The alternative to Zip archives is a theme that has its own installation executable file or has been compressed into an executable file with the theme elements (such as the cursor, icon, and sound files). This one file (typically with the extension .exe) contains all the element files in the theme.
Download the file to your computer as discussed in the previous section. Then all you have to do is locate the executable file you downloaded.
In some cases, the download is an installation program that installs the theme to a folder on your computer. After you have installed the theme, you can apply the theme to your computer, as discussed in the previous section (on the Theme tab of the Display Properties dialog box, use the Browse command on the Themes list to locate the theme on your computer). Some of these theme executable files also apply the theme to the computer when you run the installation program.
In other cases, the executable file you download might be a wrapped programwrapped being a way of compressing the actual theme program file that installs the theme. So, you have to go through two installations to get at the theme. You have to unwrap the theme executable and then use it to install the theme on your computer. Let's take a look at unwrapping an executable theme.
Unwrapping an Executable Theme
The program you downloaded might be a wrapped file, so you'll have to unwrap it (meaning running the initial wrapping program) to get at the actual executable file that installs the theme. If the theme file you downloaded is the actual theme installer, you can skip this section and proceed to the next section, "Unzipping Themes from Executable Files."
After you've located the file in Windows Explorer, double-click the file. A security warning message might appear. Click Run to run the theme file.
A file transportation program wizard appears, explaining that the theme has been wrapped into an executable to save space (and to make it easy to download). Click Next.
You might have to accept certain terms on the next screen related to the download; make sure that I Accept is selected. Then click Next to continue.
Some themes are wrapped with third-party web browser toolbars and other utilities. You have to decide whether you will accept the installation of these items to install the theme. After considering the options, click Next to continue. Other steps might be involved in the process, depending on how the theme was wrapped. When you complete the process, a Windows Explorer window opens and shows the executable file (see Figure 3.19).
Figure 3.19. Double-clicking the theme executable file installs the theme to your computer.
When you run the executable file, an installer wizard opens. Read each screen and click Next as required. During the installation process, a preview of the theme is shown. At some point, the wizard provides you with the ability to select the folder into which the theme should be installed. Select an appropriate folder and then click Next. The theme is extracted to the folder you specified. You can now apply the theme to your computer using the Browse command in the Themes list (on the Themes tab of the Display Properties dialog box).
In cases where the installation wizard shows a default folder for the theme installation, go with the default (meaning the folder path provided by the wizard). The theme might be designed to look in that particular folder location to apply theme elements appropriately. Placing the theme in a folder other than the default can cause problems when you apply the theme (for instance, the icon files or mouse cursors might not be found).
Unzipping Themes from Executable Files
As already mentioned, theme files can be compressed or zipped into a single executable file. Running the executable allows you to unzip the files into a particular folder. Let's take a look at how this process works.
Download the executable file to an appropriate folder on your computer. Locate the file and double-click it. The WinZip Self-Extractor window opens (see Figure 3.20).
Figure 3.20. You need to unzip the theme elements using the WinZip Self-Extractor.
Specify a folder for the theme (and all the theme element files), and then click Unzip. This unzips the files to the specified folder. You can then apply the theme as you would any other theme via the Themes tab in the Display Properties dialog box.
I think you will find that downloading and applying themes from the Web can be quite an interesting experience. It also provides ready-made themes based on the arts, movies, nature, and music. I'm partial to the theme shown in Figure 3.21 based on the band Devo (not that they were ever a household name). I went to grade school with two of the band members and still get a chuckle out of thinking about them playing electronic punk rock while wearing flower pots on their heads.
Figure 3.21. You can find themes for just about everything on the Web.
On a more practical note, downloading and applying a prebuilt theme and then exploring the various elements that make up the theme is a good first step in getting ideas for designing your own themes. It also shows you how the various theme elements have been modified for that particular theme. You will find that both simple and complex themes exist on the Web, so you should explore a variety.