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Attention Support People: "Skins" Cause Problems RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • I just had the pleasure (NOT!) of investigating a problem report against one of my Windows products.  Specifically, the user interface was not displaying properly when a particular "skin", made by Stardock for the new HP Envy model and managed by the MyColors application, was in use.

    Basically this "skin" alters the look and feel of windows and common controls.  More than a theme, it actually makes the windows look different than anything that can be selected through the Windows control panels.  More importantly, it alters the way they work at the event level.

    I don't claim to understand the implementation of such a skin, but it's clear it's got its hooks into virtually every part of the user interface, from adding borders and nonsensical buttons to running a service all the time just to "help" with constantly revising the user interface.

    I do know this:  It causes problems!  Users might be reporting any number of flaky things and blaming them on Windows, when in fact it's a "skin" like this that's messing things up. 

    Just in the few hours it took me to find a workaround to the problem reported with my own app, I noticed these things about the StarDock "Envy" skin:

    • It mismanages the window and client area sizes. The most obvious problems with this are that things like the resizing cursor appearing off the edge of the window, and that an application (especially an older one) may not properly fit its data in the client area of the window.
    • It slows the system down a good bit.
    • The cursor occasionally jumps from where you're at to another place entirely (often the top of the window).
    • The cursor sometimes disappears.
    • I saw the video driver stop working and restart at least twice. 
    • The "skin" adds a non-functional X button to the top-right of dialog windows that do not support that control.
    • It overwrites title bar text with icons or other text occasionally.

    By the time I had found and fixed the problem (less than one day), my user reported that after taking my advice and trying the standard Windows 7 Aero theme, he greatly preferred it because the computer just ran better and he would not be switching back to the Envy "skin".

    I can't believe HP would choose to include something at this level of quality on their new computers!

    Anyway, something we don't often think to suggest to people having miscellaneous UI problems is to disable any "skin" they may have on their system and use one of the standard Windows themes.

    Here's more info on the HP Envy "skin":  http://www.stardock.com/products/mycolors/amdgame/press.asp?d=&id=1366

    -Noel

    Thursday, December 24, 2009 9:16 PM