For this second interview of the series “Windows Live and You”, I have talked with Multimedia designer and Messenger skinner, Will Ingles.
mynetx: Nice that you got some minutes to talk with me about Windows Live and You. To get started, please describe yourself and your connection with Windows Live, in one sentence.
Will: Well my name is Will Ingles, I am known in the community for my work in customizing the Messenger user interface with skins.
mynetx: Skins – good word. Is customizing the Messenger interface fun for you? Or a serious business? Or in between?
Will: Well a bit of both really. Originally I started skinning as a hobby so that I could help improve my abilities as a multimedia designer. I was hoping that by working with an established user interface I would be able to gain a deeper understanding as to how the user interprets UI’s.
I never really expected to be doing it for that much mainly because I didn’t think that audience was big enough at the time. But it seems that has changed in recent times so now I do treat it more seriously.
But yeah for the most part there is still the original sense of fun which attracted me to doing it in the first place.
mynetx: To be honest I don’t think you would put that effort into your skins if it was just “work” for you.
What is your favorite feature in Messenger?
Will: My favorite feature in Messenger, and I know a lot of people out there would disagree, would be PhotoShare. Although in its current state it is still a bit tedious to get used to, there is a lot of potential in the feature to make it work more seamlessly with Messenger.
Just the fact that you can have a large preview of an image you want to send is a big step forward. I am looking forward to see what else Microsoft does with this as this is only the first iteration of it.
mynetx: And what could be the next steps in this iteration?
Will: Well, at the moment one of the main complaints of PhotoShare is the fact that you have to have your window maximized to be able to see the larger photos. The next logical step to improving PhotoShare would be adding the ability to zoom into the image, that way you can explore photos with fine detail and not always having to have your window covering the full screen.
Microsoft could also add some integration with some of the social networks where you could select an album you have on your Facebook page and have that display rather than have to load every single image. There are lots of possibilities, that is why I think it’s a feature to keep an eye on in the future.
mynetx: Let’s see what the Windows Live Team improves with PhotoShare in Wave 4! By the way, what is the thing you’d love most to be added in Messenger?
Will: Well seeing as though I am skinner, it would no doubt have to be skins. While Microsoft did kind of ease the need with scenes, it still isn’t really enough. Every person is different and they have different tastes when it comes to how they want a product to look. You can see this when you ask people whether or not they like the look of the new Windows Live Messenger, you will get people who like it and people who hate it. It is impossible to cater for everyone’s tastes, but it would be good if the ability was there for people to make their interface from their own experiences.
Scenes can only offer so much, while skins offer a more rich and immersive user experience. The best example would be with some of the advanced shaped skins which are offered by the Messenger Plus! community, there is no way that scenes could ever take the user experience that far.
What I would love to see would be a community for like what already exists for Windows Media Player, where people are free to make their own plugins and skins without any real restrictions. That would really be great.
mynetx: And do you think this will be added in Windows Live Wave 4?
Will: Sadly its highly unlikely, Microsoft does not really add any high levels of customization in their products because the market for it is really small. People who customize their user interfaces are generally enthusiasts who form a small percentage of their user base. While the demand is starting to increase, it still isn’t enough for Microsoft to make any real effort to add something like this in. Which is sad I think because generally it is the enthusiasts who recommend products to the general public so it isn’t really a good move to ignore them entirely. I suppose the best way to get this feature to become a reality would be to get as many people you know interested in customizing their Messenger and continuously nag Microsoft. Who knows they might give in one day. Until people will just have to settle for what us skinners make.
mynetx: Skins with Messenger Plus!. Or what?
Will: Yes, skins with Messenger Plus! There are the old DLL patching skins but those are becoming more and more rare these days. This is mainly to do with the fact the Patchou has made the skin developing process much much easier with Messenger Plus! and also due to the changes Microsoft made with Messenger 2009 which nearly gave customizers a heart attack.
mynetx: Well, we don’t know the reason for Microsoft switching over to the binary interface format (known as UIB). Mind having a guess nevertheless?
Will: We will never know the real reasoning behind the change, but I like to think it was a performance thing. Messenger 2009 does have a few new visual effects and those would have probably caused the old system some trouble. There were only so many effects you could have happening with the old UI system before you got weird graphical glitches occurring on screen. With Messenger 2009 there isn’t any of these weird glitches happening – at least that I have noticed anyway.
mynetx: Moving away from our focus on Messenger, which feature of other programs / web services do you like most?
Will: One of the things that has caught my attention was the ability to create fan pages on Facebook. I think this is pretty cool because it gives people such as independent artists, designer or even customizers like my self the ability to have a spot on a site with millions of users and be able to grow an audience from it.
It also allows you to interact with the people you want to please the most, your users. Also just how all the web services are beginning to integrate with one another is good to see as well. We are moving away from how things were a few years ago where networks were isolated.
mynetx: And what about the other Windows Live services?
Will: Windows Live Mail is one of the other products that I enjoy using. It’s simple and I can have all my mail accounts in the one place, the integration with the other Windows Live products is a bonus as well.
I haven’t really toyed with things like Movie Maker and Writer but I have seen some of my younger relatives playing with some of these and they seem to enjoy themselves so Microsoft is doing their job.
mynetx: Heh. So if you’re focusing, besides Mail, only on Messenger, are you running it 24/7? Maybe you’ve got kind of a daily routine.
Will: I have Messenger running the majority of the time, even if I am busy doing work. Because of the nature of work I do, there are a lot of times where I ask the opinion of my friends on the particular thing I am working on.
It is always good to see things from someone else’s point of view, it makes you a better designer if you consider as many aspects of a project as possible.
It has gotten to the point where Messenger is part of my daily routine. Just because of the convenience of being able to access anywhere I am. It’s really one of the best forms of communication there is today.
mynetx: I’m sure you’ve got a breaking tip for an “aha” effect. Give me a Messenger tip you consider precious. 🙂
Will: The best tip I can offer is to go through the options menu and file menus in Messenger. There is a lot of functionality there that a lot of people miss. Often I get skin requests to add certain things and what people don’t realize is that it is already all there. You just have to look for it. That, and: ignore any URLs with your email in it. 😛
Seems to be a common trap these days.
mynetx: Or nickname as subdomain, hmm?
Will: Yes hehe, just follow that rule and you should be fine!
mynetx: And finally, what’s the Live-related project you’re currently working on?
Will: At the moment I am currently working a few skin projects. The main one I am working on is a skin called Phunk’n. I created it last year and the response I received from it was really great. I get numerous emails and messages asking me to update it so I finally gave in and decided to update it.
It is probably one of my best designs and I am extremely proud of it. I am also playing with a few ideas here and there for a new original skin design but that won’t come for a while.
mynetx: I’m sure people will like what you create. Do you think?
Will: Well I hope so hehe so far it looks like I have been doing things right.
I find it great that you took the time to talk with me about Windows Live and You. Thanks for your time!
Will: Thanks, it was my pleasure.