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Windows 7 And The Future Of John’s Background Switcher


John's Background SwitcherI 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:

Windows 7 Desktop Slideshow Options

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:

A Montage Of JBS Montages

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.

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

24 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Good to hear that! I’d never expect from Microsoft to develop something ouststanding like JBS.

    I expect from you, John, to build us a decent OS in the future. πŸ˜‰


    • Ha ha, maybe if I live to be 1000! Alternatively if someone wants to give me a winning lottery ticket so I never have to work again then I’d have the spare time I need! πŸ™‚


    • Ha ha, not seriously. There’s the time issue, but more the fact that there are so many different distros where I’d have to implement things differently and the attitude that they’re happy to make breaking changes between O/S versions assuming that developers will fix things up. That may be a generalisation but being one guy I just don’t see how I could dedicate that much time to it. Windows and Mac will have to do for the foreseeable future!


  2. John, even if windows had one, I’d stick with JBS.

    One cool “side effect” of JBS that I love is that all the pictures for the last month or two are stored in the My PicturesJBS folder, which means I can use them as the source for images for my screen saver.

    Which means my screen saver pics are just as nice as my Desktop wallpaper pics πŸ™‚

    BTW did you notice that Google Images doesn’t have RSS? I’m working on a utility that will convert any Google Images search into an RSS feed. Do you think that would be useful?


    • Cool, I’m glad you’re still a fan! πŸ™‚

      Yeah, it’s most annoying that you can’t get an RSS feed out of Google Images. I briefly looked at attempting to use a tool like Yahoo Pipes to generate a feed or thought about creating a service on my site that does it but haven’t fully investigated that myself. If you could do it that would be very cool – and if it’s to the MediaRSS standard JBS will happily consume it!


    • Neil said, “all the pictures for the last month or two are stored in the My PicturesJBS folder”

      Huh? How do you do that? Digging through the “More Settings” box, all I see is the settings folder, which just has the current image, and the “run a command after switching” option. Is there some secret that I can’t find, or do I need to code up an image saver?

      BTW, John, if you ever want to write another fun utility, how about a screen saver? The final moments of the last episode of Alton Brown’s “Feasting on Waves” had a slowly panning wooden desk on which snapshots from the series slid into place, which I think would well complement your snapshot scrapbook.


      • Currently that option work only in Flickr mode but JBS 4, due out in a couple of weeks, supports it for all modes. You’ll then find that option on the ‘Picture Sources’ section of ‘More Settings’.

        I’d love to write a screensaver and it’s been on my list for a couple of years now – it’s just finding the time is pretty tricky. JBS seems to consume a lot of my free time. Maybe once I get JBS 4 out I’ll see if I can fit it in!


  3. John, just wanted to make a suggestion. If you every reach that point where you really do want to work on other things, might I suggest stop adding new features to JBS but commit to continue supporting it?

    What I’m getting at is that at some point, JBS gets about 99% of everything that 99% of its users would want. Don’t feel like you have to offer extensive support or constant updates. But if you’re willing, don’t stop fixing bugs or keeping JBS running as new operating systems come out.

    While I know JBS would still take up your valuable time, you might be able to support it without having to spend ALL your time on it.

    Thanks for the program. I certainly enjoy it.


    • Hi Jay. Don’t worry, I’d never cease working on JBS completely and if I decided to stop adding new features to it I’d always keep fixing bugs and making sure it keeps running and ticking over. That’s just my professional pride at work! I’ve still got an enormous list of things I want to do to JBS so I’m years off that point I suspect!

      Glad you like it and you’re welcome!


  4. To quote lil’ wayne “keep jockin on dem bitches” bitches of course being microsoft.


  5. How to remove the advertisement Snapshot Scrapbook By John’s Background Switcher on the top right corner


  6. Microsoft should simply buy JBS and integreate it into 7. That’s what they are good at anyways!


  7. Looks like it has been about a year since you mentioned that a Mac version might be coming soon, but I haven’t seen one. Has there been any progress on this? I finally made the switch to Windows and I REALLY miss JBS!!! I have loved the postcards feature from the moment you released it and would love to see it back on my new iMac!


    • Yeah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions! Unfortunately I’ve just not had enough free time over the past year to work on a Mac version of JBS. I managed to get 4.0 (and then 4.1) out for Windows which was a large undertaking to say the least and took me a few months of a lot of evenings and weekends. There was just no way I could spend any more time working on a Mac version over the period unfortunately as my work was very hectic too. Heh, it’s too bad I give away JBS for free, if I made enough money from it to not have to work then I’d easily have the time to create a Mac version!

      Anyway, as a Mac user I’d love to have JBS on the Mac too and I’ll try my best to build a version but can’t make any promises.


  8. Hey John,
    keep the great work up. I am a long time JBS user since.. I dont know.. even before version 1. Honestly I love JBS. While I was travelling the world I could show my Parents Pictures of me wihtout them having to do anything. Used JBS as a kind of Pictureframe. Uploaded my pictures on Flickr and tagged them with a word that I used in JBS on my Parents Computers.
    Herefor I owe you a beer. (Donation done)
    I am also a long time Windows user and now a Mac user too. I actually switch back and forth..
    And everytime I am on the mac.. Guess what I miss (except the DEL Key) Smile.
    Hope more People will be happy and donate. So you can keep up the great Work you share with the world!


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