I read with interest that the next version of Windows will, at long last, feature a built in background switcher – called a “desktop slideshow”. You might think that since I wrote a pretty decent background switcher that I’d be gutted and cursing the name Microsoft but quite the opposite is the case. The reason I wrote John’s Background Switcher in the first place was that I wanted to be able to change the background on my computer periodically and every time a new version of Windows has come out I’ve been looking out for two things:
- Better (i.e. some) multiple monitor support.
- An automatic desktop background changer built in.
Finally with the release of a Windows 7 beta, at least one of those two features has been implemented (and it’s the latter). I’ve been half-hoping Microsoft would do this for a while now even if it meant the end of JBS. This isn’t from laziness but much though I love developing it and the community of users that’s built up around it, I have lots of other ideas and only limited free time to work on them. Currently most of that free time is taken up with JBS to the detriment of anything else I could be working on. Having said that I’d be hard pushed to produce anything as successful as JBS (except the planned Mac version perhaps) so if I can keep it alive I’m not exactly going to complain!
I downloaded the first beta of Windows 7 to take a look at this potential JBS-killing feature and having played around with it it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t actually replace JBS at all, but instead nicely complements it. Windows 7 expands the dialog that lets you set your background so that instead of choosing one picture you can choose a selection of them and how frequently you’d like the background to be changed, you then leave it to it:
I saw on some pre-beta screenshots that there was an option to use RSS feeds as a photo source (just like JBS does) but see that feature missing from the current beta. If they do ship with RSS support then that would be extremely cool (and lessen the appeal of JBS slightly) but if not then that’s fine with me. So if you want to change your background periodically using specific pictures on your computer then the built-in Windows 7 desktop slideshow is for you – there’s no point installing JBS. However before I stop developing JBS and resolve all the outstanding tasks as “will never implement” I can see several reasons why I’ll keep working on JBS.
First is multiple monitor support. When I started developing JBS very few people used multiple monitors but today a surprisingly large percentage of users do. The Windows 7 desktop slideshow doesn’t appear to let you do things like have different pictures on different monitors or span one across all. That may change when they ship but considering Microsoft’s complete lack of useful multiple monitor support in the past it wouldn’t surprise me if things remain as they are. JBS lets you have different pictures on different monitors or stretch across all and in the next version I’m planning some even better multiple monitor options.
Next is tight integration with web-based sites like Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Phanfare and others. Even if Windows 7 supports RSS feeds it’ll still be a bit tricky to choose from all your friends photos on Flickr (including private ones), or the most interesting pictures over the last 7 days, or your private photos on Picasas web albums and so forth. So for avid users of these photo sites (like myself), JBS will still do a better job than the built in desktop slideshow.
Next is choice and variation. The current version of JBS and to a far greater extent the next version can let you choose background pictures from multiple sources – some local folders, some sets from several photo sites, some RSS feeds and search results. If you like randomness or have a bunch of accounts on different sites you want to pull photos from then reverting to the built-in switcher will lose you that flexibility. Also, if you want to use pictures from a folder on your machine then with the built-in desktop slideshow you’ll have to keep telling it about new ones you add to that folder before they’ll turn up on your desktop – JBS on the other hand can just monitor folders for you and work things out itself.
And last but not least the montages and post-processing effects JBS has to offer appear not to have a place in the Windows 7 switcher. Being able to create a snapshot scrapbook or mosaic of photos across multiple monitors is pretty cool and one of the better ideas I had for JBS:
All in all I’m really glad to see that a background switcher will be built into the next version of Windows 7 – it’s something long overdue. And I’m also glad to see that there’s plenty of scope for me to keep building functionality into JBS and improving it without feeling like I’m wasting my time – there’s clearly still a place for JBS. Heck, there may even be a way to hook the cool functionality JBS has directly into the built-in desktop slideshow so that Windows 7 users can have the best of both worlds.
The Windows 7 desktop slideshow is, like a lot of the new functionality Microsoft has added, a straight clone of what’s available on the Mac. And despite the fact that Macs have had automatic background switching built in for years it hasn’t stopped a lot of people requesting I write a Mac version of JBS (a request I’ll finally be fulfilling soon) so I don’t expect people wanting to run JBS on Windows when they upgrade to 7 to stop either.