How-To: Mac-ify Your VMware Unity Windows

Even with CodeWeaver’s generous giveaway of CrossOver Mac the other week, there are still times when one has to use a virtualized Windows environment to get work done that just cannot be performed within OS X properly. In talking with other VMware users, I realized that not everyone may hack their hosted Windows environment as I thought they might and wanted to offer some relief to those who are forced to toil in “that other” operating system.

As most OS X users know by now, VMware’s Fusion product makes it very easy to work with Windows programs without appearing to leave OS X via its snazzy Unity feature. Unity mode essentially masks out the Windows desktop and just presents Windows “windows” directly to the user as if they were OS X windows. The trouble is, those windows do not look like they belong on your spiffy OS X desktop at all. Take for existence this Internet Explorer window:

While it is nigh-impossible to make Windows programs as functional as ones built for OS X, you should not, at the very least, have to put up with ugly windows on your Desktop. To beautify your Unity windows, head on over to StarDock’s web site and grab a copy of WindowBlinds. This initially free program lets you skin your Windows experience to suit your style. You will need to download WindowsBlinds in your virtual machine or copy it to your virtual machine post-download. Once the installer is in your virtual machine, double-click on the executable and let it do its work. When asked to choose a style, select “Leo” (I can’t imagine why it’s called that).

When WindowBlinds asks if you want “per-pixel” rendering, you should definitely say “no” as it will have a detrimental impact on your visual experience in Unity since it will force-render portions of the surrounding Windows desktop in an attempt to provide a good visual experience under Windows-proper. Once you apply the “Leo” style, the aforementioned Internet Explorer window will look much prettier.

One other feature that may be of interest to Mac users who need to work in full screen Windows virtual machines is the ability to let WindowBlinds rotate through desktop backgrounds just like the built-in functionality of OS X. I know many folks who use this feature on the Mac desktops who are quick to point out this Windows deficiency that is now solved by this handy utility.

I put “free” in quotes for a reason. WindowBlinds comes in four flavors, from “Free” (it should really be called “Shareware”) to “Extreme”. The “free” version will expire after 30 days and will not let you skin non-theme aware programs, nor will it allow you to modify other theme-aspects of Windows such as toolbar icons and progress animations. It may not be worth $19.95 — the cheapest entry-point for WindowBlinds — to just skin some windows and other theme-aspects of Windows, but if you have to stare at Microsoft apps in Unity as part of your daily workflow, twenty-bucks may be a small investment in your visual sanity.

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