Desktop Visual Styles -- UXTheme Multi-Patcher (Neowin Edition 4.0)
Click Here to View Video that Showcases Two Visual Styles
When I had first gotten Windows XP, I became thrilled with desktop themes. When I found the Neowin freeware patch for Windows XP, I discovered a whole new world of totally cool ways of changing the appearance of my desktop that go far beyond desktop themes. If you like desktop themes, you will love visual styles. The Neowin patch allows you to use styles that others have created that are much like the “Windows XP Style” that is included on the “Appearance” tab of the “Display” option in the “Control Panel”. I created the video above to show you two different visual styles that I installed on my computer.
Windows XP has the ability to use “visual styles” that use a *.msstyles file on your hard drive. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t set up Windows XP to allow others to create them. The code name for the “Windows XP style” was "Luna" when XP was developed. If you look in your “C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes\Luna” folder, you will find a file called "Luna.msstyles". This is the "skin" that is known as the "Windows XP style". The Neowin patch allows you to install visual styles created by others. I was a little concerned about installing a patch for Windows that was not created by Microsoft (some folks might call this a “hack”). The fact is that Microsoft does not provide visual styles other than the XP style that is included with Windows XP. Since the patch has provisions to restore Windows back to original configuration, I felt more inclined to try it. Another concern I had, was the potential that the patch might contain malware because I was not familiar with the web site where I downloaded the patch. After I installed the patch, I ran my spyware scanners (Ad-Aware, Spybot and Microsoft Antispyware), Trojan scanner (Ewido) and antivirus scanner. All of the scans came up clean so I consider the patch to be safe.
There are other programs that perform similar functions to visual styles, like WindowBlinds, Aston and Style XP, but none of these are free. The Neowin patch is the only freeware method that I have found of being able to use visual styles. Unfortunately, the Neowin patch can only be used on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.
One thing that is lacking in the patch download is step by step directions on how to install and remove the patch. I’ve written directions that should get you through the installation of the patch; as well as, directions to remove it if you decide to do that.
Installing the Patch
- Be sure you are using Windows XP, service pack 1, service pack 2 or Windows Server 2003, service pack 1.
- Download UXTheme Multi-Patcher (Neowin Edition) 4.0.
- After you download it, you will need to unzip the file (nw_uxpatcher.zip).
- After you unzip it, double click on the file “UXTheme Multi-Patcher (Neowin Edition) 4.0.exe” with your file manager.
- Click on the “Patch” button.
- You will get a message that warns you that you will get a “Windows File Protection” message and to not insert your Windows XP setup CD. Click on “OK”.
- On the “Windows File Protection” message, click on “Cancel” and do NOT insert your Windows XP setup CD. (Note that this message may appear behind the message to restart your computer that is discussed on step 9.)
- “Windows File Protection” will then ask, “Are you sure you want to keep these unrecognized files versions?” Click on “Yes”.
- Now return to the other “Install” message. It will say your computer needs to be restarted. Click on “OK”. Your computer will be restarted.
Restoring Windows Back to the Original Configuration
- Using your file manager, double click on the same file that you used to install the patch “UXTheme Multi-Patcher (Neowin Edition) 4.0.exe”.
- Click on the “Patch” button.
- You will get a message that asks, “…Do you want to restore your uxtheme.dll?” Click on “OK”.
- You will then get a question that asks, “Do you want to enable or disable themes service?” Click on the “Enable” button.
- You will then get a message that says it is necessary to restart your computer. Click on “OK”. Your computer will then restart with all the original settings restored.
There are many visual styles that can be downloaded from the internet. The file that you download for a visual style usually consists of a *.zip file (or other compressed format like *.rar) which when unzipped contains other files and possibly folders. The download will include a *.msstyles file and possibly a folder named “Shell” that has *.dll files to produce different color options for the style. Visual styles that have only one color will not have the “Shell” folder. Visual styles can specify fonts which the author may include in the download, although you can usually elect to not install them. The author will typically include wallpaper which you can choose to not use. The author may also include “skins” or themes for other programs that match the visual style. I’ve found skins for Rainlender (a calendar programs that opens to the desktop, which is sometimes abbreviated as “Rainy”), WinAmp (a media player), SysMetrix (a clock, weather conditions monitor and CPU monitor) and Y’z Dock (a program launcher).
If you want the short version of how to install a visual style, just unzip the contents of the download file and double click on the *.msstyles file with your file manager. I created an MsStyles folder in my C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes folder where I save the unzipped visual style files. After you double click on the *.msstyles file, the “Appearance” tab of the “Display” option in the “Control Panel” will open where you can click on “Apply” to open the style to your desktop. I created a tutorial below that provides more information about how to install a visual style. In the tutorial, I use the xplorer2 lite file manager that I have reviewed on my web site.
Click Here to View the Tutorial on How to Install Visual Styles
You should be aware that if you create an MsStyles folder as I mentioned in the previous paragraph and in the tutorial that your visual styles will not appear in the “Windows and Buttons” dropdown list on the “Appearance” tab of the “Display” option in the “Control Panel”. I just use a file manager to launch a style by double clicking on the *.msstyles file name. If you want them to appear in the dropdown list, you will need to adopt a different folder structure. For the style to appear in the list, the folder name in which it is residing must correspond to the name of the *.msstyles file. For example, “elegant.msstyles” must be in its visual style folder named “elegant” in the correct directory (C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes) and it will appear. The path for the file would then be:
If the visual style has a shell folder, it needs to be in the same “elegant” folder:
I have found some web sites that have visual styles that you can download:
winmodify.net (not many recent ones but quite a few old ones)
Wulfert.com (This site intermixes visual styles with skins for WindowBlinds, which is not free)
Some of the web sites that I listed above may say that you need a program called StyleXP by TGTsoft in order to use the style. That is not really true if you have installed the Neowin patch. You can use a search engine to find other web sites where you can download visual styles. I recommend that you not use the web site “http://www.themexp.org” because they bundle their download files with spyware. In fact, you need to be suspicious of any download of a visual style or desktop theme that has an *.exe extension. Visual styles and desktop themes consist of files that require no installation. Downloads that have the *.exe extension may contain spyware. The only exceptions to this are self extracting zip files.
The Neowin patch is compatible with service pack 1 and 2 of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, service pack 1. The download consists of a single compressed file, nw_uxpatcher.zip. When unzipped, one file is produced, “UXTheme Multi-Patcher (Neowin Edition) 4.0.exe”. Follow the directions above for installation.
If you install SP3 for Windows XP, there are directions to manually replace the uxtheme.dll at the following link. I have also added a link to a uxtheme theme patcher that I haven't tried:
SP3 Theme Patcher