Modern Gray Windows 2000/XP Theme

First Impressions - Modern Gray Windows 2000/XP Theme

by Larry Neal Gowdy - August 01, 2011 (updated October 6, 2013)

If a man walks into a wall, takes a step back, and then walks back into the wall over and over, we would judge the poor fellow as having a mental disorder. It is a healthy thing to learn from and to get bored from doing the same thing over and over, and it is healthy for a person to become bored of the colors and themes of software.

A few years back my tastes for web design were mostly of classical dark greens and burgundies, but at present my tastes are for modern grays. In the future I fully expect my tastes to change again, and I suspect that I will likely be leaning towards whites before changing again to different colors. It is easy to change the color schemes of websites, but not so easy to change the colors of software.

Screenshot of Internet Explorer 8 and PaintShop Pro in gray

Dual monitor screenshot of a gray XP theme. Internet Explorer® 8 on the left at 1440x900, Jasc’s® PaintShop® Pro on the right at 1024x768.

The reason why gray is a desirable theme color is that gray does not easily catch the eye’s attention. When working with a word processor or HTML editor for hours at a time, with the gray theme I have found that I am able to retain focus on my work without my noticing and being distracted by border colors. For some of us, gray is desirable for both aesthetics as well as for utility.

I like the wide margin layout of Microsoft® Office® 2010 in gray, and I like the layout in Expression® Web 4, but Office 2003 and most of my other programs do not have a similar layout. Buying Office 2010 and Windows® 7 might allow me to have a few programs with the styling that I want, but not all, and if all of my primary programs cannot share a similar theme, then the cost of Office 2010 and Windows 7 is not practical. Too, Office 2003 has drop-down text menus, not the icons as found in the Office 2010 ribbon, and so I would prefer to stay with Office 2003.

Screenshot of CorelDraw! 12 and Jasc PaintShop Pro with a gray theme

Screenshot of CorelDraw!® 12 and Jasc PaintShop Pro looking good in the gray XP theme.

In recent months I was very tempted to purchase the new CorelDraw PaintShop Photo Pro® solely because it retained most of the Jasc layout, and too it had a black theme very similar to what I was wanting. If Corel PSPP would have had transparencies like I need, I would have happily spent the hundred dollars. Now, however, I am very pleased with the software that I already own.

There are now a few programs available that claim to be able to modify XP themes, but I myself have not had luck with the programs, and the bugs in the software tended to cause serious problems of affecting operating system stability. Too, the theme modification programs basically only allowed different icons, wallpaper, and background colors, with few or no options for creating a theme that is shared by all other software on a person’s computer.

I am wanting to change my desktop theme to become more modern and useful while working with word processors, vector graphics programs, and HTML editors. Since I rarely use a computer for gaming, movies, or television, then I am not interested in the high definition video graphics nor the associated icons. Too, I lost interest in comic-like graphics years back during the days of Harvard Graphics®, and I still do not want to see cartoon figures on my desktop. Since almost all icons are now cartoon-like, I would much prefer to read a word rather than have to click on an icon. Software like Office 2003, Office 2010 (with the top menu minimized) and Ubuntu® Linux® are among the very few choices for individuals who prefer written menus rather than tool bars with icons.

For over two months I experimented with numerous Linux® distributions to determine how well Linux might work on older computers, and to also see if one of the Linux themes might best fit my need for a change of scenery. Zorin® Linux has an excellent Windows® 7 theme that works very well with the gray Ubuntu® skin, and I invested over a day trying to make Zorin work on my main computer. I would have had to abandon Office 2003, Expression, and all of my other best software if I changed to Linux, but I would do it if Linux had a working theme that fit my preferences.

While tinkering further with a XP classic theme in gray, I expanded the active and inactive window borders to 26 pixels. After a bit more experimentation I increased the borders to 34 pixels. The increased border widths gave me a similar feel as Office 2010; not the same, but similar.

One huge benefit of using the classic theme is that it allows you to modify the menu background in Internet Explorer 8. (IE’s menu background is not easily changed to a desirable style, ever!) With the gray theme, for the very first time I am now happy with the appearances of IE. The bleh appearance of IE had remained my one overwhelming gripe about Microsoft products, but now with the bleh having been eliminated, I do believe that I prefer the IE8 appearance over all other browsers (at least for now, although I am confident that further into the future my tastes will change again).

The only drawback so far with the increased border widths is that the taskbar is a bit thicker than I would prefer. Setting the taskbar to automatically minimize has solved much of the problem, but there are times that I need to leave the taskbar in view while switching back and forth between programs. At present I am well enough pleased with the theme that I am not going to worry about the taskbar. I temporarily reset the borders to 26 so that the taskbar height would be better balanced, but nah, 34 works best for me.

Screenshot of Internet Explorer 8 and Media Player in a gray theme

Screenshot of Internet Explorer 8 and Media Player in the gray XP theme.

Only Chrome® and a few basic utilities do not allow borders, and the FreeCell game does not work correctly with wide borders, but almost all other programs that I use regularly now have a similar theme appearance. Media Player® can have its colors changed so as to add a splash of color on a second monitor; even pink and purple! For my own tastes I prefer to leave Media Player without classic borders.

Screenshot of the modern gray XP theme across two monitors

Screenshot of the modern gray XP theme across two monitors.

All desktop icons have been removed, leaving only the program icons and wording in the pop-up taskbar. Now if only I could eliminate the program icons…

Having found a theme that works well for my needs, I applied similar settings on an older P4 computer with Windows 2000. The programs within W2K now look very similar to the XP versions, and for the moment I have lost all interest in Linux. And I am still surprised at how clean and attractive IE now looks!

Internet Explorer 8 screenshot with the modified gray theme

Internet Explorer 8 screenshot with the modified gray theme.

For additional information and step by step instructions of how to modify the XP and 2000 theme to gray, please see How to Change XP/2000 Theme to Gray.

(Update October 6, 2013: Over 99% of everything that I was wanting in an XP theme is now found in Windows 8: the solid colors, the use of my favorite software, speed, everything. I still use the modern gray theme for when I need to use a 2000/XP machine for long, but I rush to get back on Windows 8. Everyone has different tastes, but luckily for me my tastes are best pleased with Windows 8.)

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