Microsoft put a tight leash on Windows XP when it came to switching visual styles (a.k.a themes). They were probably afraid of what could happen if users were able to install any theme that they stumbled upon, whether it be complete or incomplete. I understand why they require the visual styles to be digitally signed, but I think it should be more like installing unsigned drivers where they warn you with a prompt but offer the option to continue anyway.
There’s no looking back now…so lets look at how we can get this done in Windows XP SP2. This modification does require you to replace an existing system file, but I’m sure millions have people have already done this considering that 580,000 + people have downloaded the file from Softpedia alone. One of the major benefits about doing this is that it uses Windows to apply the theme, so no external program is needed.
- Download and extract it to a location that is easy to access, and you should now see a file called uxtheme.dll.
- Go to C:\WINDOWS\system32 and locate the file called uxtheme.dll. After you have found it rename it to something else in case you want to revert back to it later. For example, change the file name to uxthemeBAK.dll or uxtheme.dll.bak so that you can easily recognize it as the backup.
- Copy the file that you extracted in step 1 (uxtheme.dll) to the C:\WINDOWS\system32 folder. You should receive the following two prompts:
Click Cancel when you receive this prompt: “Files that are required for Windows to run properly have been replaced by unrecognized versions. To maintain system stability, Windows must restore the original versions of these files. Insert your Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 CD now.“
And then click Yes when you receive this prompt: “You chose not to restore the original versions of the files. This may affect Windows stability. Are you sure you want to keep these unrecognized file versions?“
- Reboot your PC so that the new file can be loaded into memory.
Now your computer is capable of running nearly any “visual style” (as Microsoft likes to call it) that you can find on the Web. The trick, however, is to find them. Most, if not all, of the themes that you download should be as simple as extracting them and dropping them into the proper folder:
- Download a visual style that looks interesting to you. I recommend getting them from DeviantArt because the files are clean, whereas a lot of other sites offering the visual styles typically bundle them with spyware or adware. Here is a small sampling of the visual styles that are available at DeviantArt (they are all Vista variations):
**Note: They all have screenshots on their main page, and you can click on them for a full-size view.**
- If the visual style that you downloaded don’t have an installer you will have to copy some files manually (there should be a ReadMe file in the download that lets you know what you have to do). If there is no installer you’ll need to copy the folder containing the .msstyles file to C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes
- Now you need to enable the visual style by right-clicking on your Desktop and going to Properties -> Appearance and under the drop-down menu for Windows and buttons select the name of your theme.
That’s how you can change your Windows XP theme without ever needing to install an application. There are several great (and some free) applications available if you are looking for something that might be a little easier to use, such as WindowBlinds which also has a more advanced version available for a small fee.