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Fugly Friday - skins and themes can make anything ugly


We love customization around here. Computers would be a sad, sterile place without being able to alter, to any degree, your workspace. Applications often provide "skins" for various reasons (usually just for fun). But the skins that provide a cool theme can also turn a workspace ugly in a hurry. In this case beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. Just as with clothes, there are plenty of skins out there I wouldn't put on my download queue, let alone my apps.

I'm going to leave full-on OS mods alone this round (with one notable exception of abandonware below). I'm sure everyone is familiar with WindowBlinds, etc.

Windows Media Player
The default UI is pretty bland, so MS has an enormous well of skins to choose from. I'm not sure what percentage of skins are marketing tools, but it looks like a pretty good number. Still, the sheer variety from amazing to totally fugly is staggering.

Coolplayer
There's definitely something to be said for bland, because Coolplayer's default skin is hideous. Red, orange and moldy tomato are not good color choices, nor is the wacky text layout which you should simply glance at for info. Lucky the thing is a nice player, I guess. I could keep listing music players with skins, but I'll leave them alone. Once you open that door, any kid with Paint can come along and thrash your look and feel. Maybe that's why OS X makes it so hard to radically change the look?

Kaleidescope
Speaking of Mac OS, this classic Mac OS goodie was a favorite of mine back in the pre-OS X days. There was an amazing variety of themes, and while I don't want to dwell on OS mods, I think Kaleidescope is a good example of the variety of artistry you find whenever customization is allowed. Still, while I love Masashi Ichikawa's work, I don't think I'd take a business client seriously if I saw their OS looking like KidPaint.

Firefox
Well, of course! Not only does FF let you customize the look, you can extend the functionality of the browser with add-ons, which also alters the look and feel. Version 3 of Firefox changed things a bit, but Mashable did a nice piece last year featuring the top 20 themes still compatible with v.3. I tend to use the default, as Foxlite (its name) works very well and keeps RAM issues to a minimum.

Skins



Judging from the comments we're getting so far, it sounds like "themes" for some apps would actually be welcome. QuarkXpress, Audacity and Office (2007 seems to be a love/hate thing) come immediately to mind... And perhaps that's why some apps are just hacked to look like something else. GImpshop makes the quite fugly-GIMP look a lot like Photoshop (not the most current version, but the layout is a welcome relief from Gimp's palette-and-window barf-a-thon). Sure, Blender allows you to completely redesign the interface, but the keyboard shortcuts and workflow remains untouched. And you can make Firefox look like IE7, but you won't get ActiveX controls to work on a Mac.

With any of these things, there's the tradeoff for looks vs. performance. They are called "skins" because the beauty rarely extends further than the presentation layer. Themes for browsers don't apply the power tools that add-ons or plug-ins do, either. But if you want to make your machine look bad in a hurry, skin it up indiscriminately.

I had a hard time narrowing my search and so I've intentionally left out a huge range of customizations out there that turn something nice into something horrific. Please dish in the comments!

Tags: customization, fuglyfriday, mods, skins, themes

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