The insecure CEO

Published on Monday, May 5, 2008 By Brad Wardell In OS Customization

Jeff Schader, the CEO of his home-based art contracting company "The Skins Factory" has decided to write about me (again).  Now, normally I try not to get involved in this kind of thing. Life is short and all that.  But what Jeff is doing is obnoxious enough that I've decided to do the one thing that I think will stop it: Write about it.

Here's the deal, Jeff will write some post or comment about me that's incredibly vile. When people naturally become outraged about what he's written, he'll edit or remove what he's written leaving just the negative comments and such and then play victim.  He's been doing this on varoius websites for awhile.

This time, however, I'm going to respond to what he's written in such a way that he can't conveniently hide, edit, or delete what he's written.  I'm going to quote it.

Here's what he wrote with my comments the unindented part.  This is an article he wrote about my "FUD" with regards to his upcoming product called "Hyperdesk" which allegedly installs themes on a user's computer by patching out digital signing protection on Windows XP (there's no Vista version).  When I have pointed out that patching systme files is problematic, he accuses me of spreading FUD.

Before you read this I should probably explain what the term "FUD" means.

FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. In case some of you are wondering. It is the term for any strategy intended to make a company's customers insecure about future product plans with the purpose of discouraging them from adopting competitors' products. For example, "You can try using X instead of our product, but you may lose all your data."

Right.. Because installing a file filter device driver on people's computers that patches a system file to turn off digital signing protection on data files is just normal for computer software.  In Jeff's universe, unsatisfactory truths are "FUD".  You'd think he'd been asleep for the past 7 years. Uxtheme patching is not suddenly problematic. It's been problematic for 7 years.

It seems we're a hit on Wincustomize these days. We haven't even launched and yet we're on 2 threads over there. I like how their CEO is so sure everything he says is right on the money yet it is all speculation since he doesn't know what our marketing plans are, what content we'll be providing in the days to come, or what our distribution channels are. Must be wonderful to be so pre-cognizant. I don't mind, "I'm calm like a bomb".

Wow. 2 threads are a big deal to him. One thread created by a user asking about it and one me evaluating the business model. Meanwhile, over on his personal page on dA, he's written about how evil I am countless times. Except, of course, he keeps deleting the journal entries once he cools off and realizes that insulting and flaming people for no apparent reason makes it harder to pretend to be the victim.

For those of you who know what I'm talking about, go ahead and check out his dA page, the various nasty articles (and his even nastier comments) disappear - including the one I'm replying to here.

So if you read the thread "Some Thoughts on Hyperdesk" [link] , allow me to cut through his what is clearly one man’s attempt to act like he’s in the know, when he’s really not.

Pointing out the problems with XP uxtheme.dll patching isn't "FUD". It's called history. There's no uncertainty involved. Ask a Style XP customer how that's working for them. It patches system files too. Doesn't work anymroe though.

0. "I think Jeff knows it's doomed" I think it shows incredible nerve for Brad Wardell to speak for me. We have worked non-stop on this project for a really long time. For him to act like he knows what i'm thinking should show everyone how threatened Stardock truly feels about us. I think Hyperdesk is going to own. I think for a fledgling product its going to impress people out of the gate. Remember, this is our first product and version 1 and it still looks better than anything coming out of Michigan. We're damn good at what we do. No, we're not doomed. We've only just begun.

For a guy who hasn't actually released anything and whose first promoted product uses content created by one of our guys, he's pretty uppity.

00. According to Stardock Vista makes up only 25% of their traffic. We keep getting questioned why would we launch with an XP version and not Vista. XP is what we use mostly and was much more documented than Vista is, meaning we could come to market with XP quicker and then follow up with Vista. If 3/4 quarters of traffic is Windows XP at Wincustomize, I would much rather cater initially to the majority than to a minority. We WILL be theming Vista. To explain how serious i am about skinning Vista, i just ordered last week a 24" iMac to run Vista on. So yes we're not morons, we are going to theme the new OS.

Rationalization that his first release is based on 8-year old technology and can only run on XP.  Which is ironic since it would only require patching 2 more files to get Vista going.

000. One of the people over at the Wincustomize forums (Leo the Lion) has been one of the few people who sees past the bs. He got into a converation with the frog about piracy. Yes we have DRM. You'll need an activation key for the pay themes. Will that really stop people from taking the assets once they've installed it? No. I expect to be pirated. It's the nature of the business. They won't be able to use the hyperdesk app but yes they will be able to take the elements separately. I also believe that if it ends up on a pirate site that most likely the people downloading the stolen themes weren't really going to buy them in the first place. I've included the raw pngs and icon files in the Extra folders of all the hypersuites. Why because i want people to have access to them so they can use them with Rocket Dock or another dock program. We can not secure an msstyles theme or a widget or wmp skin.

I wonder if Disney is aware of their casual attitude to their intellectual property.

We're counting on the fact that our distribution will take us out of the skinning community and to places that have no idea what a bit torrent site looks like. I don't think that visitors to are going to be hunting sites for themes. The frog states that his themes may be available but you would need WB to run it. So what's the difference?

You would need a cracked WindowBlinds to run it. Not nearly as easy to put together.

Its still pay content that users can get for free as long as you have the base software. So i find it hard to see how he's so ahead of the game. The activation key DRM software also provides us a counting mechanism for our affiliates. For example if we end up on a certain hardware company's devices, we would sell them batches of keys at a wholesale price.

1. Yes I did see Stardock Design as a competitor. Now they just look mediocre.

Very classy.

2. Yes, we have a tradition of quality over quantity. I hardly see that as a shortcoming. I'd rather produce 10 outstanding themes over the course of a year than 30 average ones. It because i am so picky and critical with our artists that we have produced quality over these last 7.5 years. So, guilty as charged. Bring on the quality.

You need quality and quantity if you want to get widely distributed.

3. "the presentation of say the Hyperdesk Sony Ericsson skin absolutely blows away the presentation for MyColor themes". Well that's because I spent 3 days working on the layout. See I do every single promo and screenshot you see on TSF and for Hyperdesk, except a couple that Billy did.

That's nice. But not a very scaleable solution.

I also built the Hyperdesk website using base graphics from an outside artist but now it’s a different site all together.

4. "but you'll notice they aren't showing much". Thanks Captain Obvious. It's a teaser. It's not supposed to show a lot, it's supposed to "tease" you.

A teaser is something you do in marketing months before release. Not allegedly days.

5. "It’s no coincidence that their teasers are limited to shots of the media player as the few hints of the actual skins are pretty typical 8+ year old msstyles based tech". In regards to Sony Ericsson, you'll be hard pressed to find a nicer Start Menu on their site no matter what technology they're using.

A static start menu was fine 8 years ago.  He's competing with themes that have animations and dynamic shadows and transparencies. What was that about quality again?


The start button and taskbar are super sleek. So what exactly is "msstyles based tech" and who cares, if the theme looks good. I'll take a Stefanka inspiriat theme over any theme Stardock Design has ever put out. There is only a shot of the mini mode of the wmp and a few icons. Again it's a teaser.

I'm sure there are people who prefer DOS games than today's fancy new "Windows" games too.

As far as DarkMatter goes... who wouldn't show Billy's work on that widget. The only thing you could possibly compare the animations to would be our Alienware Invader wmp skin.

The NBA and NHL media gadgets are better looking than any Media Player that The Skins Factory has put out. That's because Media Player is so limited from a skin point of view.  WMP was great 10 years ago. But it's 2008 now. 

Why wouldn't we want to promote his incredible artwork. The entire theme shines. I’ll do the Pepsi challenge with DarkMatter vs Xenomorph any day of the week. Stardock certainly shows that animated basketball front and center on the MyColors site, but you don't hear anything about that. And if that’s not an attempt of them trying to mimic us, I don’t know what is. Part of what makes us well "us" are the animated skins we've always done for our themes. What do you remember most about Alienware Invader? The WMP skin that has a 500+ intro animation? Wardell makes it sound like we have to resort to showing a media player skin, sorry but its a major part of the theme and that thing simply rocks.

WMP did rock, 10 years ago. Now you can have incredibly cool, fluid, 3D, alpha blended animations on a media player GADGET that also lets you control iTunes, Winamp, WMP, etc.  The Alienware Invader theme was a good theme years ago. But it's primitive by today's standard.

6. Marketing: Suffice it to say that we have a Public Relations company, we're going to be sold on the world's largest media company's website, we're going to be sold on the world's largest ______ (can't tell you that one just yet) but you’ve heard of them.

That will come as a shock to Lexar.

7. "It won't support Vista in 2008" I never said that. I said we're going to start on it with more fervor after launch. Patching Vista in memory is a non-issue; creating themes for it will be harder but not impossible. We'll have a solution for Vista well before 2008 is done and over with. And yes I spoke to someone they know about helping skin Vista and he offered some valuable information.

For a guy who claimed Hyperdesk was going to be out a year ago when it just had to patch uxtheme on XP which it has been done for years and is STILL not released, he sure poo-poos how quick he'll be able to get quality Vista themes out.

8. Wardell talks about the downside to making skins for a specific media player. First Sony Ericsson was a contracted theme. SE wanted a WMP and Winamp skin and you better believe they got one and they look great. The new themes all have widget remotes that run for both WMP and iTunes.

Including widgets that require the user to go out and download and install Yahoo Widgets to run is not a solution.

9. "MyColors doesn't tamper with system files". First off all nothing is getting "tampered" with. The uxtheme.dll gets "turned off" in memory.

This is what happens when non-technical people involve themselves in making software.  Uxtheme.dll gets "turned off" in memory. He said it, not me.

There is no file replacement. And guess what Microsoft doesn't care.

They do care.  And patching files in memory is still patching files in memory.

That's going to be proven really, really soon.

Is "soon" in the Hyperdesk sense? I.e. like "Hypersoon"? Where soon means a year or two?

Don't forget, we had 2 meetings with 2 different sets of people at Microsoft along with 2 of our clients and in both meetings we were given the go ahead by Microsoft. More misinformation being dished out to the public. Also it didn’t stop a certain OEM who is owned by Dell, from signing a yearlong agreement with us initially and it won’t stop them from coming back to us when we have our Vista solution in place.

Who received notification from Microsoft's OEM group that patching files might violate their OEM agreement?

10. "companies with big distribution channels aren't that interested in increasing their "brand awareness". That has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Why do you think Coke or Budweiser pays millions of dollars for Superbowl ads? I can't even believe that was said. If that was the case you would never see a commercial for Toyota, BMW, Miller Lite, Dell, HP. Give me a break.

For a guy working out of his house he sure is quick to start calling other businessmen "stupid".  I look forward to his Coke skin.

11. "These companies won't tolerate support issues from what they bundle". Okay that's just rich. I guess the tons of tech support issues on Stardock's forums don't count. Please. Ask me about the time I lost 2 theme jobs when a division at certain huge software company didn’t want to use Windowblinds because they heard it was too unstable.

They "heard"?  First, Stardock at least has support forums.  Will Hyperdesk? The major msstyles support sites, ThemeXP and Style XP actually removed their forums because they got overwhelmed with support problems. Secondly, WindowBlinds tech comes with every ATI card and has been used by countless companies for years. Blizzard's official World of Warcraft skin uses it. No problems. 

12. Yes I think the Sony Ericsson will do well because they are a well known international brand and the theme looks great. We also kept branding fairly subtle and not over the top.

Subtle because with uxtheme, subtle is your only option.

Do i think Disney branded desktops will sell? You better believe it. This is what "fear, uncertainty and doubt" is all about. He mentions Disney Princess, which should do well if and when we do it, but neglects to mention how other Disney branded desktops would do. What about Pixar? Pooh?, Hanna Montana?, Toy Story?, etc. What about Wall-E.

Except you don't have the rights to any of those.

That is clearly a "sour grapes" thing. What he doesn't mention is Disney chose us over them so now all of a sudden it’s not so good?

Disney is great IP as part of a larger library.  But the demographic for this kind of content is much the same demographic as people who use computers regularly - males ages 18 to 55. Having content for the female demographic is good but having the bulk of your premium content targeting females age 8 to 16 is not a winning solution IMO.

He asks the readers would you want a Cinderella theme? Their "magic" theme is clearly using the Sorcerer's Apprentice hat from Fantasia which is owned by Disney.

Oh, accusations of IP stealing. Very classy.

As a matter of fact we modeled and built icon similar to that when we did's top navigation icons. So let me ask you this… Would you like a Disney branded theme? And for the record we haven't even done a Disney Princess theme. He rambles on and on about how we're only trying to appeal to femailes and we haven't done a single Disney theme that touches on that yet. Man, get your facts straight. He probably saw a thumbnail for Disney Fairies i was using as placeholder when the site got leaked accidentally.

Yes, that's what I was referring to.  For all the whining Jeff does about being picked on by mean ole me, the thing to remember is that he's been hyping hyperdesk for a year to people. If he'd just stick with an actual release date he wouldn't have people picking on him.

Picture this scenario:

Imagine you've been selling cars successfully for years. And then one day this guy, working out of his house, starts claiming he's making an incredible car. And while he's saying this, every other post is insulting and trashing the quality of your cars. After a year of this, is it really surprising if people start saying "hey, where's the beef?"

Put simply, Jeff is the master of whining about being picked on all the while attacking and insulting other people and when shamed he'll delete what he can to cover his tracks or when caught being nasty or making a false claim. 

So in regards to Disney, he apparently thought it was a good idea at the time when he flew 2 people out to meet them. (Smile)" src="//" alt="" width="15" height="15" /> So what's the bottom line really? The equation reads like this... Take the world's biggest media company and partner them with a company that strives to only produce quality and has proved that on numerous occasions and what do you to have? You get some awesome looking themes. I love Disney. I’ll be proud to create a Disney Princess theme. Maybe the male demographic won’t buy it for themselves but they might for their daughters. I know I would and I’m about to have one in 3 months. You better believe when she’s old enough she’s going to be surrounded by Disney everything. Her room is all ready being done in Classic Pooh. What about Mothers? Do people not believe if they see this beautiful Disney Princess or Disney Fairies theme they wouldn't buy that for their daughter? And let's be real, if we partner with Disney, do you really think these themes won't end up on I mean come on. We're not just some company licensing Disney brands, we're a Disney vendor. When you go to and see those icons on the top navigation, we did that. When you go to their online music store, we designed that too.

Pride and hubris don't pay the bills. I still think Disney IP is extremely valuable -- as part of a larger library of content.

13. FYI: Something you probably didn’t know… DarkMatter was supposed to be for Alienware and Vista funny enough.

Yep. It's notable that it's not anymore.

14. About being “bad at business”: Well we've been an art services company, we haven't been selling products, so I would expect them to make more revenue as they sell games and software. Talk to us 2 years from now. But this isn't a race to see who makes the most money. It's about quality, and I would rather make less money and be proud of what we're doing then to make a ton of money on work that looks average and is ridiculously priced.

Google's a service too. They seem to be doing okay.

You've had 8 years to build a studio and you're still just a guy, working out of his house contracting artists over the Internet - many of whom you found from our site.  For a guy who still hasn't actually managed to release anything on their year late project, it's pretty amazing that he'd attack our quality. Why not just put up a screenshot of your fantastic work then?

One of the amazing things is that Jeff complains about "FUD" and such when there's no such FUD involved. No one has put down his art or even his overall product. He has merely gotten criticized for patching system files.  I don't think he realizes how dishonest he comes across when he downplays the fact that he is freaking patching Windows system files to turn off digital signature protection. Saying it does this in memory doesn't somehow make better.  Techies don't care if something patches system files. But he's targeting casual users and they won't have a clue as to how to recover when the patching fails after an update.

I was talking to Rafael (the developer of the Vista uxtheme patches) today and he'd tell you the same thing I'd tell you. Yes, patching uxtheme is fine if you're a techie user not afraid to restage your computer if all blows up. But in a product that is being targeted towards casual users?  At best, he's ignorant of the issues with patching system files. At worst, he's being unscrupulous.

15: About marketing: We haven't begun marketing yet. We haven't even launched yet. Soon as the site is coded and we're all in position then we're doing real PR with the company that has done PR for Alienware and now does it for TigerDirect. To make a comment like "I think I began to think Hyperdesk was doomed when I started seeing Jeff personally making multiple "teaser" posts on WinMatrix" is ridiculous. That's called having fun and teasing the community we've been a part of forever. That in no way constitutes any part of the real marketing campaign. It's not even marketing; it's showing the community first before we show the world. It's like you guys know a secret before everyone else does. People were also requesting shots of some of the work, which is why I created the teasers in the first place. We weren't going to show anything until the actual launch.

PR is only a piece of marketing. Spamming forums is not marketing.

Any one who doubts our ability to distribute products apparently underestimates the type of industry relationships we have in place. For example if you go here to Microsoft's and look on the page you'll see our xbox WMP skin. That's on the front page of their media portal: [link] If you click the text Xbox or Batman you are taken to our site. We're also on their download page.

So is WinCustomize incidentally. If you count getting linked to as "distribution" then I really have nothing to add.

16. And finally: "But I don't think Hyperdesk is going to succeed." If we're not a threat, than why spend so much time acting like he knows what we're going to do and making long winded posts and threads about it and just concentrate on their stuff?

I also write very long articles on beekeeping too. Do I feel threatened by beekeepers?

I mean the guy runs a successful software and game publishing company. Surely he has better things to do besides posts long threads and responses.

I also spend immense amounts of time debating politics too and countless other things. If I'm interested in something, I write about it.

If I didn't think something was a threat, It would be persona non grata. Unfortunately we need to respond to counteract the untruths being spread. I believe he's worried when we come out his MyColor themes will look more like what they actually are... overprice and lacking quality - see how easy it is to speculate?

Unfortunately for you, eventually people will be able to actually use and compare what you make rather than take your word that you "rulez" and that we "suckz".

I believe, he's worried that when we do come up with a Vista solution that he's no longer the only game in town and on top of that, they can't compete in terms of artistic quality.

Yea, those 8 year old msstyles and WMP skins are really intimidating. Not to mention, Stardock has never been "the only game in town". There was TGT Soft and other companies doing this kind of thing for years.

Incidentally, in all our discussions, I've never insulted the art contractors who work at The Skins Factory. And yet, time after time, Jeff insults our coders, our software, and our artists.  You know Jeff,  when you actually ship your vaporous product, people will be able to compare the two.

Because of your claims, you have essentially ensured that people will be posting head to head screenshots and I feel pretty confident about our content. We may not spend 3 days to make the website to hype up the content but the actual themes are pretty damn good.

I know he was worried about TGT coming out with a Vista solution because he specifically told me that in an email.

Yes. That's because TGT Soft is a competitor to our most significant desktop enhancement. Hyperdesk, by contrast, is not. Someone buying a Disney theme may also want to buy an NHL theme. Content doesn't compete against content. The pre-packaged theme market, by contrast, is something new and even there, if you're selling themes then 200 > 2.

Because we all know when you're on top, the only place you can go is down. Allow me to show you the way Brad. It would be my pleasure.

Okay, I'm going to be petty for just a moment. Bear with me...

In 2000, Stardock was about a half dozen people working in a tiny office making around $1 million a year.

In 2000, The Skins Factory, was 1 guy working out of his house. 

In 2008, Stardock is over 60 people in a 20,000 square foot office making $20 million. According to CNET, it has 7 of the 10 most popular desktop enhancements.  It provides the default animated wallpaper content for Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate. Its websites get millions of visitors a month.  It has the top selling, highest rated PC strategy game of 2008 so far at retail (Sins of a Solar Empire). The highest rated expansion pack for a PC game of all time was made by Stardock last year. Most of the major PC makers are working with Stardock on a variety of projects. It is a gold certified partner for Microsoft.  It has released a successful mass-market skinning solution that is available today, has almost 200 themes either already available for it or soon to be out from major IP holders with promotions from the IP holders directly.

In 2008, The Skins Factory is still 1 guy working out of his house with some contractors he talks to over the Internet. He still grosses less than $1 million and is over a year late on producing a MyColors clone that is based on 10 year old technology that he has no control over. His portfolio is largely unchanged over the past few years with new work mostly coming in the form of making icons and gadgets.

Not to be snobby but The Skins Factory is not even a blip. My interest in it is purely from my hobbyist perspective - i.e. my personal interest in this area. Professionally, it's a non-issue. 

Skinning is a passion of mine. I love talking about it. If Jeff wants to think that I'm talking about his program out of "fear" then hey, good for him. MyColors represents about 5% of our revenue. Stardock grows at over 40% per year. So if MyColors died tomorrow due to Jeff, it would slow our growth to only 35% a year (worst case). So you can be the judge as to whether I'm motivated to write by fear or simple interest in the topic.

We've also been in discussions about creating a theming engine not so different from Windowblinds so as to give our clients and our users dual ways to theme Windows. We figure we could have a solution in place within 6 months. It won't be as robust as Windowblinds but my goal would be stability over customization. I think you could have both. Wouldn't that be interesting?

For a guy who STILL hasn't managed to release a uxtheme patching XP theme manager he's got hoop dreams.  WindowBlinds has both stability and customization today.

The Hyperdesk you will see soon, is the first phase of what's going to be a product that grows and grows in all different directions.