Hack 14 Create Your Own XP Themes and Find Thousands Online


Customize the way XP looks and sounds, and dress it up with themes from the best sites on the Internet.

Themes control just about every part of the way XP looks and sounds, including its background wallpaper, colors, icons, cursors, sounds, fonts, screen saver, and the visual style of its windows and buttons. By default, your computer uses the basic Windows XP theme, which some people refer to as Luna because it was called that during XP's development. You can apply countless themes to XP, though it only ships with two: the basic Windows XP theme and the Windows Classic theme?a more stolid-looking theme, based on older versions of Windows, that uses rectangular windows and solid colors.

To change between themes, right-click on the desktop and choose Properties Themes. Choose the theme you want to use from the drop-down list, as shown in Figure 2-9. Click on OK, and the theme will be applied.

Figure 2-9. Applying a new theme

Note that if you choose "More themes online..." from the drop-down list, you won't actually be able to get more themes online, so choosing that option is a bit of a bait-and-switch. When you choose it, you'll be sent to a web page suggesting that you buy Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP. There's no need to buy it if you're looking to use more themes, though. Instead, you can make your own and get thousands more online from non-Microsoft sites.

2.8.1 Roll Your Own Themes

If you're like me (and most other people), you won't be happy with the basic themes that come with XP. What good is an operating system, after all, if you can't bend it, twist it, and make it your own?

There's no single, central place you can go to make themes in XP. Instead, you'll have to customize each part of XP individually and then roll it all up into a single theme. Once your system is using all the elements of your theme, save the theme with the following instructions.

Start off by right-clicking on the desktop, choosing Properties, and then customizing your desktop using the following tabs:


Lets you customize the desktop background and color, as well as which system icons should appear on your desktop.

Screen Saver

Lets you choose a screen saver and control its functions and features. It also adjusts power controls for your monitor.


Lets you customize the colors, style, and font size for windows, toolbars and buttons. It also controls effects, such as whether to use fade effects, whether to show shadows under menus, how to smooth the edges of screen fonts, and similar effects.


Lets you choose your screen resolution, color quality, and to choose advanced features such as the screen refresh rate.

Next, customize your mouse pointers by typing main.cpl in the Start Run box and pressing Enter. The Mouse Properties dialog box will appear, allowing you to choose a preset pointer scheme or select individual pointers you want as part of your theme.

To choose system sounds for your theme, type mmsys.cpl from the Run box and press Enter. The Sounds and Audio Devices properties dialog box will appear. Click on the Sounds tab and choose a preset sounds scheme or select individual sounds for different system and program events.

When you're finished customizing, go back to the Themes tab of the Display Properties dialog box, choose Save As, and save the theme to either My Documents or to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes. You can now use the theme as you can any other.

2.8.2 Get XP Themes Online

This has been a rather roundabout way of creating your own themes. And face it, few of us (including myself) are visual artists or sound artists. So, even better than rolling your own themes is going online and choosing from thousands you can download for free from many Internet sites. Some people make themes and post them as a hobby, many companies create themes as a way to market products, and movies and TV shows frequently create themes as a way to get free publicity.

Or course, there are many themes you can find online that may violate copyright laws; people create themes using characters, sounds, and people from popular entertainment and then post them online for others to use. The entertainment companies' lawyers will tell you the themes are illegal; on the other hand, others say that the themes fall under the fair use provisions of the copyright laws. Who's right? I don't know, and at this point, I'm not even sure that the courts do. As to which themes you can download and use, let your conscience be your guide.

A few popular theme sites are http://www.themeworld.com, http://www.topthemes.com, and http://www.themexp.org, and the themes section of the download site http://www.tucows.com. In addition, many general software download sites include theme sections. Movie studios are good places to find themes, as are web sites created for movies.

Depending on the theme that you download, you may have to install it differently, so check with the site from which you download, or check within the download itself. As a general rule, though, to use a theme that you download, install it into the C:\Windows\Resources\Themes folder. Typically, a file with the extension .theme will be installed into that directory, and all the associated art, sound, icon, wallpaper, and cursor files will be installed into a subfolder of C:\Windows\Resources\Themes. Once you've installed the new theme, choose it as outlined previously in this hack. These are a few of my favorite themes

My hard disk is too full of themes to list them all, but I'll give you some of my current and all-time favorites that I found online. I favor several Wallace & Gromit themes from the http://www.topthemes.com site. (If you haven't come across them before, Wallace & Gromit are hilariously understated claymation animations from the Oscar-winning animator Nick Park.)

I must say, though, that, being an opera fan, my favorite theme of all time is the one I found on http://www.themeworld.com, based on Verdi's opera Don Carlo. There's nothing like starting up your computer in the morning and being greeted by the sweeping sounds of one of the most dramatic operas of all time. I can almost see the Grand Inquisitor making his way onstage, preparing to burn an idolater or two at the stake. Figure 2-10 shows the wallpaper from the theme, which was chosen to match the mood of the opera. Other elements include the Startup sound taken from the orchestral prelude of the opera's last act, the Shutdown sound from the last seconds of the opera, and many other sounds and icons.

Figure 2-10. The wallpaper from the Don Carlo theme, based on the Verdi opera

2.8.3 See Also

  • Style-XP, shareware from TFT Soft LLC at http://www.tgtsoft.com manages your themes, lets you automatically rotate them on a schedule, and lets you easily customize them, among other features.