Stardock's CEO talks to us about ShadowFX, his thoughts on Windows 9 and more

Stardock CEO Brad Wardell gives us his opinion on various Windows subjects

Stardock was already a well known developer of Windows utilities and games before the launch of Start8 in 2012, a desktop Start menu for Windows 8 to take the place of the one that Microsoft decided to remove from the OS. While Start8 is not the only Start menu replacement for Windows 8, it turned out to be a massive success for Stardock. Since then the company has released a number of other utilities for Windows 8, including ModernMix, which allows Modern UI apps to run in windowed form on the desktop. Both the Start menu and the ability to run Modern apps on the desktop are slated to be added to the next official version of Windows by Microsoft, code name Threshold.

Stardock's newest Windows8 program, ShadowFX, which adds shadows to desktop windows, launched earlier this week. We got Stardock CEO Brad Wardell to answer a few questions via email about ShadowFX, along with his thoughts on the upcoming Windows 9-Threshold and more.

First, in 2012 Stardock launched the Windows 8 desktop start menu program Start8 and in 2013 the company released ModernMix, which lets Modern UI apps run on the desktop in a window.How successful have those programs been for Stardock?

They've been immensely successful. Start8 is the type of program that really only happens once in a career. We stopped counting downloads at around 30 million earlier this year.

Microsoft has since announced plans to offer a Start menu and a way to run Modern apps on the desktop in the next version of Windows. Do you and Stardock feel validated about Microsoft adding both of the features that the company offers in its third party programs?

Definitely. It just means Microsoft is listening to its customers.

For those folks who may not have heard of the new program. can you give us a general idea of what ShadowFX is all about?

My desktop has 3 monitors with lots and lots of windows. On Windows 8, it gets really fatiguing picking out the active window. That's because Windows 8, unlike Windows 7, doesn't have shadows. It's one of my biggest pet peeves with Windows 8 visually. This wasn't a problem with Windows 7 because each window had its own drop shadow which changed based on what was the active window. As a result, at a glance, you could pick out the active window.

Why do you think Windows 8 users will enjoy downloading and using ShadowFX?

Once you use it, its benefits become really obvious. Even as we're communicating right now, it is just so much nicer having my active window "pop" out of the screen a bit.

Does Stardock have plans to release any Modern UI apps for the Windows Store at some point?

Maybe. It's not compelling enough yet. I want to see what happens with Windows 9.

Microsoft is rumored to launch a public preview of Threshold very soon. Based on your experience, will this new version of Windows be enough of an improvement to help Microsoft end the poor reputation of Windows 8?

I think so. What I'd like to see in Threshold is something like this:

  • Gimme the Start menu back
  • Make modern apps behave similarly to regular Windows apps
  • Get rid of the Charms bar
  • Let me have something like full screen sessions ala the Mac.
  • Gimme DirectX 12

Gimme those 4 things and I'm a happy camper.

The PC industry is now seen to be in a better place than it was a couple of years ago, due to the slow down in tablet sales. Do you feel the PC industry will start growing back again and where do you see Windows evolving to keep up with the current trend?

I don't think we'll ever see the desktop return to the dominance it once had. We're in a multi-polar world, so to speak, where the desktop is just one of the platforms available to users.

Finally, is there anything else Stardock is working on that you would like to plug?

Heh. We're on the verge of a major switch in how we do Object Desktop (our suite of desktop enhancements). We're going to make it available soon as a subscription model ala Office 365. With Windows 9 on the horizon, we think there will be a terrific opportunity for users who want to always be able to enhance their Windows experience now that it's pretty obvious that Stardock tends to be ahead of the curve on where Windows is going.

We would like to thank Brad for answering our questions

Editor's note: The interviewer was previously employed by Neowin, which is 40 percent owned by Stardock.

John Callaham
  • 1st REAL comment: I've never found the lack of shadows in Windows 8/8.1 to be an issue. Now I'm curious. I found the rest of the article to be a regurgitation of what we've already heard about Windows 9.
  • I guess that's the nice thing about being able to customize. At times I have found it hard to see which window is active. I know the border color already shifts, but I may have to give the shadow effect a try and see if it helps.
  • Yep, I always turned off my shadows... Since XP I think.
  • I honestly didn't even notice the lack of shadows until I read this post. Not that I'm unobservant, quite the opposite, but I simply never ever relied upon them to see which windows is active, I always looked at the frame colour. And what can you do, it's the weekend. I'm sure more new Windows (without the 9 (most likely)) will come out next week..
  • Me neither.. the color of the active window should suffice
  • I saw a video published to YouTube that showed windows 9 managing multiple seemingly virtual desktops does anyone know anything about that feature?
  • wow really? the youtube video clearly said it was virtual desktops. and WPcentral, Neowin, Winbeta and everyone already made an article about it. and yes, Windows vnext will have it.....
  • Threshold seems to have the shadows back.
  • it does since they are getting rid of the borders.
  • It's actually quite nice because they're a lot softer. And borderless is pretty slick.
  • Never missed those shaows either. Compared to w7 I find w8 to be so much more pleasing/easy on the eyes on top of being miles ahead in stability and (perceived) speed. I hated on w8 before it was launched, came to grips with it when I tried it and learned to love it when I got in on the Surface Pro. BTW; I don't get the part about "full screen sessions". It seems to be opposed to desire to have apps behave like regular Windos apps ...?
  • I wonder the release of Windows 9 will affect Stardock. I'm pretty sure there will be lots of computers that will still have Win8 preinstalled, thus giving Stardock some more continuous purchase of Start8.
  • Third parties have always thrived on filing gaps the native app\OS\etc. lacks. That's the nature of hitching your business model on another company like that (see also Twitter). These companies will always find gaps to fill and innovate, which is great since sometimes they come up with stuff the original company didn't think of and they'll eventually implement those features natively. Also you have to remember that if you're posting and reading here then you're probably on bleeding edge and on Windows 8.1\WP 8.1 update 1 etc. Most of public is nowhere near that so Stardock and others will be able to thrive for awhile.
  • And there will always be computers which never get upgraded to the next version, even if the upgrade is free like from 8.0 ➡ 8.1 (because for all Microsoft's wisdom they hid the upgrade in the Store), so those people will always be there too.
  • Somebody will complain about some feature in 9 and sometime will make a "fix" for it
  • And your comments get removed in 3...2....
  • :p
  • Picking out the active window is easy because it's the only one with the theme colour as the rest of them are white. That justification for the app makes no sense to me...
  • Yeah exactly. I guess this is for people who have low contrast monitors and who don't know they can change the theme color from the default light blue to something more visible.
  • I have a high res monitor and I know how to change colors, but sometimes it helps to have additional cues. Like most customizations this does not suit everybody, but it is nice to have the option.
  • what about the rest?? if you have 20+ program opens a time, you will see that our eye struggle to find the active, or inactive ones that i need, Shadow adds depth, think of the real world without any shadows!! you will see the difference.
  • I'm so torn on Stardock. I like Wardell, but I also think they let bad gaming nearly ruin the company. They had the grounds for an incredible MOBA, and failed to capitalize by not funding GPG near enough. They could have monetized that game so much more efficiently...
  • I really liked demigod, only moba I've actually enjoyed
  • 8th comment!!
  • What a great way to have another process eat your RAM! In all seriousness, I swear I had not noticed Windows 8.x doesn't have shadows on windows. I guess it ain't a problem for me.
  • Me too!
  • Yeah. Like someone else mentioned, the active windows has it's border colored while the other windows' borders are white, so knowing which windows is active is even easier than it was on Windows 7. Shadows are useless.
  • Because they want to imitate Mac's shadows. >.< it will be a great addition to Windows 9 but not a necessity. At least they will give an option. (again? Lol)
  • well in windows 9 is needed.... just like OSX, Microsoft is finally removing the borders in windows, well, they started since Zune and Office 2013, but if there are no borders, it would be hard without shadows, that my point. as you can see in the leaked images, whilenot a thick shadow, still it makes the windows look different and nice
  • I hope Microsoft listens to this guy! :D
  • Love their Apps, been using Object Dock for years.
  • 30 million downloads and not enough! Tr
  • Programs from companies like this are what hampered Windows 8 growth the most. Keeping people in the dos era on Windows while I'm sure riding the apple and google train.
  • Had Microsoft kept a more traditional desktop for non touch users and gave touch users the Start screen, I think there would've been a much more positive attitude towards Windows 8. Microsoft knew that there's be programs like this that bring the old to the new. This has been the pattern since Vista at least, probably longer.
  • They did. The desktop, control panel, even the command prompt are all still there. They only replaced the freaking start menu with a full screen start menu. Some people don't like the tiles. Fine, unpin them and pin teh desktop app shortcuts instead and you will have all the functionality of the start menu. There were programs like this much longer than vista. People complain that Microsoft is slow but when they try to put something modern into their OS, the users who can't adapt that quickly complain and they have to leave all that legacy stuff. Then they complain that windows is bloated.  Kind of funny that the ones that can't seem to adapt are the so called IT guys. The regular people just need to be shown the new features, they play with it for a week and then they are fine. My own personal experience at work was giving a windows 8 laptop, without touch, to a couple employees. A couple of them are Mac users at home. I explained a few things. Didn't take very long. Initially tehy are a little frustrated and now they are telling me that they actually like. Feel bad that I got the laptop without touch but it took a while for OEMs to start getting those touchscreen laptops to market.
  • If my apps from the start page still actually worked instead of throwing an error I wouldn't have switched to using the desktop exclusively
  • Ehmm I am sure nobody or not many would know what you are talking about... 
  • 9 th person to write the number on the comment
  • " I don't think we'll ever see the desktop return to the dominance it once had. We're in a multi-polar world, so to speak, where the desktop is just one of the platforms available to users." I'm sorry but the desktop IS the dominant formfactor and will be for the foreseeable future. Tablets realy do not offer a capable replacement option (yet) and certainly none of the alternative OS around offer quite the same productivity and verstillity Windows does. As long as Windows run hardware outsells anything else with 200M+ /yr this is not about to change. Eventually the desktop PC will be replaced by cloudbased solutions, not another local OS based hardware platform. And while that wil mean you will be able to run your applications on any device running any OS, this will _still_ be Windows applications and with that Microsoft will retain their dominance in this market.
  • He said the dominance "it once had." And it's true. The Windows Desktop computer won't be as dominant as it used to be; especially in homes. I agree with your use of the future. It's almost like going back into past when we mainly worked off of terminals hooked into a main computer.
  • Yeah instead of 95% market share they'll have to deal with 90%, boo hoo
  • He doesn't say the desktop won't be "the dominant formfactor", he says it won't have "the dominance it once had". It'll still be dominant, just not as dominant.
  • The thing that I'm excited for is Notification center.
  • 18th comment?
  • Why always the hate on the charms bar? I find it useful. I think they could just tweak when it comes out while using a mouse. Maybe a thin tab pops out on rollover, and a click to expand.
  • I hope they keep the charms bar for tablets. I don't really need it on desktops though.
  • Charms bar is really only useful for touch screens
  • It's not that usefull on a large monitor being traversed by mouse nd keyboard, but I'd hate to see it go never the less. What would be awsome though, would to be able to somewhat decide what goes on there.
  • Yeah. I also hope they keep it. But everything in the charm could be made available at some other place on the desktop also as an extra since it's not as useful when working on a desktop, but I think removing the Charm completely would be a mistake. It works great on a tablet.
  • Why should I have to get used to two paradigms (one for tablet, one for desktop) when the tablet paradigm introduced in W8 works just as well (and in fact, better) than the desktop one when in desktop mode?
  • Honestly I barely use the charms bar except to initiate search and a couple other minor things, personally can do without it if I get decent access to the features of charm from elsewhere.
  • I need the charms bar on touch, it's just too useful to get rid of.
  • So true. Does he actually thing the control panel is a better solution? I want all the setting in the charms bar so that I never have to see the the mess that is the control panel. Having all settings in on menu, as opposed to treating each setting as a separate app, is preferable. I bet these are the same people who will tell you that the IOS is so intuitive when it basically has the same settings menu as the charms bar.
  • Tried it, uninstalled it 30 seconds later
  • i think windows 9 will effect stardocks :(
  • Stardock was around for Windows 7. They'll be fine. There will always be a market for custom UI.
  • They we around MUCH earlier than that my friend. Much much earlier.
  • Yep. They were around for the OS/2 days with Object Desktop and Galactic Civilizations (my first retail OS/2 game purchase). Those were the days.  
  • Am I the only one who finds Charms bar súper useful?!?
  • Me too! I really hope they keep it, or at least give us the choice to do so!!!
  • charms bar is really useful.  it just needs more features. 
  • On a tablet I find it useful.
  • Even on the desktop it's useful. My most used setting is the display and wifi. Those setting menus are better in the charms bar than the naitive versions on the desktop. The desktop version usually have more advanced controls, but the average users shouldn't really go into the advanced features.
  • No, you aren't the only one.
  • It is almost imperative if you have a touch monitor.  MS should make Charm Bay a settable option for Desktop mode instead of removing it outright.  Let user decide whether it is usable or not.
  • Ahead of the curve? I think they mean behind the curve 10 years behind. That's the point of their products. But choice is good.
  •  i survived windows 8 until 8.1 without using stardock.  30 million downloads of their ware? really?
  • Me too.
  • It's unfortunate that in such articles there is still this black and white attitude related to feature addition and removal. It's a social projection when one person thinks that what they want is best for everyone. If anyone wants a feature removed, please just request the option so that the feature remains for those who make use of it!
  • "Gimme those 4 things and I'm a happy camper."..
    They are 5, in the list... It seems shadows are in Win 9 windows, too, judging the videos, and they are nicer than the ones from Stardock.
    Anyway, I never had any problem with catching the active window, because it's evident: it's the only one with coloured title-bar, and I use a lot of softwares and multi monitors. Never had one single problem. I like the Charm-Bar, but the problem with it, right now, is that it's not immediate to access to it, from the desktop. You have to put your mouse on the right lower corner, but not just there, but a little upper and wait for a second, or the upper right corner and wait for the same time.
    It's just not that immediate. When moving the mouse there, if nothing happens istantly it's easy to move the mouse away without having the charm bar appear. Of course there is the Win + C short-cut, but multiple shortcuts are not for everyone.
    I think, if they will keep it, they should to put a visible button for the char bar.
  • Never a problem for me too. Coz there are always alt+tab
  • There's no delay if you do it properly. It's put the cursor all the way in the corner, then move it vertically away from the corner, and the charms bar appears right away. Just like how grabbing the top of the screen with a mouse and dragging all the way down is much faster than putting the mouse in the upper left corner, waiting for the close box to appear, then clicking. The "Tablet way" is actually faster and easier than the "desktop way" they added to appease the critics.
  • I have a four monitor setup and It would be so annoying if it was instant, I don't want the charm bar popping up everytime my mouse traverses the area unless I want it to show, hense the delay. But, as noirsoft wrote, you can make it instant intentionally.
  • actually you get charm bar with mouse without waiting.Just move cursor to top right corner and move it downward.
  • You can quickly get charmbar by moving cursor to top right and move it downwards
  • Yeah, I know perfectly about the completeley unintuitive movement of the mouse right and vertical. But that's not for everybody. You just happend to discover that movement, and let's face it, it's quite weird. It's an invisible area where to you move right, than down (if you are taking it from up screen) and the charm bar comes from right to left! It's really strange.
    Without mentioning that this is good if you got one monitor only, because the mouse arrow stops perfectly at the border, but if you have 2 monitors or more, it easily goes on the other monitor without catching the invisible area. @R0bR
    Of course. That's why a simple button would be correct. It lets the user choose without discover hidden active areas, and I'm guess can be called a "power user", but still, I find that really annoying, that's why I use pratically only shortcuts. But I was not talking about me or users fond of Windows, but the average user that just want to use it.
  • I would just prefer it to be a button on the taskbar... perhaps on the right-side so it doesn't get confused with the start-button. That way it's intuitive as it's a visible icon on the screen, instead of only appearing when you waggle your mouse around in the right way. The only time the charms bar "made sense" was when I used a touch-screen laptop... otherwise it seemed weirdly unintuitive and pointlessly doubled-up many options available elsewhere.
  • That's right! A simple button. But if they don't want to put a button a good Charm Bar should be horizontal, on the top of the window.
    The top of the windows is alwas a closed border, so there is no risk to go in another monitor and missing the invisble active area. One just needs to put the mouse there, and a simple handle, like the one for the Action Center in Windows Phone, appears. Press and here it is. Easy and visible. I don't understand why MS, sometimes, makes basic mistakes and then uses drastic actions to remove those mistakes (like the idea of dropping the charm-bar).
  • One of them was to remove the charms. The other four were 'gimme x'. He just wants the 4 gimme's to be happy, removal of charms is in addition :)
  • Glad to see Callaham brought Neowin's Stardock ass-kissing with him to Mobile Nations. 
  • What they should have ask was what is going to happen to these products if and when windows one or 9 brings them to the masses
  • Federer! Goat!
  • That's why I'm just sticking with Windows 7 until they bring aero back ^_^
  • Ain't gonna happen Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • I love using Stardocks Deskscapes (moving desktop backgrounds), it even still moves behind the start screen. I always thought Microsoft would implement this feature into Windows, its been around for years, and honestly it would attract a lot of ppl. I always have my desktop clean of icons, and the taskbar hidden, so my monitor is almost like a window when I'm not on the PC.
  • I love the charms bar. Don't make Microsoft take that away.
  • I Just have to say that I only knew stardock from its amazing game titles like Galactic Civilizations and I just hope they make a touch friendly version of there latest installment Galactic Civilizations 3 (now in beta on steam) like firaxis did with Civilization 5. That would just be amazing! They can keep there shadows for all I care ;-) Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • For the love of God, don't kill the charms bar.. Is this guy SO STUPID that he doesn't realize this OS is being used on tablets too? Puss off with your Starcrap software
  • This guy sounds as uninformed as the average person who crys about there being no start menu.
  • Is it better or worse that he knows the truth and bases his business on catering to the ignorant? I respect Stardock, but I can't bring myself to support their business any more.
  • I'm not exactly sure what your point is. But my statement is mostly about when asked about windows 9, this guy basicly listed things that are already confirmed and it sounded like he has no clue. You'd think the guy would at least read a tech blog or two.
  • I subscribed to Stardock's suite for several years, but once Windows 8 came on the scene I terminated it.  There's NOTHING that they bring to the table that does anything other than RUIN Windows 8.  I've gone from being a fan of Stardock to hating them.
  • I see the sponsored stardock posts from are making its way here. 
  • I recently uninstalled ModernMix as I grew weary of apps opened in the desktop out of place or simply minimized to the task bar. I personally like the Start Screen as replacement for the menu and it got too jarring for me. I also am comfortable dragging open Modern apps to the bottom to close, and having Windows that act differently yet are still Modern apps got confusing. Don't get me wrong. I am a long time user and member of Stardock. I am still using Fences and have my desktop skinned at work using their products. This is not a criticism of these 3rd party options. Just I do not want Microsoft to throw the baby out with the bathwater when my next system and all my tablets are a mix of mouse and keyboard and touch.
  • It amazes me that these people can continue to undermine Windows ("modern apps not compelling") and still make money. How about pushing Windows forward and doing something innovative??? Start8 is a joke, and ShadowFX is worthless. He was regurgitating what he read so that he sounds like he knows what he knows the future. All 5 of those items have already been leaked.
  • he said 5 things then said give me those 4. did no one else pick this up?
  • I caught that also.
  • One of them was to remove the charms. The other four were 'gimme x'. He just wants the 4 gimme's to be happy, removal of charms is in addition
  • Use the charms bar all the time, particularly useful for getting to the native desktop from a virtual desktop
  • The active window in windows 8.x has a colored border while the others have a white one. Much easier to see than a shadow...
  • I'm fine with whatever makes the guys at microsoft eat humble pie, and wow, have they been eating so much of it they must be sick.