Themes can come as zipped archives (a file with the extension .zip), or they can come as executable files with the extension .exe. The download file type dictates how you apply the theme.
Zip archives are actually a collection of files that are zipped into one file. This keeps the files together and often compresses the files so they don't take as long to download from the Web. Installation of .exe files download as a single file. They are actually like little applications in that they install the theme and its various elements when you double-click the downloaded file.
In the case of zipped files, you need to unzip the archive to a folder on your computer. Again, as discussed in the previous section, you should make sure that the file you downloaded from the Web is saved to a specific folder so you can locate it easily. Zipped archives use a specific icon of a folder with a zipper on it, as shown in Figure 3.14.
Figure 3.14. Zipped archives are identified by a unique folder icon.
Use Windows Explorer to open your local drive and locate/open the folder that contains the downloaded file (click Start, My Computer). After you have located the zipped file, you can unzip it to a new folder. In most cases, the zipped archive already contains a folder for the theme files, so when you extract the files, they are deposited in a new folder.
To extract the files from a zipped archive, double-click the zipped file to view its contents (it is typically a single folder). Then click the Extract All Files link on the left side of the Windows Explorer window. The Extraction Wizard opens; click Next to continue.
On the next wizard screen, you specify a folder to which the Zip file will be extracted (see Figure 3.15). Again, in most cases a folder is part of the Zip file and you can unzip the folder (and its contents) as a subfolder of the folder you created for your downloaded theme files.
Figure 3.15. Specify the folder where you will place the files from the Zip archive.
After specifying the folder, click the Next button. The archive is unzipped to the specified folder. Click Finish on the final wizard screen to complete the process. When you click Finish, a window opens showing you the unzipped files from the archive. In most cases, this is a single folder that contains the various elements of the theme, as shown in Figure 3.16.
Figure 3.16. You can view the various files that make up the theme.
As you can see from Figure 3.16, this theme contains a new desktop background, new cursors, mouse pointers, and even a sound file. The actual theme file (which is really just a text file of instructions as to which elements should be applied when the theme is used) is only a 5KB file and is listed second on the file list shown in Figure 3.16.
After the theme has been extracted to a folder, you can apply the theme. Right-click the Windows desktop and select Properties.
On the Display Properties dialog box, make sure that the Themes tab is selected. Click the Theme drop-down list arrow and select Browse from the list.
This opens the Open Theme dialog box. Navigate to the folder that holds your theme (see Figure 3.17).
Figure 3.17. Locate the theme file.
Select the theme file and then click Open. The theme appears in the Theme list on the Theme tab of the Display Properties dialog box. Now that the new theme has been selected, you can check out the other tabs of the Display Properties dialog box to see which theme elements have actually been applied. For a review of theme elements, refer to the "Exploring Theme Elements" section in this chapter.
Themes are available on the Web for versions of Windows other than Windows XP (such as Windows 95 and 98). Many sites do not provide enough detailed information about the themes they provide to let you know for which version of Windows the theme was designed. This means some themes will work well with Windows XP and some won't. Some themes written for Windows 95 and 98 might also have been designed to take advantage of the Microsoft Plus Theme software that was created for that version of Windows. After you download a theme and the accompanying files, you might want to view the theme in a text editor such as Windows WordPad. Right-click the theme and select Open with; then select WordPad from the list. Themes are really just text files designating the various theme settings. Typically, a text line near the top of the theme file (as viewed in WordPad) tells you for which version of Windows the theme was created. Remember that themes designed for Windows XP work the best in Windows XP.
To apply the new theme to Windows, you can click the Apply button or click OK in the Display Properties dialog box. Figure 3.18 shows a downloaded theme that has been applied to Windows.
Figure 3.18. The theme file modifies the various Windows GUI elements.