SacRat's Windows Customization blog
Published on August 5, 2004 By sacrat In OS Customization

It might be not too honest for me to write about a competing application (I belong to a volunteer Aston support/design group), but all written below is my personal opinion. In other words, here I speak for myself as a user.

According to the official homepage , Talisman is a "desktop alternative and shell-replacement for Windows 9xsacrat and NT/2000/XP". Actually it can work in two modes: together with Windows Explorer and as a standalone shell.

The thing, that amaze most people, new to the Talisman is a large number of beautiful themes. Actually I think, that Talisman is clearly one of the most beautiful shell replacement applications, available today. A theme can contain buttons, icons and plugins, which is normal for most modern shells. But unlike most of them Talisman can use HTML elements inside themes. That brings designers some really interesting features. For example, there are themes with dynamic content, like web pages and even games. Designers can easily guess, how much freedom it gives: flash animation, dynamic menus, even 3D graphics via VRML...

The rest is quite typical: multistate buttons, plugins, hotkeys for some actions... Combining all available eements it's possible to make some really interesting stuff, so skinners, who're looking for a good way to apply their imagination should take a look.

But like all the good feelings one's freedom euphoria has to pass as soon as you try to do actual work. Even in it's latest builds Talisman is buggy (though now it's much better, than a year before). For example, you can try loading a theme and finally stay with an empty screen and a lonely Taskbar with few flashing buttons. Or right in the middle of your work it just crashes without any reason. Another annoying "feature" is Talisman's resource usage. Talisman is slow. Sometimes incredibly slow (laters versions trend to work faster). From one side this is a retribution for embedded HTML elements, from another - numerous design flaws.

Overall Talisman, even in its latest incarnations is too crude for the daily use. Its performance and stability improve, but too slowly. It might be a good "one button" interface for media centers or libraries (where you don't change themes twice a day), but it's definitely not intended (yet) for active use.

Talisman Desktop is the main application, developped by Lighttek, Russian software company specialized on Windows customization software; other interesting Lighttek products are: Alteros and Icontoy.

Comments (Page 1)
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on Aug 06, 2004
Again, I use Talisman every day and I have had no crashes, none whatsoever, in the last year at the least. I am thinking that you need to work on your system a bit before you do software reviews. This is the same silliness you tried to pin in Windowblinds.

"It might be a good "one button" interface for media centers or libraries (where you don't change themes twice a day), but it's definitely not intended (yet) for active use."

I build my themes on top of PHP and MySQL, and can automate any number of tasks, local and remote. I have been using Talisman off-and-on since mid 1999, build my own themes, and I can do about anything I need to do with it.

Honestly, I don't think you have the expertise to do these reviews. You are careless when talking about crashes and bugs, you don't try to track down the causes because you don't use the software.

Anyone that wants to try Talisman should take this review with a grain of salt and see for themselves.

on Aug 06, 2004

I would concur with this review in the sense of stability.  I spent hours last night playing around with Aston and Talisman and it was pretty clear to see (to me anyway) that Talisman, while pretty, isn't really ready for prime time. It's too flakey.

Let me give you an example: In the default Windows XP like skin, my taskbar got totally hosed up (its taskbar I should say) simply because I had a lot of tasks running (Which it doesn't group btw, which I consider a pretty basic taskbar feature these days). It suffers from the same problems DesktopX does when it comes to themes. They LOOK good but they aren't always very usable.  They need, for starters, to clean up their default themes and focus on the basics in terms of productivity.

Aston, btw, wasn't a mecca either but it was a lot less flakey. 

on Aug 06, 2004
"I would concur with this review in the sense of stability. "

Stability? So it crashed on you?

I dunno about the flakey part, I'm not seeing what you mean, I guess.. I have yet to see a better taskbar setup in replacement shells, so I guess you have to decide whether you are comparing Talisman to other shells, or to the standard Windows desktop. My own taskbar is pretty damn sweet , though, yes, I have to do things differently than in windows. I use a single pop-up button with a tasklist. No big deal for me because I alt-Tab through them normally anyway.

Talisman and Aston don't have a lot of people making themes for them. I'm not sure what you mean by productivity, but the theme that I use is faster for me than the windows desktop. As for how it compares to Aston and the rest I wouldn't venture to say unless I ported my theme over and used them a while.

In day-to-day use I don't find it unstable or flakey, though. I have to say my theme has been streamlined over months to do what I need it to do. No default theme is going to do that. Do people really use software like this for pre-made themes? To me the real power is always in how you can individualize it.
on Aug 06, 2004

ObjectBar's taskbar is way WAYYYY better than Talisman's.  It's not techncially a replacement shell but Aston's taskbar is still better.  I took screenshots that I'll be showing.

But when I download something, I do expect the included themes to function correctly.  I know WHY they didn't. Talisman isn't well suited, just like DesktopX themes, for being used by third parties.  I bet it's quite good for use for creating shells that are used by the creator or in a very controlled environment. But that is the case of pretty much all of them.

Bakerstreet: I think we're on the same wavelength here.  The problem I think is that Talisman isn't as good at sharing themes as Aston and that is the critiera we judged them by.  How good they are for creating PERSONAL desktops is a different matter but at that point, DesktopX (in my biased opinion) is so vastly superior to any of them for creating personal desktops (I mean hell, it can even hook into security functions in NT) that I don't see the strength there.

I think Talsiman needs to improve its system tray support, its taskbar support, and it needs to get a lot better at performance.  I'm going by the included themes here. If those aren't representative, whose fault is that?

on Aug 06, 2004
Yeah, I have to agree with the general idea, though I haven't compared Talisman with Aston. The strength of Talisman is as a desktop replacement instead of a shell replacement. I think that is what Arkadiy was going for with Talisman all along, since many/most people kept Explorer going and just used the windows taskbar.

That has always been LiteStep's curse, too, hasn't it? Most people just want to download other people's themes, and when they do, by the time they re-fit them to their system, they might as well have just made it themselves.

I hate to show my ignorance, but I wasn't aware that ObjectBar was still going strong, I need to look back into it. I had a feeling that with ObjectDock and DesktopX out there that ObjectBar had taken a backseat.

This has made me wanna start skinning some again, lol. I have several shell-style themes laying around in pieces. Mine wouldn't make much sense without all the automated extras, but I could make some stuff that would.

Honestly, and I mean this with all respect to Arkadiy, the creators of Aston, and all the other shells, I don't see a lot of point in replacement shells anymore. My system runs Talisman fine on top of explorer, and the hit to resources isn't anything bothersome to me. .

I think apps like DesktopX are far more relavent than shell replacements, and will become more so as the OS improves. Shell replacements were cool when we were stuck with Win98, but the need to actually replace shells became less important thereafter.
on Aug 06, 2004

Yea, ObjectBar and DesktopX are totally different animals.  ObjectBar is about building USABLE shells.

ObjectBar 2 hasn't been released yet, it's still in development. But ObjectBar 1.6 is out there and is pretty stable.

Let me give you some examples of what ObjectBar can do:

Its taskbar can do not just task grouping but CUSTOM filtering. So you could have various items show up as a single group. You can control what their icons in that group look like.  You can filter OUT certain tasks (so you could have multipole taskbars together seamlessly where you know that the ones on the left are your most often used programs).

It supports true Most FREQUENTLY used programs. None of the others do. They just use the recent list.  Only ObjectBar has an MFU feature.  Then there's the system tray which works far better than the others, includes filtering and system tray icon changing.

And on skinning, it can use its own skins or it can inherit the current WindowBlinds skin (a non-trivial thing to do).

On menus, it not only supports drag and drop but it can do tear off menus (hold Ctrl).  Aston and Talisman can't do any of these things.

Where ObjectBar falls down is content. Stardock has failed to provide samples, plugins, etc. for it.  So it ends up being used as a Mac Finder clone maker since one of the sampels is a Finder-type thing.

ObjectBar 2 will be a different story as it'll be cleaned up a lot in its UI to be much simpler to use and we hope to make it so that you can export your themes as actual EXEs.

DesktopX, on the other hand, has themes but while they look pretty, its taskbar stuff is wimpy (talisman level). It has system tray support but it's only a little better than talisman/aston in that area. And it can't do bars easily. Or more to the point, it can't create dynamically changing content very easily.  It has no built in menu support really other than the most rudimentary stuff.  What that translates into is that making themes that are for use by other people that have bars and such is more difficult.

By contrast, the ObjectBar theme you download will likely work on anyones machine.  There's no such thing as an ObjectBar 1024x768 theme. They work on any machine at any configuration because it's so dynamic.

If ObjectBar weren't so clunky UI wise, it'd own this space I think. From raw features, ObjectBar 1.6 with some plugins blows Talisman and Aston away in terms of being able to actually use it as a productive shell environment.

on Aug 07, 2004
Bakerstreet, let me disagree with you: there're STILL reasons to use shell replacements even now. Let me name them:
1) Resource usage. Even with modern P4 processors there are tasks, which need a considerable amount of RAM and CPU. In some reasons Explorer is coming more and more resource hungry from one version to another. That's a fact. Still nice to mention, that its latest versions are less buggy, than before
2) Customization: it's nearly impossible to add some features, native to current generation shells to explorer. "Upgrading" it by adding numerous small utils, which replace some of its part is IMHO the worse, solution, than replacing a complete shell.
In their current states there are only few shell replacements, that might be called up to the date and even they become "outdated" with time. I'm sure, the situation with shells would remain, even though the main role will be given to more feature rich and flexible shells. The upcoming A2 might be one of them and if all the planned features would be implemented it might even compete new generations of DesktopX as well. Each approach ("decoration" and "replacement") has its advantages and disadvantages: too long to name them here. Let's see, which of them will survive.

Draginol: you interested me in ObjectBar. I missed the latest version, so I should take a look. The last time I checked it was quite an interesting app with lots of features, even though many of them were already implemented in Aston I don't think, that OB can be a shell replacement. From my position it is better applied as a "shell addition", i.e. adding some features missing in a shell.
on Aug 07, 2004

1) Explorer uses around 20 to 35 megabytes of RAM.  I think it's pretty bloated but it's getting to be a tougher sell to get people to switch shells over memory when they've got a half gig to a gig of ram.

2) Most people choose to enhance explorer rather than replace it.  Neither Aston nor Talisman have all the features explorer has built in. Some of them pretty critical.

3) ObjectBar 1.6 is over a year old and Aston can't touch it in terms of basic features like taskbar handling, system tray handling, MFU handling, drag and drop, etc.  But you are correct that it's not designed to be a shell replacement.

Aston, as far as I can tell, takes away the ability to have desktop icons which to me kills it right away.


on Aug 08, 2004
1) So call us crazy: there are lots of people using Aston, who DO care about additional 10 Mb even having a gig of RAM. Surprised?
2) So enlighten me. At present time Explorer emulation in Aston is very high. I know, that some features (like Taskbar hints) are still missing, but I'd liked to know a third side opinion. sometimes it's useful.

Aston ALLOWS you to have icons on Desktop. BUT you CANNOT have FILES on it (only links). It's not a bug, it's a feature. If you need details, dig for my interview with Nick Egorov. There's a good sample given. Give user what he needs, not what he wants. It's a good approach, IMO.
on Aug 10, 2004

1) "Lots of people" is subjective.  How many people do you think use Aston for that reason? 1000? 2000?

2) The fact you can't drag and drop items from the menus is a big deal. The fact you can't have desktop icons is a pretty big deal. MOST people who use computers put junk on their desktop. Aston eliminates that ability.  While I'll take yourword for it htat you can put links on your desktop (which I don't consider to be acceptable), I couldn't figure out how to do that.

When i download stuff, I tend to throw it on my desktop and try it out and then move it to the trashcan when done. 

The problem is that Aston takes features away from users but doesn't seem to give a lot back. None of the alternative shells seem to give a lot back in exchange for the features they're missing.

on Aug 10, 2004
1) Let's just confess: none of us has EXACT data.
2) Doesn't Right-clicking Desktop work anymore?
3) Surely, only Stardock products seem to " give a lot back" to you
on Aug 11, 2004

1) No, but we have Alexa ratings and AstonShell's website isn't that popular.

2) I'm talking about going to a menu and draggging and dropping things from it. Both shells have very primitive menus.

3) Stardock products don't generally try to compete with what's built into the OS.  Aston and Talisman are ALTERNATIVE shells. They're competing with something that is pretty feature rich -- the shell.  So for starters it has to do all of what the default shell and then add to it.

on Aug 12, 2004
1) We once talked about "popularity". My position about it is still unchainged.
2) "Primitivity" highly depends on your position. The task of alt shell creators has never been in reconstructing Explorer. Explorer itself has numerous features I dislike and which I'd liked not to see anymore. As for "primitive" menus.... You're right, they miss dragon drop sometimes (for me it's not a big loss), but what about toolbars, what about LS-style menus? What about other features, like VDM (build-in into many shells), Explorer has never had? What about Aston multistate disk and recycle bin indicators? What about all the features, implemented by shell plugins? From this position Explorer is just a premature infant.
3) I won't agree with that. That's simple: if a user needs all Explorer features, he's free to stay with the same Explorer. If one needs to retain Explorer style of work, but needs skins, he's free to use one of SD products. You just don't seem to understand the concept of alt shells. As for competing " with what's built into the OS" I might recall one simple proggy: Windows Blinds, which's a kind of competing with MSStyles.
P.S.: just tested recent WB release on a default skin pack plus few winner skins from GUI olympics. Visual glitches in numerous programs make WB nearly useless.
on Aug 12, 2004
Visual glitches in numerous programs make WB nearly useless.

Likely the fault of your video drivers IMO. I was having lots of little weird video glitches when running the Omega Drivers built off the catalyst 4.4s. As soon as I upgraded, poof, they disappeared. Not a single graphical glitch to be found.
on Aug 12, 2004

1) Your opinion (and my opinion) are irrelevant. The facts matter when it comes to popularity. Alexa has no bias. There are not likely very many alternative shell users.

2) If you want to compete with the free, built in shell, you have to supercede it.  Do you realize how your argument sounds? Sure, these shells lack being able to put things on the desktop, taskbar grouping, system tray filtering, drag and drop menus BUT they have virtual desktops and different icons for the recycle bin. Whoop. There's a zillion virtual desktop programs out there (such as AltDesk) that you can use with Explorer.

3) WindowBlinds competes with msstyles but it is a complete superset of msstyles. There's nothing msstyles can do that WindowBlinds doesn't do. Plus WindowBlinds does a lot more. 

And don't patronize me about not understanding alternative shells. I've been using alternative shells long LONG before you were I bet.  I just don't see the advantage TODAY, in 2004 of replacing explorer with shells that have fewer features.

And if you find WB to be "useless" I suspect you have hardware problems.  Feel free to post a screenshot of thise "visual glitches" that make WB "nearly useless".

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