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With the release of Windows XP, Microsoft provided a radically different approach to the customization of the Windows graphical user interface (GUI) by providing a built-in visual style engine. A visual style controls the color scheme and the bitmap graphics that are used for such Windows interface elements as the Start menu, the taskbar, and the objects we find on a typical window (such as the title bar and control buttons). Although Windows XP shipped with only one visual style—the XP style—the fact that the visual style engine exists makes it possible for any user to radically alter the look and feel of the Windows interface.

Through the manipulation of Windows themes (the icons, mouse pointers, desktop background, and other GUI elements we interface with when we use Windows) and visual styles, we can actually “skin” the Windows interface (a skin being the combination of modified theme elements and visual style items). This means you can create a custom interface, and the limits on the possibilities are really up to you and your artistic inclinations.

Theme elements can be easily modified using tools built in to the Windows XP environment. For more radical interface modification, a number of third-party software packages make it easy to create any number of extremely unique “looks” for the interface.

Skinning Windows XP provides both a primer and an advanced user guide to creating your own Windows themes, visual styles, and skins (whether you are using Windows XP Home or Windows XP Profesisonal). Although this book is designed for the novice as well as the more advanced Windows user, its logical step-by-step approach provides a learning environment ideal for the novice and provides the more experienced user with a breadth of details because more advanced skinning topics are discussed.

Although this book takes its subject matter very seriously, the material itself is approached in a straightforward, conversational manner that should help you digest the information without dozing off or developing a horrible migraine headache. It will also provide you with the knowledge base you need to further explore the concept of skinning Windows and enable you to advance your own creative sensibilities when you have set the book down after reading the last chapter.

Conventions Used in This Book

Certain conventions have been followed in this book to help you digest all the material. At the beginning of each chapter, you’ll find a list of the major topics covered in that chapter. And because this book explores the visual aspects of skinning Windows XP, ample screen captures have been provided to ground you in each process as you create themes, visual styles, and skins. You will also find several icons used throughout this book. These icons denote additional information on a subject, supply asides that provide useful insight, or give warnings that can help you steer clear of problem areas related to Windows themes, visual styles, and skins. These icons are as follows:


These side-bars include additional information related to the current topic, but they do not have to be read for you to have a complete understanding of the information provided in the regular text.


These sidebars provide shortcuts or direct you to additional information that will help you to complete a particular process or understand a certain topic.


These boxes attempt to reach out and grab your hand before you press that red destruct button. Warnings point out major problems or issues related to a particular aspect of creating Windows skins.

How This Book Is Organized

This book has been organized so that a novice user can explore basic to intermediate to advanced subject matter as each chapter is read. However, the chapters have been written to be primarily self-contained so the intermediate or advanced user can pick up the book and jump to a particular chapter and take full advantage of the topics covered in that chapter.

The book has been configured so the reader can first explore Windows themes (the simplest way to modify the Windows XP interface) and learn how to modify default themes as well as download themes available on the Web. Information is also provided on the various types of skinning software and how to acquire that software. Skins and visual styles can then be downloaded from the Web, making skinning Windows a matter of installing a simple application and then downloading any number of premade skins.

For users with a more artistic bent, you learn how to create your own skins and looks and the software options that are available. Finally, an appendix includes an introduction to software that enables a very advanced user to actually hack Windows resources and create skins without the use of additional skinning software.

Skinning Windows is fun and allows you to take the Windows environment to a whole new visual level. Whatever your current knowledge level is related to Windows, you will be able to use this book to personalize the look and feel of the XP interface. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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