Windows XP revamp, part 1: visuals
up next: UI improvements
Truth be told, I’d love to have Windows 7 once it’s released. It has the nice looks of Vista plus some slick interface improvements. But alas, I’ll only get a new computer next year, so that’ll have to wait. In the meantime I’m making my XP desktop nicer. There are a lot of things in XP that are less than satisfactory, both in looks and in usability. So I’ve improved on some of these, and I now I’ll tell you what I learned.
And yes, I realize this is pretty late to still be writing about XP, but whatever. AND, in addition to my nonchalant “whatever”, I just learned that apparently XP users are in the majority… SO TAKE THAT!
1) a new theme
transformation packs. I’ll get this out of the way first: if you’re simply looking to make your Windows XP look like Vista or Seven, instead of having fun customizing everything yourself, then the easiest thing is to get a transformation pack. There are several of these out there, but here are a couple that look good: Vista Transformation Pack, Seven Transformation Pack .
But use these at your own risk, because by modifying your system like this Something Bad could happen… and I haven’t tried them myself so I can’t say whether or not they work, but since they’re so popular I’m assuming they do. Also keep in mind that these transformation packs might slow down your system if you have an older computer.
Microsoft themes. There are a few themes made by Microsoft that are pretty popular, the biggest being the Royale family of themes. These are kind of like XP’s Luna themes, but shinier and better-looking. After you install one of these via an .msi or .exe file, it will be available in the Display Properties (select Properties under the desktop right-click menu).
Royale Remixed is an awesome rework of the original themes. It includes all 3 Royale themes as color schemes: Royale (light blue), Royale Noir (dark blue), and Royale Zune (black). This theme is more complete and (in my opinion) way better than the originals, but if you want you can still get the original Royale, Royale Noir, and Royale Zune themes.
Unlike most themes, Royale Remixed includes shutdown and log off graphics, but they have to be installed manually. See the included readme for instructions.
custom themes. Most themes aren’t made by Microsoft. In fact, you’ll find thousands upon thousands of these custom themes. There’s great collection of these here, and more here. DeviantART has a ton of themes.
To install these non-Microsoft themes, just download the Uxtheme patcher and run it. Don’t worry about a message box that might pop up, just click “Continue”. Then put your new themes in C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes. Now they might be available in the Display Properties, under the Appearance tab. If not, open the .msstyles files in the Themes folder.
In case you use Google Chrome. As of June 2009, I don’t think there are any official themes for Chrome besides the default blue. This isn’t a problem for Vista and Windows Seven (I assume), because in these Chrome uses the Aero theme. But in XP, light blue is seemingly the only option. Once again I put on my google goggles and discovered that the seeming reality was in fact… a lie! I found Chrome Plugins, a website with unofficial plugins for Chrome, including some themes. Not many though… If anyone has a good source for Chrome plugins, please comment and tell me!
2) get Stylish
Styler is a program that allows you to customize the Explorer toolbar by applying themes. DeviantART has a whole section devoted to these themes, and many visual themes you’ll find at deviantART come with a matching Styler theme.
Here is a good tutorial to get you started, using a Vista toolbar theme as an example. You can have some sweet toolbars with Styler, but personally I don’t use it (I’ll tell you why in part 2).
3) cool mouse cursors
Here’s pretty good mouse cursor collection. DeviantART also has lots of cursor sets, here. To use new cursors, just go to Control Panel -> Mouse -> Pointers, and then load the cursors. Not much to be said about cursors…
4) nicer icons
Usually icon sets are packaged as individual icon files, so it’s kind of a pain to install them because you have to load each one individually. Fortunately, IconTweaker can load pre-packaged icon sets. Unfortunately, these aren’t very common. But I found a few of these packaged sets here and some more here. Also, at deviantART there are some nice Vista and OSX IconTweaker packages.
That’s it for visuals! A special thanks to all the artists on deviantART who make these amazing themes and icons and whatnot. Also a big thanks to the website instant fundas for making some great theme collections and for being the first one to show me (via Google search) that there is a bigger, more beautiful world beyond default XP themes. If you have any suggestions, corrections, or angry rants, drop me a comment. Here’s one last screenshot (click to expand).
up next: UI improvements
Entry filed under: howto, Windows. Tags: chrome aero, customization, deviantart themes, google chrome themes, icons, icontweaker, mac icons, microsoft themes, mouse cursors, overhaul, revamp, royale, royale noir, royale remixed, styler, toolbar themes, transformation pack, uxtheme, vista icons, Windows, windows xp, zune.