, WinAmp - yes, it can be used to control WinAmp if that program is installed); a text area and a font colour. The font type can be altered via "Options" in the menu summoned by the Menu button; this is also where skins can be loaded. A little extra; a skin author can include a personal logo. For this I created "Floppy", the kind of nondescript cute furry thing that finds its way into children's anime shows.

Notepad Pro requires VB runtimes; if it fails to work, surf for RICHTX32.ZIP and unzip its contents into the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM directory. (The files may also need to be "registered", although on my system this was unnecessary.) The transparency setting doesn't work under W95. When installed, the program creates a "Skins" subdirectory with some 11 or so skins and a skinning tutorial. Right-clicking brings up the menu of editing actions (Copy, Paste, Undo etc.)

The first Notepad Pro skin I made uses the "Emerald" frame in Paint Shop Pro 7, a very lovely frame that I was dying to put to some use.

Download

Another that offers the writing space I'm used to and doesn't look so conspicuous at work is the Pseudo-Notepad skin, where the menu items are duds and the real controls light up when the mouse hovers over them.

Download

The Berg Katze skin offers virtually no writing space and was made mainly for the character's reaction when the mouse hovers over "button" areas (I'll leave it to the user to find out which "button" does what).

Download

The same applies to the Galactor no Onna Taicho skin, which has the right dimensions for typing out shopping lists, but is otherwise large, ungainly and mainly decorative (and may take some time to load).

Download

Finally, a fanart skin that also offers room to type; an axe-bearing Buffy and her friends (well, two of them are).

Download

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kewlpÄd (version 1.3)

This Notepad replacement IS resizable. This considerably limits skinning scope, so when I first downloaded it, there weren't many skins for it yet. (There are now, but its own site has disappeared, and I've no idea what its current version is.) It does offer more components for skinning, though; not only the editing window but also the cursor, scrollbar and right-click menu. The skin settings file allows font type and size to be set. A skinning tutorial is included, and skins can be loaded from the right-click menu (which can't be dragged, but is moved by right-clicking elsewhere in the window) via "Preferences".

This editor was written to edit HTML pages, and this page has been composed with it. Its resizability makes it comfortable to work with. It kindly tells me what row and column my cursor is on, how long I've been typing and whether Insert and Capslock are on or off. It also has an option to show a spinning .SWF file, but this file I've had to move to another directory, because for some reason no window is displayed otherwise. Like Notepad Pro it needs VB runtimes. These files, in case the user doesn't have them yet, are included in the older kewlpÄd 1.1 download.

"Galactor Rules" - my first kewlpÄd skin. There seems to be a problem with the cursor; it's meant to be yellow, but in kewlpÄd it shows up as white. I suspect that to be a bug in the editor.

Download

Since this is such a handy editor, there had to be a way to disguise it as NotePad for use in the office. And there was. (The top and bottom bars are a giveaway, but one of them can be turned off.)

Download

The same in seven shades of colour (which is why I count them all as one skin) for people who like to play with their Windows colour settings (click on the pic to download):



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XXCalc and XXCalc Advanced

These two used to have their own site, but are also available from
skinnables.org. XXCalc is, gosh, a calculator and there's not much to explain about how it works, although it is not immediately obvious how to load a new skin: right-click anywhere on the calculator and choose "About and load skin". XXCalc has an exit button and a minimize button, XXCalc Advanced has these two plus a third button that expands the calculator and adds a few buttons. Although this third mode-switching button suggests that XXCalc Advanced is backwards compatible with its older version, skins for the one can't be loaded in the other.

Unzipping XXCalc Advanced results in two XXCALC.EXE files, one in "XXCalc Advanced" and one in the root directory. I've found that the first (beta 1) doesn't work and the second (beta 1A) only works when moved to the "XXCalc Advanced" directory, so I rename the one and move the other. Users are supposed to put a program shortcut in the menu bar themselves (icon files are supplied for this purpose) and making a skin is a similarly DIY business, with no real tutorial. Fortunately, someone has written a skin editor with which to place the buttons on the background; unfortunately, the website where this skin editor was hosted has now gone. XXCalc Advanced has two skins, one in a skin subdirectory and one in a directory under that, called "Adv"; this means a skin usually contains many files twice, but it also means the calculator's "advanced" mode can be made to look totally different from its "basic" mode.

A Katze skin with billowing cloak, and a big thank-you to the makers of Paint Shop Pro (although I realize this is something most graphics programs can do) for their oh-so-convenient layer manipulation features.

Download XXCalc or XXCalc Advanced skin.

All main Farscape characters united in the calculator buttons.

Download XXCalc or XXCalc Advanced skin.

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PowerArchiver (version 6.11) and UltimateZip

(These archivers were freeware when this page was first created; they are now at much higher versions, shareware, and have probably had all the bugs ironed out.)

These replacements for WinZip figure on the KiSS resources page, where they are "not recommended" because of their not-quite-perfect LZH support; WinZip sensibly leaves that to the DOS executable LHA.EXE, for which it acts as a front-end. As allround archive managers, however, they are excellent alternatives. And unlike WinZip, their icons have been skinnable from the start. PowerArchiver has one long bitmap of 14 icons measuring 32x32 pixels each, residing in the same folder as the main executable; UltimateZip adds a few icons for a total of 19, and has a "Skins" subdirectory. Both come with two skins and offer more skins for download at their main sites, unsurprisingly called www.powerarchiver.com and www.ultimatezip.com. The skins below are the same 14 base images, the Ultimatezip version adding five.

Galactor's zipped secret files:

Download PowerArchiver or UltimateZip skin.

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Zinf (Version 2)

This player was formerly called FreeAmp and can use FreeAmp skins.

This is an MP3/Ogg Vorbis/audio-CD player with the very (to skinners) convenient habit of displaying only as many functions as the skin supplies buttons for; one could perversely make a skin with no Exit button. ^_^ I found it hard to skin, compared with the programs above. Like most skinnable players it comes with a skinning howto and a program MAKETHEME.EXE to zip the skin files (the player can't read ordinary zipfiles); there is a Zinf skin editor called Boroskin, but its page appears to have gone. Pity, I could really have used it!

The files that make up a Zinf skin are not in a subdirectory but compressed into a single archive with the extension "fat" (Zinf Theme, although it's really a zipfile). Consequently, unlike the skins above, this skin doesn't have to be unzipped but can be moved straight to Zinf's Themes subdirectory.

Maskspace, the Katze version of the Windows Media Player skin "Headspace".

Download

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MaciGame for Windows (version 1.30E)

This version of SameGame can be found as USAME.LZH, but I downloaded it via a link on Ang's now disappeared Gatchaman Goodies page as MACIGAME.ZIP, which is the original files plus three Gatchaman/BOTP bitmaps. It is possible to make any number of bitmaps for this game. They sit in the same directory as the main executable and can simply be loaded with "Options|Load bitmap". The text included with the game explains their format: 2 x 5 bitmaps sized 32x32 pixels for the game squares, one 32x32 bitmap for the background and an "empty" bitmap for the artist's name or somesuch. I was delighted to find the game accepts truecolour bitmaps, although, being written for Windows 3, it won't understand long filenames.

These should be unzipped into the SameGame directory.

Diamonds and pearls, in colour and greytones.

Download
colour and greyscale version.

Something Galactor leaders would enjoy: a Gatchaninja bitmap with real looks of alarm on those faces as the tiresome fivesome are clicked away.

Download

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Calenz (version 1.3)

Wrestling with the complexities of Calenz, I found that:
  1. the actual skin is at least three BMP files and an INI file zipped in an archive with extension ".s", while the scheme is an ASCII file that "warps" the skin colours and reassigns the colours of the buttons; labels and editing fields (the ensemble misleadingly called "fonts"),
  2. a visual is a purely optional animation which is beyond my skills to create; indeed, most visuals on www.calenz.com have been created by the maker of this program;
  3. of the skin editors I've worked with for this page, Calenz Designer (version 1.2) is easily the best, but if not installed in C:\Program Files\Calenz, it will complain of a missing unzdll.dll when asked to open a skin, and ignore the file of that name sitting in the Calenz directory; it will also reject BMP files created in Paint Shop Pro 5 as "invalid bitmap", and insist that the ".s" extension of the skin archive is lowercase;
  4. the main window overlays the "About" and "Events" screens, so I can't project these two smaller screens onto the large one (they were supposed to imitate a dialog opening on a laptop screen);
  5. clicking on a date in the past may make Calenz seem to hang, but pressing the Esc key gets you out of the freeze more efficiently than closing and restarting the application after each misdirected click;
  6. the Options window always opens where it was the last time it was closed; if you go back to the initial position - the skins tab, with the current skin highlighted - after making some colour changes with the aim of making a new scheme, and click "OK", the skin is reloaded in its original colours, and it's bye-bye to those tentative new colour settings.
So, it is not without some frustration that I have created to present to you: the Galactor laptop, allowing high executives of the syndicate to keep track of what city will be blown up when. For those who prefer cold colours, click here to download the scheme that turns the laptop bluish-purple with button labels in cyan and violet (unzip the file into Calenz's Schemes subdirectory, and load from the Options dialog). If anyone's curious, the image used is a scan of an Acer Aspire notebook.

Download





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