what is the OTS?

The Open Theme Standard for LiteStep is a specification for LiteStep themes. Before expanding on this, a brief detour to answer the question some of you may now be asking; what is LiteStep?

LiteStep is a replacement shell for Windows. The normal Windows shell (referred to as the explorer shell) consists of a taskbar, system tray, clock, start menu, and desktop with desktop icons.

The LiteStep shell has equivalents for all of these, plus a plethora of features which are not available in the explorer shell. Unlike the explorer shell, LiteStep is very powerful, and completely customisable, but the price of this is complexity. LiteStep does not have a GUI for setting options, instead all LiteStep configuration is done via plain text configuration files.

As mentioned earlier, LiteStep is completely customisable. The appearance and functionality of one's desktop changes with each LiteStep theme. The fact that every LiteStep theme changes the entire desktop user interface can be both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because a theme may be visually appealing, or show you new and efficient ways of using your desktop (or both!), frustrating because a theme may function in a manner that impedes your workflow. You can get a sense of what the LiteStep shell in action is like by examining screenshots at these sites:

(Please note that window skinning is not in the domain of LiteStep - this is handled natively in Windows XP and above or via third party applications.)

LiteStep's customizability and openness stem from many things such as its internal architecture, its reliance on plugins to implement features rather than a bloated core, and the fact that when it comes to themes, it doesn't really dictate how things should be done.

This meant that up until a few years ago, every LiteStep theme was unique - not only in its appearance and functionality - but in its file structure and internal architecture. Therefore every single LiteStep theme had to be installed in a unique manner. Users would download a theme, pore over installation instructions (when these were provided), adjust settings, tweak certain aspects to their preference (usually hotkeys and popup menu), hope they covered everything, and then try using the theme. And they would have to do this repeatedly, but in a different manner, for each theme.

Returning now to the Open Theme Standard for LiteStep, the OTS defines a set format for LiteStep themes. LiteStep themes are still as aesthetically and functionally distinct as they ever were, but certain aspects of their behaviour have been reigned in, in order to provide users with some consistency in their user interface (mainly hotkeys and popup menu) and simplify the process of LiteStep theme installation.

By defining a set structure for LiteStep themes, the OTS aims to organise and simplify the process of installing, creating, using and distributing LiteStep themes. These were the overriding considerations in drafting the OTS specification, i.e.:

  • To establish a standard format for LiteStep themes
  • To standardise and simplify the process of installing themes
  • To make user-defined personal settings (application paths, hotkeys, popup, etc.) available in all themes
  • To do all of the above without impinging on theme authors' flexibility in creating themes, and without making theme creation cumbersome