How to Change the Windows 2000 or XP Theme to a Modern Gray
First Impressions - How to Change the Windows 2000 or XP Theme to a Modern Gray
Screenshot of Microsoft® Word® 2003 with the ‘First Impressions’ gray theme.
Additional information about the gray theme - including more screenshots - can be viewed at First Impressions Modern Gray Windows 2000/XP Theme. (Update January 11, 2012: Microsoft® has an excellent Theme File Format page that covers similar information as here plus a few extra tips.)
Step by step instructions of how to change your current XP or Windows® 2000 theme to the ‘First Impressions’ gray theme:
Screenshot of Microsoft® Internet Explorer® 8 with the ‘First Impressions’ gray theme.
Screenshot of Opera® 11.50 with the gray ‘First Impressions’ theme.
Screenshot of FireFox® 5 with the Smallring FX theme and menu bar removed within the gray ‘First Impressions’ theme
Screenshot of Microsoft Word 2003 with the ‘First Impressions’ gray theme and the taskbar in view.
The steps given here are very simple to many individuals, but there are many other individuals who have never changed a theme. This article is primarily aimed for the individuals who are either new to computers or have not before changed the settings on their computers. Finding an online step by step guide for any task can sometimes be quite a challenge in itself.
Before making changes, be sure to save your current theme so that you can easily bring it back up if/when you decide to change themes again. I recommend that you read all of the instructions given here before you make any changes. To save your current theme, right click on an empty area of your desktop, then left click on the pop-up menu's "Properties" button, and within the "Themes" tab left click on the button "Save As..." to save your current theme. Additional Instructions for saving your themes are given further below.
(1) Right click the BMP image and save it to a folder on your computer.
The BMP file is 1600 pixels wide and 1 pixel in height. The BMP will automatically repeat itself downward in Internet Explorer and Explorer, so you do not have to have the exact height (or at least that has been my own experience). I myself have not yet had luck with changing the background BMP in Internet Explorer 8, and it appears from the many discussions online that IE 8 is not easily modified. Nevertheless, the theme given here gives IE 8 a gray background for the menu bar, which matches the borders and still looks good. I keep most menu bars turned off, only leaving the command bar active, and so for my needs it makes no difference if the menu background is changed or not.
A bug in Internet Explorer 8 sometimes causes the menu bar background to go black and cause several display oddities in the menu bar. The bug is not related to the gray theme, it is a bug that affects many IE8 browsers regardless of what theme is being used. If IE 8’s menu bar changes itself to black after you have applied the gray theme, one possible solution is to simply change your theme to an XP theme, test to make sure that the black bar is no longer seen, and then change the theme back to gray. After changing the theme back to gray, left-click on start, choose control panel, choose administrative tools, choose services, and then double-click on “Themes”. Click on “stop” and then choose “manual” instead of automatic, and then click “OK”. Hopefully you will not again have the problem. There are several other suggested methods found online for correcting the black menu bug, but the method suggested here is usually the easiest.
I do not know if the gray theme will work in Windows 7 or in IE 9, but if it does, I would appreciate it if someone would send me a screenshot so that I can see how the gray theme looks. (Update 12-21-2011: The gray theme does look similar in Windows 7, but on my computer the rectangular start button in the task bar is doubled with one button on top of the other if the "active windows border" width is increased. The start button still works fine, but it can be very distracting to see two start buttons. The start button does not double if the active window border is left at 0 or 1 width, but then some of the advantages of using the classic theme are lost.)
If your monitor’s resolution is wider than 1600 pixels then the BMP will repeat itself on the right side in Internet Explorer and Explorer, and not look quite so good. You can use most any common graphics program to resize the BMP to be at least as wide as your monitor’s resolution. At present I do not use a resolution wider than 1440 (except to proof sites in 1900x1200), and the gradient would have to be modified to be located further to the left if the BMP itself is over 1600 pixels wide, otherwise the light gray will not begin fading to the dark gray until after the width of the screen, which then renders the background to be just one color.
(2) Go to http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/downloads/windows-xp and download the TweakUI file to your desktop or any other folder of your choice.
(3) After the file is downloaded, double click on the file’s icon to install the program.
(4) After the program is installed, open the program and click on the “+” box next to “Internet Explorer” and then click on “Toolbar Background”. On the right side of the menu, click the boxes to enable a custom background for Internet Explorer and Explorer. Click on the “Change…” buttons and choose the BMP file that you downloaded for both Internet Explorer and Explorer. If you are using Internet Explorer 8, I would recommend not clicking on the box for Internet Explorer since the BMP will likely not display anyway, and having the box clicked seems to cause the black menu bug to appear more frequently.
Click “OK” and then close TweakUI. You may have to restart Internet Explorer and Explorer to see the new changes.
(5) Now right-click anywhere on your desktop (but, of course, not on an icon!).
Under the “Advanced” button:
Active title bar
Active window border
Icon spacing (horizontal)
Icon spacing (vertical)
Inactive title bar
Inactive window border
After you have finished the modifications, click “OK”. In the “Display Properties” menu click “Apply”, which will apply the changes that you made, and then left-click on the “Themes” tab and save the theme with a name that you will easily recognize. I saved mine as “Larry Gowdy First Impressions XP and 2000 Gray Theme”.
(6) Now right-click on the taskbar, and at the bottom of the pop-up menu left-click on “Properties”. In the new pop-up menu left-click the box for “Auto-hide the taskbar”. By automatically hiding the taskbar you will be given additional space at the bottom of the screen. Left-click “OK” to exit the menu. If you find that you want to keep the taskbar visible, you can turn off auto-hide by repeating the same commands. (Update 12-24-2011: For those of us who do not want animations on our desktops, one choice is to drag the task bar over to the left or right of the screen where the task bar can remain visible while using minimal screen display area.)
I have applied the same settings in Windows 2000 but I do not yet have much experience with the new theme in W2K due to the W2K computer only being used as a security-enhanced test machine and not for daily work.
Almost all programs on my primary computer work well with the gray theme. A few utilities have their own skins without borders, which simply means that the programs will still work fine but not share the wide borders. The FreeCell game does not work correctly with the wider borders on my computer, but it might just be my computer’s fault and not FreeCell’s. (Nope, FreeCell will not work well with borders wider than around 30.)
The GOM® player is one of the few programs that is a little peculiar by behaving as though there is a resizable border over the commands located at the edges, but I have found that the WMP12X skin works best, and the commands near the edge of the program’s screen can be accessed when double-clicked.
Google’s® Chrome® browser does not accept borders, and though the program works fine in the gray theme, Chrome is one of the few programs that will not share the theme. Opera®, Safari®, and Internet Explorer work well with the theme. Actually, this is the first time that I have ever been pleased with Internet Explorer’s appearance. (Update 12-21-2011: The appearance of Internet Explorer 8 with the gray theme in XP looks very similar to Internet Explorer 9 with a gray Aero theme in Windows 7.)
The default FireFox® theme has black letters on the tabs, which makes it difficult to see with the gray background. I use the FireFox Smallring FX theme which not only looks great but also has lighter colored text for tabs and the menu bar. Some other programs may also keep black text on the gray background, but so far I have not yet had much trouble except for reading the text in a few pop-up menus. (Update 12-24-2011: The menu wording can be given lighter colored letters that are easier to read, but some programs may have similarly light backgrounds and be difficult to read with lighter-colored menu fonts. Some trial and error with character colors is expected to determine which combination works best for our most important programs, and which colors we can live with in programs that are not as important.)
I do not use any icons on my desktop, and so the icon size and spacing given above may not be what you prefer. The only two icons that I leave visible are the “Show Desktop” and “Recycle Bin”, both of which I placed on the left side in the taskbar.
To change the icon size and spacing, simply choose the icon settings again and change the sizes to fit your preferences. The spacing settings sometimes do not take effect immediately, and so expect that the new settings may need a few minutes or a reboot to be seen.
The wide borders disappear from around a program’s display when the program is maximized. To keep the wide borders in view, I simply resize each program by dragging the borders with the mouse to fit the screen, and I do not maximize any program. Once the programs have been sized to fit the screen, the programs will automatically return to the same dimensions after being minimized or reloaded.
The Windows Media Player’s minimize/maximize/exit commands at the top of the display will become hidden and unusable if Media Player is maximized. To reduce the size after being maximized, simply right click on the Media Player icon in the taskbar and choose “restore”. No other known problems exist with the gray theme.
If you are comfortable modifying a theme file itself, below are the values to copy/paste into a new theme based on Windows Classic. The copy/paste should save you several minutes of configuring the settings:
I hope that the gray theme works well for you. You can tinker with the colors so as to create a different appearance, perhaps with greens or violets, whatever your tastes prefer. For those of us who prefer a modern look without the cartoon-like icons and transparencies commonly found in other themes, the gray theme is quite good.
(Update October 06, 2013: As mentioned on the other page, Windows 8 has all of the advantages of the gray theme but without any of the disadvantages. It almost seems as if Microsoft viewed my articles and designed Windows 8 just for me. Thank you Microsoft!! ;-) ).
Unless otherwise stated, all content and graphics are Copyright©2011-2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.