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Everybody seems to mean the window frame colour and a set of desktop background pictures when they're talking about Windows 7 themes. Does anybody remember what themes used to be in Windows XP? You could actually alter the appearance of the window frame, how close buttons and menu popups looked, put a texture on the taskbar, all those funny things. Microsoft themselves have published a number of XP themes over time (Luna on XP, Royal on MCE2005, Zune later on).

I don't say that most of those and the numerous third party XP themes were beautiful or even practical. But it was possible to create something nice. In Windows 7 (I suppress the existence of Windows Vista...) such a theme could well be used to increase readability to a level before Aero Glass again. I mean, you cannot really tell whether a Glass window is active or not. I've been tweaking the colours and transparency levels a lot recently but the only safe indicator is the close button: it's red when the window is active, it's colourless otherwise. Then there's the window title. It is always painted black, on however dark a background. Again, regardless of whether the window is active or not.

Turning off Aero is not an option in Windows 7 anymore. Classic design looks just ugly there. It already wasn't exactly looking good on XP with the wide start menu.

So, can we increase the readability of the Windows 7 UI with themes like in XP or didn't Microsoft learn a thing since the Windows 7 Preview "Vista"?

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2 Answers

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If you want full control over how Windows 7 looks, check out WindowBlinds.

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Yes, we can, it's a very similar method to XP - patching the uxtheme.dll, along with a few others. Notable projects are VistaGlazz, which replaces your old .dlls (And I've had good experiences with it, myself), and UXStyle, which patches the files in RAM after they're loaded (At least, in theory, I could never get it to work)

You can then find themes on sites like DeviantArt - but there aren't anywhere near as many as there are for XP, Yet.

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