Before discussing how you change the default theme, we should cover the interface components or visual effects of the XP GUI, such as whether windows are animated when minimized or maximized and how ToolTips or menus look when activated. Although not an integral part of a theme or skin, these settings do allow you to control the look and feel of certain aspects of the GUI.
To access the visual effects, you must open the My Computer Properties dialog box, click Start, and then right-click My Computer. Select Properties from the shortcut menu and then select the Advanced tab of the Properties dialog box.
To access the visual effects, click the Settings button in the Performance box (of the Advanced tab). When the Performance Options dialog box opens, make sure the Visual Effects tab is selected (see Figure 2.10).
Figure 2.10. The Visual Effects tab enables you to control various visual aspects of the Windows GUI.
Four option buttons are available on the tab:
Let Windows Choose What's Best for My Computer This option allows Windows (based on your computer's hardware, such as graphics card and memory) to enable or disable the settings. On a newer computer, the settings are all enabled.
Adjust for Best Appearance This option enables all the visual effects (whether they were enabled in the Let Windows Choose What's Best for My Computer option).
Adjust for Best Performance This option disables all the visual effects.
Custom Options This allows you to pick and choose the visual effects you want enabled (or disabled).
If you select the Custom options, the visual effects can be either on or off and are controlled by individual check boxes. The options are as follows:
Animate Windows when Minimizing and Maximizing The window appears as a moving (animated) title bar as it minimizes or is maximized.
Fade or Slide Menus into View Menus fade in (you have to watch closely) as they slide open.
Fade or Slide ToolTips into View ToolTips fade in and then slide into view as you place the mouse on a toolbar button.
Fade Out Menu Items After Clicking Menu items actually fade from view (it happens very quickly) after selection.
Show Shadows Under Menus The shadows provide more depth and add a 3D appearance to the menu bar.
Show Shadows Under Mouse Pointer The shadow provides more visual depth for the mouse pointer (rather than a flat, 2D object).
Show Translucent Selection Rectangle A shiny, see-through selection rectangle is shown when you select items (such as icons on the desktop) by dragging the mouse.
Show Window Contents While Dragging The window contents appear (rather than an empty box as you drag the window).
Slide Open Combo Boxes Combo boxes allow you to view a list or type an option; they slide open revealing the contents (when this option is selected).
Slide Taskbar Buttons The taskbar buttons (particularly when multiple windows are available under a single application icon) slide open to show the choices.
Smooth Edges of Screen Fonts Screen fonts are smoothed so that ragged edges do not appear as you manipulate windows and menus.
Smooth-scroll List Boxes Items in the list box remain in view (and readable) as you scroll through a list box.
Use a Background Image for Each Folder Type A default image is used as the background for different folders. This isn't the actual folder image but a textured background file.
Use Common Tasks in Folders Common tasks related to folder manipulation are listed as hyperlinks in the left panel of the Windows Explorer.
Use Drop Shadows for Icon Labels on the Desktop The drop shadow provides more depth (and somewhat of a 3D effect) for the desktop icon text.
Use Visual Styles on Windows and Buttons Visual styles applied to Windows XP (as part of a theme or skin) are also applied to windows and buttons.
These various visual effects, when turned on, provide the best appearance in terms of smooth transitions when opening, closing, or otherwise manipulating an interface component such as a window or dialog box; these features do, however, exact a cost on computer performance. Turning off all the visual effects actually improves the overall performance of the computer (although it certainly does not provide a huge boost in performance).
When working with Windows themes, visual styles, and skins, you need to have the Use Visual Styles on Windows and Buttons option enabled on the Visual Effects tab (even if you decide not to have all the visual effects enabled).
Certain visual effects can also be controlled from the Display Properties dialog box. Right-click the desktop and select Properties from the shortcut menu. Make sure the Appearance tab is selected, and then click the Effects button to open the Effects dialog box, as shown in Figure 2.11.
Figure 2.11. Certain visual effects can be controlled from the Effects dialog box.
When the Use the Following Transition Effect for Menus and ToolTips option is enabled (via the check box), you can choose between two effects using the drop-down list: Fade Effect or Scroll Effect. The Fade Effect enables menus and ToolTips to fade in and out as you select them. The Scroll Effect causes the menus and ToolTips to slide in and out as you select or deselect them.
When the Use the Following Method to Smooth Edges of Screen Fonts check box is enabled, you can select either Standard or ClearType from the accompanying drop-down list. Standard is the best setting for desktop monitors. If you are using a laptop computer or a desktop LCD screen, the best option is ClearType.
Four other options are also available in the Effects dialog box:
Use Large Icons This option doubles the size of desktop icons (overriding the standard icon size for the screen resolution you have selected).
Show Shadows Under Menus The shadow provides a more 3D look to the menus.
Show Window Contents While Dragging The actual contents of the window are still viewable while you drag the window.
Hide Underlined Letters for Keyboard Navigation Until I Press the Alt Key The menu underlines are not shown until the Alt key is pressed.
After you have selected the options you want to use, click the OK button. Click OK again to close the Display Properties dialog box.