Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theme Up!

With the dawn of the last decade, user-centered design and end-user customization of literally every fragment of an application (web, client or phone) has taken a quantum leap. It has virtually become quintessential to have multiple ways of allowing end users to customize their experience with the software. With the advent of graphics cards and graphics accelerated hardware, pixels literally lit up, giving a whole new dimension to user experience and enabling creation of stunning user interfaces.
Abstraction, which is the dominantly prevailing concept, in every software methodology or framework today, impacted the design process as well, and what once was limited to selection of colors, got somewhat abstracted to selection of themes, even though the underlying idea was to only change the colors and at times, background graphics.
For business application (smart client or desktop) developers, the change was almost forced by popular applications like browsers, instant messaging tools and utility applications. It was amusing to note that even Antivirus applications themed their UI to better present their functionalities. The nail was hit by Microsoft’s Office suite v2007, when Office applications allowed users to select a theme for its UI.
Office 2007 themes
Once Office themed up, jinx, if any, that existed, preventing business apps from looking attractive was broken. It almost made it conventional for business applications to expose sleek interface that enabled innovative user experiences, irrespective of the type of application. Also, it enabled data entry applications to look far less tedious and cumbersome; a snap from them Dynamics CRM follows.
 Dynamics CRM data entry
The following is a list of some popular applications along with the associated resources to theme them. The list was never meant to be exhaustive, besides care has been exercised not to list untrusted sites to the extent possible.
Disclaimer: Users are informed to exercise caution before downloading third party extensions, themes and similar add-ons from untrusted sources.
  • Windows 7 – Prior to Windows 7, Microsoft didn’t provide an active support for themes to the earlier versions of Windows, primarily XP (and yes I almost forgot there was Vista too). The support was mostly commercial in nature from vendors, mostly Microsoft Partners. With Windows 7, a change in strategy implied better and newer themes for end-users thanks to the Themes gallery.
  • Visual Studio 2010 – Having a brand new code editor and huge chunks of it’s codebase in WPF enabled the extension developers of Visual Studio 2010 to incorporate themes into the most popular (I don’t care if you disagree) IDE of all times. Visual Studio color theme editor comes in with pre-defined themes and allows you to customize or create new themes.
  • Mozilla Firefox – The leading (again who cares if you disagree) open source browser incorporated and provided themes right from its early versions and an active community meant Firefox users never faced any scarcities in terms of themes. However, with Personas, a graduated project of Mozilla Labs, themes became lighter and somewhat better.
  • Twitter clients – The ever expanding universe of twitter clients is more of an amusing for me considering the fact that twitter is just slightly older than a toddler. Seesmic Desktop and MetroTwit surely standup for a mention with theme enabled sleek user interface.
  • Mobile Phone Themes: I regularly use themes from Zedge for my Nokia phone (5800 XpressMusic), and have found some certificate issues with the themes they list. Hence, exercise your judicious half before installing or even downloading any themes on your mobile phones.
  • WPF applications: As a WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) developer, a good collection of themes is available from Codeplex.
  • Blogger themes: If you are like me and are overly uninterested by the default themes provided by blogger you may visit bTemplates for refreshing and mostly free blogger templates/themes.
  • Website themes: Looking for free website themes for general usage? Try OSWD.

The above mentioned are just some of the common popular apps that enable you to theme up the experience.

To conclude, I would like to mention some apps that I wish had themes, the sooner the better:

  • Internet Explorer – The most arrogant software ever sent to production tops my wish list for theme enabled apps. When the entire world embraced tabbed browsing, MS IE was arrogant enough to wait until v7 with undoubtedly the slowest implementation of tab switching. Continuing with its tradition, even now, with v8, it’s incapable of providing a simple downloads management snap-in. Microsoft has time and again ended up being complacent and literally handed over its market share to its competitors.
  • SQL Server Management Studio – Like every other Microsoft technology enthusiast, the legitimate next step with Management Studio seems to be a T-SQL IDE based on WPF and then following up with themes. Awaiting SQL Server 2012 may be (who knows?). There surely wouldn’t be Office 2013, so SQL Server 2013 seems unlikely too.

Please feel free to enlist any application that you use which already provides support for themes or should provide them at the earliest!

The list above only limits to the applications I use to ease out my work/good life.

Theme Up!


  1. Nice post.

    Wordpress,Typepad,.......can be added to the list I believe.

    BTW this blog's theme u have created is great..

  2. @Sankarsan: Thank you very much. The theme was essentially modified and then thanks to Blogger which allows endless customisation, was able to put it to place that sufficed my current needs.

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