DesktopX 3 Quick Tour

Published on Saturday, March 5, 2005 By Brad Wardell In DesktopX

Quick recap: DesktopX is a program designed to extend Microsoft Windows to support additional content. By default, only one thing sits on your desktop - icons.  DesktopX lets people add desktop objects (think "super icons"), widgets (mini-programs that sit on your desktop), or build entirely new desktops (.desktop) files.

DesktopX 3 is designed to make doing all this easier than ever and adds a ton of new features. Moreover, DesktopX Pro supports creating stand-alone programs called "gadgets". So now you can take your creations, export them as a gadget and give them to anyone running Windows 2000 or XP (and soon Longhorn).

Here's a quick tour of what DesktopX 3 brings..

The most obvious change will be immediate. This is the new DesktopX interface. Users will be able to pick what they want to do from the start.


For users who just want to run widgets, DesktopX 3 includes a simple system tray program that lets users manage their widgets. DesktopX widgets don't require any sort of "environment" to be already running (once DesktopX is installed you can just run widgets like programs). But this tiny program lets you manage your widgets really conveniently.


The second option is the "Load object" option. Desktop objects are similar to widgets except they all run together in a single environment saving memory. As a result, they are primarily used as "super icons".

(loading some desktop objects onto my desktop)


The third option, "Load Desktop" is for people who want to load an alternative desktop (like the one below). 

So up to this point, these are the things you will be able to do with DesktopX Client (the $14.95 Run-Time). It also comes with Object Desktop. 

But if you want to edit or create your own content, that's where DesktopX 3 Standard comes in ($24.95). That's where the 4th option comes: "Create".

The DesktopX Builder is the environment for creating objects, widgets, and desktops. It's also needed for modifying existing content. So unless all the content you download is exactly as you want it, you'll still want the standard version of DesktopX. DesktopX 3 Standard will also come with Object Desktop.

It is DesktopX Builder that users can create new objects and widgets and desktops that they can share with others.

Because DesktopX Builder is separate from the end user portions, it is a much simpler experience for the developer. They can focus purely on the development aspects. The settings they put in become part of the theme itself.

When a user is done, they can export an individual object (.dxpack), widget (.exe) , or an entire desktop (.desktop) for others to use.

And lastly, if you have DesktopX Pro, you get an additional export option: Export as a gadget.

Stardock will be launching this Spring to enable developers to submit their gadgets.  The developer chooses the price they want to sell them at (or give them away for free) and once it passes moderation it becomes available with and the developer splitting the proceeds.

Now, all that you see here so far are just the user experience differences.  There has been tons of code changes to DesktopX.

Here are some more highlights that long time DesktopX users can appreciate:

  • UI Threading. The biggest engine change is that DesktopX 3 scripts are synchronized with the user interface. That means when something is done in the script, DesktopX acts on it immediately. This eliminates the timing headaches many widget developers ran into and allows for real-time widget behaviors.

  • Centralized scripts. In DesktopX 2, each object that made up a widget had to have scripting associated with that particular object. That could make things quite complicated to developer.  Developers can still choose to do this, but now developers can do the whole thing from a single script. That includes creating objects, deleting objects, handling callbacks for other objects, etc.

  • On-The-Fly states. DesktopX 3 allows for new states to be added to other objects from a remote script and be handled from that same remote script.

  • Custom Preference Dialogs.  Developers can now add a preferences page to a widgets properties dialog for their own settings.

  • Third party DesktopX API extensions.  Developers can create plugins that add new APIs that are accessible from scripts. So if there is some feature we didn't think of, developers can fill in those gaps. No other program of this type can do this.

  • New options for text handling (word-wrap for instance).

  • Clipboard control from script. This is actually a pretty big deal. Many "widgets" look neat but can't interact with the system clipboard. Now it'll be easy for developers to put clipboard support into their widgets.

  • API wrapping. Stardock is working to make all the relevant Windows APIs available via script. Not all of this will be in 3.0 but the start of it will be.

These things may sound a bit "techie" but they will allow for much far-reaching content.  The goal of DesktopX 3 is to make widgets much more mainstream and to deliver widgets that are more than a collection of desktop toys. There are all kinds of very useful, innovative things waiting to be made but the widget enabling programs have to support them. DesktopX 3 will be the most powerful environment for this kind of thing.

We will also be working on the new .desktop format that will support better system tray support (through a new, improved MCP) and 64bit support as soon as we can.

DesktopX 3's home page is Release date: March 15.