I have always loved the idea of skins. There is just something on the cool side of having software that is intelligent enough to change itself to how the user wants it. Allowing the user to store UI preferences like menu positions is only so fun (okay, so not fun at all, only functional).
I like to see what people can come up with when they add a little creativity to the mix. I am a huge fan of digital graphics and it is great to see something that has been designed and put together well. It doesn't matter if it is a wallpaper or skin, UI or site design.
There is a lot to be said for things that look great. Many a great product has failed because it didn't look good, while others that looks great, but didn't do anything, went a lot further because the interface made a decision maker go 'Ooooh, I like that!'.
Anyway, (back on track) the other day I was reading the latest APC mag and it had an article about skinning. PC mags have covered skinning many times in the last year, but I always want to see what they think about it.
One thing the article talked about was the Microsoft XP themes. I like the idea of XP themes, but didn't like the fact that there were only a couple of themes installed in the OS. I had looked into getting more a couple of times, but I didn't want to pay for anything. This meant that I couldn't get the additional, but limited, set of themes from Microsoft or software like StyleXP which gets around the theme security issues as explained below.
My free limitation meant that the few times that I started to look into getting some XP themes, I stopped looking as soon as I started. That was until I read the above APC article. It outlined how the themes are loaded and what is required.
XP themes are loaded (and rendered???) by uxtheme.dll which lives in Windows\System32. When it attempts to load a theme, it checks for a digital signature that ensures that the theme is safe, genuine and not tampered with etc etc. This means that you will have a lot of fun finding free themes that are digitally signed, hence why I gave up each time I looked into it.
APC made references to hacked versions of the dll that cause the dll to not check for the digital signature in the dll. This is the easy workaround because cracking a digital signature in each theme you want to load isn't possible (well, at least not feasible).
If you want load free themes, the following is what you need to do. Beware though, that changing this dll will render you as not being supported by Microsoft. I don't really have a problem with doing this to my computer because I have never called, let alone needed, Microsoft support. Also, don't complain to me if you computer dies. You do this at your own risk.
1. Get a hacked uxtheme.dll from somewhere like Softpedia, but make sure the hacked dll version is correct for your XP SP version.
2. Copy that hacked dll somewhere that is easy to access, like C:\.
3. Reboot and press F8 (or whatever you need) to get into the boot options. Select Safe mode with Command Prompt.
4. Enter CD Windows\System32
5. Enter ren uxtheme.dll uxtheme.dll.old
6. Enter copy C:\uxtheme.dll uxtheme.dll
You have now installed the hacked version of the XP skinning renderer. You should now be able to load any theme whether it is digitally signed or not. Places like DeviantArt or Customize are a good start looking for themes. My current favorite is Passion.
If you have a favourite theme, post a link to it.