HowTo: Using Windows Themes

So there you are, your ultimate gaming machine that you got for Christmas is just booting up for the first time. After spending all that money buying a case with windows, glowing fans and UV reactive cables, you’d expect that what’s displayed on the screen to look as good as the machine sitting on the desk right? Well, when it finally loads the desktop you’ll see the painful realization that your 1337 gaming machine is far from just that. Lets face it, the Windows Default (blue) theme is less than stellar. Looking at the same dull interface day after day is not exactly easy on the eyes. But what are your options? Shell out $20 for WindowBlinds? Resort to the not so crappy Default (silver)? Thankfully there is a better option, and for those on a budget you will be happy to hear that its free. Read on..

Intro aside, lets get down to business. For me functionality comes before style. I want my desktop to look good, but not at the cost of a performance hit. By using this simple system file patch no third party programs are required to run in the background. Which means less memory is used, and no chance of the theme suddenly crashing your computer. Lets take a look at what you need.

What you need:

Step 1. Download Patch Utility and Selecting a Theme
Firsts things first, download Chris Kite’s patching utility. It’s in a zip archive so when it comes time to run it, you will need to extract the file to do so. You also need to find a theme to replace old blue with. For this, DeviantArt has a wide variety of really well made themes, as well as some not so great ones. To save you some time, click here to see themes automatically sorted them by popularity. If you were to browse there manually, the DeviantArt Category is Skins & Themes and the Subcategory is Visual Styles. When selecting a theme it is important to look for those that are finished versions that have everything skinned. Often you will find some that just didn’t quite finish the job and some parts of OS will remain unthemed. Good themes include features such as a compact start menu and lots of color options. Generally, if the theme has a lot of positive feedback and a large number of downloads its safe to guess that it wont be horrible. Good all around themes that I recommend from past and present usage include:

Just try a few out and see what works for you.

Step 2. Patching uxtheme.dll
Microsoft does not users to be able to use 3rd party themes and for obvious branding reasons they locked down the theme engine. They must have knew that everyone would be making their PC look like a Mac. But thanks to some dedicated windows hackers out there we have an unlocked version of the MS Theme engine. Now, there are two ways of going about replacing uxtheme.dll, manually which is described at the Neowin Forums, or automatically using the utility you just downloaded.

Go ahead and extract the utility and run Universal UXTheme Patcher v1.2.exe. The program which is pretty simple first states which versions of windows that it is compatible with, if yours is on the list simply click “Patch.” Note: for those of your using the 64 bit version of Windows this utility is not for you. Also, even if you do have a 64 bit processor, you may not be running Windows XP 64 bit so check for sure before you patch anything.


After running the program it should display the following screen:


Simply click “No” and the program will exit. Before you can use any of the themes, you will need to restart windows, but before we do that we will install the themes.

Step 3. Installing Themes
Now that uxtheme.dll is patched you need to install the theme you downloaded in order for it to work. If it is in a zip archive first extract it and move the folder to the following directory: C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes.

Move the files to this directory.

Note: Each theme author may include other files in the archive such as desktop wallpapers. Simply follow their instructions on how to get them working with their theme, usually located in a “Readme” file. For the purpouse of this tutorial we are primarily concerned with getting the “.msstyles” files and the “Shell” directory of the individual theme in to the directory. Once the theme is in the folder it is installed and ready for use. You simply need to restart the computer to take advantage of your new themes.

Step 4. Using Themes
To use the newly installed themes right click on your desktop and select “Properties” to pull up Display Properties, or select Display Properties from your Control Panel. Under the Appearance tab you select your theme with the “Windows and buttons” drop down list.

Select your theme with this dropdown.

You can also select different colors for the theme using the “Color scheme” dropdown, that is, if they are included.

Select the Color Scheme with this dropdown

Now all that is left to do is simply click “Apply” or “OK” and your days of Default (blue) are over.


If for some reason you don’t see the Theme, try putting it in its own folder within the Resources\Themes directory such as “Resources\Themes\YourTheme” and restart your computer to see if that fixes your problem. Under rare cases, a less elegant solution is simply clicking on the “.msstyles” file for the theme you wish to use, and it will show up in Display Properties. If neither of these things worked, chances are the uxtheme.dll did not patch properly, so you can either, try again, patch manually, or try a different patching program. For more information on this and other windows customizing I recommend the Neowin – Customizing Windows XP forums.

Abridged Version
1. Download and Run this program, Click “Patch” and then “No” to avoid to restarting your computer.
2. Get Themes, Extract them and put them in the C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes folder.
3. Restart Computer
4. Select and apply your theme of choice from the Appearance tab in Display Properties located in the Control Panel.

Article Version 1.2

4 responses to “HowTo: Using Windows Themes”

  1. This will be a completely stupid question, but how do you change the desktop icons (my computer, folders, etc) to the new ones? Everything else works fine, it is just the folders taht remain the same.

  2. Newb: The windows themes do not change the folders, i guess its kind of deceptive from the screenshots, but im using a different program to do that, i just cant remember which one it is…

    airtonix: I run windows becuase it has programs on it that i use frequently, such as photoshop. Maybe if there was photoshop for linux or an alternative i could consider ( the gimp just doesn’t cut it 😛 .) I’ve been meaning to try it out though, just not on a computer that i get atcual work done on.

  3. dude, elite? windows? i think not. you want to get ubuntu…it installs easier than windows, more secure has the best firewall as part of the os, a really easy to use installation program with instant access to over 13000 free programs. deeeeeepp breath – im excited because i think you’ll go nuts over this….i know i did just because of the theming capabilities.

    other benefits for me are things like symbolic links, which is what shotcuts have been trying to emulate for ever but never could due to the file system(fat32 or ntfs)….symbolic links can mount a folder under anohter folder….and in ubuntu i do this the same way i make a shortcut in windows, either by shift ctrl dragging or right clicking on file, send to desktop. or create link…..totally awesome.

    if i want, i can even install a toolbar that is just like the osx toolbar where the icons all zoom in proximity to the mouse cursor…

    or you could check out litestep if its still available for release….its a free sheel replacement for windwos explorer…xp or 98. great but has a few bugs like a large majoriy of windows progs since microsoft runs a closed-source operating system, only the priveldged elite are allowed to see how a program should be truly made for windows…

    scary when the windows installer gives administrator rights to the everyday usage account. a

    all i can say is buyer beware!!!

  4. I think is quiet good explanation about how to use the patch and run different themes. Thank you very much. It worked. 🙂

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