UPDATE: As some commenters have pointed out certain antivirus applications are flagging this application as containing a trojan. My antivirus, NOD32, did not find any virus though. So it’s up to you whether you want to proceed.
We’ve seen all kinds of Aero glass emulators for XP cross our path. The problem is that the moment they start to show any potential the developers fall off the map and updates are pretty much non-existent. A few weeks ago when I saw one called Border Skin over at Lifehacker I put off trying it because, frankly, I was sick of being disappointed.
Man, I have to say that I’m sorry I didn’t try this sooner. First off, it’s portable so there’s no installation involved. Just download, extract, and run. The settings are self-contained in the directory you run it from so there’s not a bunch of random files you need to worry about finding should you decide to delete it.
Second, it looks remarkable. You can turn the blur effect on or off, there are about 15 different colored themes you can choose from (the one pictured above is the Windows 7 style), and overall it just feels like it’s part of the operating system. Over the last few days I’ve been using this full-time on one of my XP machines, and there have been very few times that it even crossed my mind that this wasn’t an integrated part of the operating system. It’s that fluid.
Lastly, performance. This thing performed so well on my XP laptop that it got me wondering what it would be like on a low-end piece of hardware. I don’t have any old computers lying around, but then I realized that throwing it in a virtual machine would be a really good test considering that Aero glass on Vista or Windows 7 isn’t available in any virtual environment due to graphics restrictions. So I put it on an XP virtual machine with 512MB of RAM, enabled all the effects including blurring, and then took the screenshot you see above. It all worked amazingly well even on a virtual machine with limited resources. The only issues I saw was some slight jumping if I’d drag the windows around really fast, and when closing a window the border would remain visible for about a half a second after the app closed. Definitely not a deal breaker, and these results were much less noticeable on my dedicated machine.
It also got me wondering what it does with “borderless” windows such as Google Chrome. Good news… it does nothing! I was worried that it may add a border around those applications regardless of whether they need one or not, but it doesn’t. This is because it has an “exclude list” file that can be used to specify windows that shouldn’t be skinned. Common apps like Chrome and Windows Live Messenger are already in this list for you.
So a big thanks to the developer for coming up with an awesome solution, and I can’t wait to see what else will be added in future versions! This is already the most complete Aero glass emulator for Windows XP that I’ve used, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Border Skin Homepage (Windows only; 32-bit only; freeware)