If you want to skin every aspect of the Windows interface, the last step is to apply an alternative boot screen. As I've already mentioned, this skinning operation is the riskiest in terms of making your system unstable. Style XP, StarSkin, and Stardock's Theme Manager all provide the ability to change the default Windows boot screen.
If you have only one computer and it serves purposes other than just entertainment, you might want to limit your skinning of Windows to the GUI using skinning software such as StarSkin or WindowBlinds. Don't mess with the boot screen if your computer is something you can't live without.
StarSkin uses boot screen files that are executable files (.exe). They are hacked versions of the ntoskrnl.exe file, which is an extremely important core operating system file. So, to change from the Windows XP default boot screen, you must install a modified or hacked version of the ntoskrnl.exe file.
Style XP uses a strategy for changing the default boot screen that uses a modified version of the ntoskrnl.exe, named kernel.exe. A modified version of the Windows boot.ini file is also created so you can use alternative boot screens. Again, this can be risky because you are working with modified versions of important Windows resource files.
Theme Manager from Stardock provides a different approach to skinning the boot screen and uses an add-on program called Bootskin to skin the boot screen. As with the other Object Desktop utilities such as WindowBlinds and LogonStudio, Bootskin uses its own file format and strategy for skinning the boot screen so it doesn't mess with the boot.ini file. This makes skinning the boot screen with Bootskin the safest method.
Using Style XP to Change the Boot Screen
After you assume the risk of changing the boot screen, the various skinning software packages make picking a new boot screen easy. For example, in Style XP, you click Boot Screens in the Choice list. A message appears letting you know that your boot.ini file will be backed up and that boot screens can be dangerous. It recommends that you have a repair disk handy or have your Windows bootable OS CD available.
Click OK, and then click Yes to back up the boot.ini file. It is backed up as boot.bkk in the C: drive root. A message appears that a new line must be added to the modified boot.ini file. Click Yes to proceed.
Now you can select an alternative boot screen from the list provided by Style XP. Click one of the boot screens listed in the Boot Screens list (see Figure 13.17).
Figure 13.17. Select an alternative boot screen.
To apply the screen, click Apply Boot Screen. The next time you boot the computer, the alternative boot screen is used.
Here are a couple of other things you should be aware of related to boot screens and Style XP. First, if there is a problem with the boot screen, the Windows boot menu appears and you can use the arrow keys and Enter key to select the original Windows boot option to bypass the modified boot screen.
In addition, boot tools are provided by Style XP below the Boot Screens list. You can reset the kernel file using the Reset Kernel file button. You can also reset the boot.ini file to the original by clicking the Reset boot.ini File button. Resetting these files should fix any problems related to boot screens. However, resetting these files also negates your ability to use alternative boot screens.
Stardock Theme Manager and Boot Screens
As I already mentioned, Stardock Theme Manager changes your boot screen using an add-on program named Bootskin. Bootskin skins the boot screen using a bootskin.ini file and two image files, which we discuss in the section "Creating Boot Screens." So, you aren't messing with the boot.ini or OS kernel file when using Theme Manager.
To change the boot screen using Theme Manager, click Boot Skins in the Application list. If you do not have Bootskin installed, a link appears in the upper right of the Theme Manager window telling you to install Bootskin, which is freeware. Click the link and go through the installation process. After Bootskin is installed, Theme Manager displays a list of the boot screens that are available by default (see Figure 13.18).
Figure 13.18. Select an alternative boot screen from the Theme Manager list.
Select a boot screen from the list to see a preview. To switch to that boot skin, click Apply. Then, the next time you boot the system, the alternative boot screen is used.
Downloading Boot Screen Skins
As with the other GUI elements, StarSkin, Style XP, and Theme Manager enable you to easily download boot screens from the Web and then apply them to your computer. In the case of StarSkin and Style XP, it is important that you download boot screens that are compatible with the version of Windows you are using. If you have updated your Windows XP installation to SP2, you need to download those boot screens that have been specifically designed for Windows XP SP2.
For example, when you download a new boot screen for StarSkin, a web page is opened that provides a list of boot screen categories that depend on your OS and the Windows updates you have downloaded and installed, such as SP1, SP2 (see Figure 13.19).
Figure 13.19. Make sure you download the appropriate boot skin for your version of Windows.
Numerous boot skins are available for StarSkin, Style XP, and Theme Manager. Each of these skinning software utilities provides a link that takes you to a specific library of boot screensfor example, StarSkin uses www.belchfire.net.
As with the other skin elements, you can download as many boot screens as you want. In cases where you can't find an appropriate boot screen for your overall Windows skin, you can create your own boot screen. We discuss how you create a boot skin for Stardock Theme Manager and Bootskin in the next section.