Windows 7 to add slideshow wallpapers, theme gallery and theme packs

Don’t worry Windows 95 Plus! enthusiasts, Microsoft hasn’t forgotten about you and your themes. A recently updated MSDN Library document shows that Microsoft hasn’t just brushed themes under the carpet, but instead dusted it off, added some new polish and is even putting it under the spotlight.

The document “Creating and Installing Theme Files” (now edited) has been updated with several “additions to the .theme file format were made for Windows 7”. They include:

The [Theme] section of the file contains the following two attributes:

Icon=module,-iconId (example: themeui.dll,-123) or pathToIcon (example: MyTheme.ico)
Windows 7 and later. The icon to show in the theme gallery, either an embedded resource or a path to an .ico file. Paths are relative to the directory of the .theme file.

Desktop Appearance
You can create custom wallpaper for the desktop and specify a path to the graphics file. Additionally, this section of the .theme file can specify whether the screen saver is active. The following example shows how to do modify the desktop appearance. Windows 7 and later: If the slideshow is active, the path can be a path to a folder containing multiple images, or a colon-delimited list of image files.

Windows 7 and later. The following attribute is set to “1” to enable a slide show as the wallpaper.

Theme Packs
Windows 7 and later. A theme pack is a .cab file that contains not only the .theme file but also the files needed to implement the theme on another computer, such as sound files and images. Users can create theme packs through the Personalization application in Control Panel.

This sudden rejuvenation in themes excites me and puzzles me at the same time. On one hand, I have a lot of fond memories with themes in Windows 95 Plus! – the sound effects would always be so bizarre. On the other, OS GUI customization is becoming much less common – much less so in Vista than compared to XP.

Personally, the idea of using a third party visual style in Vista has never even crossed the mind and I’m someone who wouldn’t think twice about using a custom style in XP. Does anyone else still use custom styles or even custom themes (cursors, sound effects)?

Update: The Windows 7 information has now been removed. Oh come on Sinofsky, give me a break.

41 insightful thoughts

  1. Not cursors or sounds, but visual styles -an emphatic yes! & deviantart have some really slick visual styles for Vista. The need to patch Vista & XP for third party visual styles was lame. I tis nice to see that MS is considering native support for them.

  2. I’d like to point out that although Microsoft is taking a step forward to support these “theme packs”, this is no way an indication that third-party styles will be supported.

    I’m sure the digital signature checks will still be in place, for me to patch out.

  3. Vista isn’t so often themed by users because of complications with the Vista skinning engine (I don’t believe a GUI driven theme creator exists yet for Vista), meaning most existing Vista themes are fairly weak modifications of the original Aero theme. And the Aero theme itself is a rather stunning piece of design work, which is hard to beat. MS raised the standard for the UI in Vista somewhat, few third party themes exist that are actually any better. XP is a different question – it’s old, the tools are available, and I’m sorry MS, but Luna was ugly as hell.

    So yeah third party theming is done on Vista…just not as much.

  4. Andrew,

    Vista theming programs exist: Stardock’s SkinStudio creates and Windowblinds applies.

  5. “.. implement the theme on another computer,…”

    So, will I be able to personalize my computer with a theme and the theme is (linked to my Windows Live) automatically sync’ed when i login to another computer? So that the new computer will have the same personalization as my home computer. This could be possible if my accounts are linked to Windows Live (which is closely tied with Windows 7). I remember Ray Ozzie and Bill Gates talking about taking our personalization from once computer to another…just by logging-in… is this a step towards that?

  6. @ manan thanx for the plug! 😉

    i use visualstyles on my vista and have since i did my first install, and of course i fancy Rafael’s nice patches!
    i used to use .WBA’s with windowblinds when i was on XP…the great thing about visualstyles or .WBA skins is that, if you get sick of the UI of your OS you can easily switch it with the click of a mouse!

    personally i find things lose their “sexy appeal” (if i can say…very quickly, and having a lil swtich up is nice! others go far more deeper into modding for a completely custom UI..


  7. Not to rain on anyones parade, but has anyone stopped to think about the horsepower the “new” windows will take to run. Slide show themes and other graphic intense visuals. I am having flashbacks (nightmares) of Windows 95+, 98, and Me! I hope that Microsoft is truly building this new from the ground up without all the luggage from the attic, basement and closets being left in. Otherwise we are going to need a super computer to run the thing.

  8. Hey Long,

    Forget themes. Custom shells is the way to go. Have a look at and see what I mean. Too bad they dont have a set release date yet, but Im sure that you will be able to get some sort of information out of them 😉 How about a article about custom shells maybe? Just a thought. Great article, keep up the excellent work!!

  9. > “has anyone stopped to think about the horsepower the “new” windows will take to run.”

    Hopefully they will have optimised the engines involved by then. I mean compiz fusion runs (well!) on everything I’ve throw it on.

  10. I cant imagine there will be alternate visual styles just that it will be like the the old themes consisting of;
    mouse cursor
    a few icons
    other additions
    profile picture, anything uniqeue such as your own wallpaper etc.

    Microsoft could do custom visual styles but I doubt they will allow it especially as Stardock has Windowblinds and a real custom theme solution that doesn’t involve hacking would affect them badly unless it was “skinning lite” as Stardock have some relationship with Microsoft as I recall the Dreamscene stuff or something like that was based off Stardocks work.

    Funnily enough I too am like you Long with XP I was always changing visual styles but with Vista I’ve left it alone, I think it is more understated than Luna which was an acquired taste so there is less desire to change the look.

    “Not to rain on anyones parade, but has anyone stopped to think about the horsepower the “new” windows will take to run. Slide show themes and other graphic intense visuals.”.

    Uhh everything described is already possible on Windows Vista with a bottom of the barrel/integrated graphics DX9 class GPU and is possible on Windows XP with Windowsblinds so I’m not sure exactly what your concerns are cause they don’t hold water.

  11. “The Windows 7 information has now been removed.” 😆 You seem to be giving these guys a tough time. First buying the domain and now this!

  12. “Oh come on Sinofsky, give me a break”. Don’t worry …there’ll be a public build or PDC- and WinHEC -attendees only public build in Sept-Oct.

  13. I’m an old guy who still likes old themes. My 95 Plus! pack works right out of the box with my Vista SP1. Although programs to do work are always the main reason for a computer, everyone wants a way to bring a little excitement to there desk. I think Microsoft knows this and is continuing to try to improve on this idea. For me I’m staying with my Mystery (Sherlock Holmes?) desktop for now.

  14. Yes! I love theme packs! I was hoping Microsoft would do something to bring them back in the next Windows.

    It would be really awesome if Microsoft created a nice slick Windows 7 site with everything you need to know, and a download section where you find/create/share theme packs, wallpapers, sounds, transitions, mouse cursors, a few special icons, and maybe fancy profile display pictures (like GIF’s?).

    I don’t think it will bog down the system if implemented correctly. There’s a bazillion skins you can download out there already.

    I’m also thinking on the sames line as VasiS. It looks like you could take your theme settings over to another computer, using your Windows Live account. Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to see what’s coming up.

  15. As Andrew suggested, users don’t theme Vista because MS has made it superhard to be themed (we are talking about ‘my dad’ average users). If there was a facility for theming as with backgrounds (previews, easy installation, everything embedded in one file, official microsoft server for themes, several ergonomic&good example ones to show what’s possible), I have no doubt theming would take off, big time.

    With Aero theme, it is hard to not hate blue, especially when you edit images and you want to be unbiased. If MS would support themes, everyone could use themes like

  16. I used to use third-party themes, but soon found out they all sucked. Tons of clones – OS X clones, KDE clones, Windows beta clones, etc. And bad color schemes that only look good in screenshots. And low overall quality: they work only with some font sizes, or some start menu configurations, missing parts, leftover pixels…

  17. Look at Vista’s design – everything is locked down.

    Don’t like teal? Suck it, every system control panel window is graduated blue-to-green on the left by default. Icons are mostly some godawful combination of turquoise and orange (but not all! that would be too consistent!)

    Don’t like the logon screen background? Suck it, it’s not customizable.

    Choose *any* of the supplied frame colour schemes other than Default, and wonder why the hell there’s a bright turquoise line at the bottom and right edges of the active window. All the other border colours just don’t work with the teal interiors of most Windows windows. Suck it. Nobody uses any of the other colours because all the suggested defaults look *terrible*.

    Customization is probably something that CEIP stats are going to be used to beat us with – “most people don’t customize, therefore most people don’t want to” will be the conclusion, rather than “we borfed every single customizable aspect in the name of ‘cheaper’ because ‘surprise’ and ‘delight’ went out with Windows 95 and it’s hard to provide customization.”.

    I am so pissed off at Microsoft over Vista’s un-customizability, I could vent my spleen for hours.

  18. You all seem to now what you r talking about. i just joined and i would like to know where i could get some great wallpapers and pictures for my profile .

  19. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets
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    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

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