What the heck is Blackbox?

7 min read

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pitkon's avatar

Deviants are kind enough to fave my themes (over 1,100 posted here) and I was honored with three Daily Deviations so far in my 20-year-old stay at deviantArt, but I still get the same response by people who are puzzled over my screenshots.

“What is this?” they ask. “Is it a Windows style?” “How many apps do I need to have that interface?” or, the most common question, “What is Blackbox?” Just recently, a guy saw the screenshot of Storm, one of my latest themes, and asked, “What game is that?”

Let’s face it, there are lots of people who never heard of Blackbox and they wonder what it is and how (and why) should they use it. And it's a good thing they show interest, because after a period of hibernation, due to many factors (mostly developers dropping out and, of course, the rise of Windows 10) Blackbox is back with a vengeance.

Before I start talking about Blackbox, a little piece of history seems to be appropriate. A long time ago and in a galaxy far away, Windows were a slow, drab, lacking Operating System. So, a lot of different alternative shells were developed to make Windows more fast, more productive and, above all, more pretty.

Alternative shells? What is a shell? Well, it's the dressing over a cake, the clothing over a body, the greenery covering a bush. Every operating system has a shell. It determines the way the OS looks and responds to the user. The Windows' native shell is Explorer, which is not only a file browser, like most of you may think. Delete Explorer and Windows crash. It was a good shell when Windows XP and 7 were around, but keeps deteriorating ever since. Windows 10 may be a better Operating System in some ways, but they took away something that is vital to us all: freedom of choice.

As recently as 5 years back, we had a lot of alternative shells (about 30) to choose from and rice our desktops and/or get a faster computer response, making for Explorer's (and, thus, Windows') shortcomings. Litestep, Blackbox, Serenade, Talisman, Emerge, IceSphere, Reveal, Aston, WinStep, DesktopX, are just a few. Some of them, like Blackbox and Litestep, were free, while some others, like Aston and DesktopX, were commercial programs. Even Microsoft, knowing how inadequate Windows were, came up with their own alternative shell – E-Sense – so demanding (for its era) that it ran only on Windows NT.

And then came Windows 10 with a bang. Literally.

Microsoft didn’t like the fact that there were alternative shells out there, offering more flexibility, more speed, more options, more pretty desktops and, yes, more choices to Windows users.

So, Windows 10 changed all that by changing its code. It was no longer easy to tweak the registry and take command of the ship. No alternative shell could totally replace the native shell anymore.

That meant the death of desktop freedom, the death of catholic interface options, the death of - yes, there you are again – choices.

What’s worse, this monolithic, dreary, imagination-lacking Windows created and/or influenced a whole new bunch of young people who had never heard of customization outside the motor industry and were content with the plain, dowdy, graceless, prosaic world of this new Microsoft experiment. In short, the Windows of today are partially responsible for the lack of imagination and experimentation in the interface world. And, if we want to take this a step further, young people who don’t have a choice but follow MS’s anachronistic, dreary steps, are perhaps doomed to take this unadorned state of things to their work, their endeavors, their personal lives. Won’t take it so far as to suggest a conspiracy, but it’s obvious that MS was so anxious for this project to succeed, that for the first time ever they offered a Windows build for free. For home use, of course. Another hint.

So, almost every alternative shell died. Except for Blackbox.

Blackbox managed to survive by carrying the torch and offering a new site, hundreds of themes and, lately, a revolutionary new build that will be released soon.

Which brings us back to the main question: what is Blackbox and how can I use it?

Well, like I’ve said before, Blackbox is a shell for Windows or a window manager for Linux, the styles (themes) being interchangeable between the two platforms, something unique in computing. Blackbox for Windows is the more versatile of the two, since development of Blackbox for Linux has stopped many years ago.

Here are just a few of the many things this shell can do:

1) Colors and textures change on the fly with each style (theme) switch. No need to look around for third party apps that "look well" with or match each specific theme.

2) Windows decorations are embedded in Blackbox' modus operandum and also offer colors and textures that change with each theme switch – again, no need to look around for third party (and often expensive) apps.

3) Blackbox comes with a plethora of plugins (think of them as widgets, although they are much more than that) that are also part of the change theme/change everything philosophy. Some are so powerful that let you create docks, wharfs, audio players, wallpaper viewers, system meters and a lot more within a few minutes. No programming experience required! There are over 100 plugins that can be loaded with Blackbox to cover every individual need.

4) Blackbox' desktop is alive. You just drop things on it and they become wallpaper or whatever.

5) Blackbox is the lightest shell there is. This means more speed, more power.

6) Themeing is relatively easy and anyone can create their own styles or themes. No programming or Photoshopping required – although you CAN use graphic files in your elements, if you so wish, and my themes are a good example of that.

7) Blackbox creates its own backgrounds, if it senses you haven't picked any. Or, you can create wallpapers of any texture and color using its build-in mechanisms. Piece of cake.

8) Blackbox themes can include 3dcc configurations in the style file, which means all window colors change with each theme switch to match the rest of the elements, without the need to call up individual 3dcc files. And if you are too lazy to do that, there's a Blackbox plugin - bbwincolors - that can paint all windows for you using colors from the style applied. Again, no need for Windows Style tweaking or third party apps.

9) Blackbox offers multiple desktops - as many as you like - so no more clutter with too many open applications on one workspace. Windows 10 got jealous and now offer the same option. Thing is, it’s more easy to create different workspaces with Blackbox and, what's more, you can have a different wallpaper (and, of course, different apps) on each one.

10) Your desktop can be as busy or as Spartan as you need it to be. Which means, you can fill your interface with plugins, or you can leave it totally empty. Just a right click on the desktop is enough to bring up the menu and navigate from there.

11) If you are a Linux user with a *box Window Manager (Blackbox, Fluxbox, Hacked Box and early builds of Openbox) and are obliged to work with Windows (obliged seems to be the proper word) you can migrate your styles and your Linux GUI to Windows using Blackbox for Windows. Most nix styles work flawlessly on the Windows' version of your beloved WM.

12) I could add many more, but I think you got the message :)

Tried to keep this as short as possible and, of course, left out a LOT of other goodies. You can discover them, learn more about Blackbox and download the shell (32- and 64-bit), themes, styles, and many plugins from www.blackbox4windows.com You can read tutorials on the Forum section and you can ask for help or provide ideas and suggestions.

Take the final step, download Blackbox and join the community today. Don’t let Windows steal your ideas, your creativity and your imagination. Fight back. Or, more fittingly, Blackbox back.

© 2020 - 2021 pitkon
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eljeybonquin's avatar

hi! i just registered on blackbox4windows.com

my username is superrocket03 and i didnt get an email for validation. i am also a newbie and would like to know where can i get themes/styles. thank you


I would like to know if it would be possible to achieve this using Blackbox?

https://imgur.com/a/TbkiB6H If so, are there themes out there which are similar to this?

Also thank you for keeping the project alive.

pitkon's avatar

First of all, thank you for your kind words.

Second of all, yes, it can be done. Using Blackbox you can do almost anything, and there probably ARE many themes similar to this, but it's hard to remember - there are over 3,000 BB themes out there :)

What's more, you can create such a theme (or any other theme) yourself, with a few instructions. Not that hard to do.

Wierd question, can we simultaneously run windows VS(theme) and the blackbox at the same time or does it replace the existing theme?

Anything other bugs that I should be aware of before I install it?

Thanks for the help.

pitkon's avatar

You usually can't run both. In theory, you can, but then you'll have to stop the plugin that runs windows decorations on Blackbox. Or, you can use a theme just like the VS theme with the exception of some Windows decorations.

No known bugs, at least no major ones. The good thing about BB is that you can either run it on top of Windows (keeping all theme parameters but maintaining Windows as well, so you can run both until you get really well acquainted with BB) or use it as shell, which replaces Windows completely but undistructively (you still have your Windows and you can go back to them if you want to - unlikely :) )

I suggest you use BB on top of Windows first, so you can have both worlds until you feel comfortable with BB. A right click on the desktop will bring up the BB menu where most of the commands, paths, configurations, themes etc. are. And, of course, you can always ask me or post a question on blackbox4windows.com

I've registered for a new account.

username zahad8=9. Can't wait to try it out!

pitkon's avatar

I just validated you, go ahead and download (Mojmir's latest build, BBZero 1.8 is the best one for the time being). Sorry for taking so long, but I was away. Have fun!

Can you please show some similar themes to the one in the link above? ( I know it exists on Litestep)

I looked at a few threads but I'm not able to find anything close to it. I thought I'd ask for your help since you've been working with the community for a long time...


pitkon's avatar

You are welcome to browse my gallery, you'll find MANY themes similar to the one you are looking for.

quiero probarlo, como hago

pitkon's avatar

I had to Google translate :)

OK, will give you instructions but do you read English?

pitkon's avatar


First of all, you have to have a Blackbox build. You can download it from http://blackbox4windows.com/index.php?app=core&module=attach&section=attach&attach_id=825 You have to register first, but as soon as I see luiyi72 (if you keep that nick) I'll validate you right away. Let me know when you have the build and we'll take it from there.

no pude crear la cuenta, no entiendo la ultima pregunta, dice de que color es blackbox

pitkon's avatar

The answer is black. Blackbox is black, right? :)

burnsplayguitar's avatar

I jumped out when came to win10 and got not success to use it (and/or litestep).

But you're saying it will work, so it deserves a try

pitkon's avatar

It DOES work - I'm using it every single day. Haven't seen the face of Windows in 20 years :D You can try it on top of Windows, running it as an app, OR as a shell; you will need instructions for the latter.

paralytix's avatar

10/10 read. Having used blackbox in the past(win7), this definitely caught my attention. Easily recommended for anyone wanting to expand customization and get the most out of their interface/system. I'm very excited for the new build after reading about it on the forums as well. Thanks pitkon!

pitkon's avatar

Thank YOU for still using Blackbox! You've been with us on bb4w for 6 years and it's a pleasure knowing you keep up. Yeah, the new build is amazing - only thing that seems to be lacking, for the time being, is plugins; the old ones won't work, I'm afraid, at least most of them. But the good news is qwilk is turning out some new ones AND the old bbinterfacemod still works so I'm happy :)

toothless1103yt's avatar

Which version of windows would work the best for Blackbox?Toothless

pitkon's avatar

Works on any version, but I guess it was at its peak on XP and 7.

toothless1103yt's avatar

Ok once I get a new hp computer that runs windows 7 I’ll install it

pitkon's avatar

Do you have Windows 10 right now? Will work on that one too. In fact, it will work on ANY Windows build after 2000. You can always try it without installing it - just run it as a program over Windows, to get a whiff of what's it all about :) You'll be amazed, no going back to native Windows after that :)

toothless1103yt's avatar

Well I am using an iPad right now

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