A number of the element settings that make up your theme are accessed via the Display Properties dialog box. This includes the color scheme, desktop icons, background picture, and screensaver.
Let's begin our creation of a new theme by working with the elements in the Display Properties dialog box. First, select a new background. The overall design of the background (its color, concept, and so on) helps you select a color scheme and other theme elements, such as icons that are compatible with the background (in both a thematic and visual sense).
Selecting the Theme Background
Because the background sets the overall tone for the theme and has the most visual impact on the desktop (it covers the entire desktop, precluding the taskbar), it makes sense to select it first. Open the Display Properties dialog box (right-click the desktop and select Properties). Then select the Desktop tab in the dialog box (see Figure 4.3).
Figure 4.3. Select a new desktop background.
You can either select a background from the Background list, which includes a number of backgrounds such as Stonehenge, Tulips, and Wind, or browse for a custom background that you have created or downloaded from the Web.
For easier picture browsing, click the View Menu button in the Browse dialog box and select Thumbnails from the menu that appears. This enables you to view your picture files (as a thumbnail) when you are browsing your folders.
Let's assume you are going to use a custom background. When you click the Browse button, the Browse dialog box appears. It defaults to the My Pictures folder, which is a subfolder of My Documents.
If you have your background picture stored in a folder other than My Pictures, use the Look in drop-down arrow to locate the drive and folder that holds the background file you will use.
After you locate the file you will use for the background, select the file and click Open. The new background appears in the desktop preview window on the Desktop tab (see Figure 4.4).
Figure 4.4. The new background appears on the Desktop tab.
As you can see from Figure 4.4, I've chosen a photo as my desktop background. The theme I want to create is titled My Cats. This is just an arbitrary name I will use for the theme; the background is actually a picture of one of my cats named Gizmo.
You have three options related to the positioning of the background on the desktop: Center, Tile, and Stretch. These options are available in the Position drop-down list and do the following:
You want to have a desktop background or wallpaper file that will work well with the resolution you are using on your computer screen. If you are using the 800 ¥ 600 resolution, it makes sense to use a background file that is 800 ¥ 600 pixels (or 480,000 total pixels). Using other sizes for your background can distort the background on the desktop, particularly in cases where you use the stretch setting. We talk more about creating and storing background (wallpaper) files, including sizing background pictures, in Chapter 11, "Creating a Background Library."
Make your selection from the Position drop-down list. If you select Center and are using an image that will not cover the entire desktop, you also might to change the desktop color. Click the Color drop-down list and select a color that is visually suitable for the image file you have centered on the desktop.
If you want to see the image on the desktop (rather than just the sample provided in the dialog box), click the Apply button. This keeps the dialog box open and applies the image to the desktop.
After you have selected the various options for your desktop background, you can select the icons that will appear on the desktop. The desktop icon settings are accessed via the Desktop tab of the Display Properties dialog box.
Selecting Your Desktop Icons
To change the default desktop icons, click the Customize Desktop button on the Desktop tab. The Desktop Items dialog box opens (see Figure 4.5).
Figure 4.5. The Desktop Icons dialog box enables you to control the Desktop icons.
This dialog box enables you to select the icons you want to display on the Windows desktop (My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places, and Internet Explorer). It also provides you with the ability to change the default icon for the desktop icons, such as My Computer and the Recycle Bin.
Because we have defined a theme as having a unique set of desktop icons (in most cases), let's take a look at changing these icons. Select one of the icons shown in the icon box, such as My Computer; then click the Change Icon button.
The Desktop Items dialog box also allows you to enable or disable the Desktop Cleanup Wizard. This wizard runs every 60 days (if enabled) and takes unused icons and moves them to an Unused Icons folder on the desktop.
The Change Icon dialog box opens. A small set of replacement icons is available in this dialog box by default. However, you probably won't be thrilled by those options (these icons are part of an icon set held in the file explorer.exe). To browse for icons you downloaded or created, click the Browse button.
In the Change Icon window that opens, use the Look in drop-down arrow to locate the drive and folder that holds the icons you want to use. Figure 4.6 shows the Change Icon window and lists icons I made for my cat theme. All my icons are saved as icon files.
Figure 4.6. Browse to locate your icon files.
Icons can come as single files (with the .ico extension). A group of icons can also be held in an icon library file (with the extension .icl), a program file (such as the explorer.exe file you saw when you first opened the Change Icon dialog box to change the My Computer icon), and .dll files (for example, the shell32.dll, which holds the default Recycle bin icons; its path is C:\WINDOWS\Shell32.dll and it holds a lot of alternative icons you can use as desktop replacements).
Depending on the file type used for your icons (.ico versus .icl if you created or downloaded the icons), you might have to use the Files of Type drop-down list at the bottom of the Change Icon window to select the type of file you want to locate. In cases where you want to see all the possible icon file types, select the All Files option in the Files of Type drop-down list.
We discuss creating icons and mouse pointers in Chapter 10, "Creating Icons and Mouse Pointers." The chapter discusses methods of creating these elements and the various options for saving individual icons and icon libraries.
After you have located the replacement icon, select the file and click Open. The file you selected appears in the Change Icon dialog box. Click OK and the new icon file replaces the default icon and appears in the Desktop Items dialog box.
You can now select the other default icons (depending on which icons you have chosen to show on the desktop) and change the icon to one of your theme icons. In the case of the Recycle Bin, you need two new icons: a Recycle Bin (Full) icon and a Recycle Bin (Empty) icon.
After you have changed the default desktop icons, click OK and you are returned to the Desktop tab of the Display Properties dialog box. If you want to apply the new icons to the desktop at this point, click the Apply button.
Changing the Screensaver
Now that you've taken care of the desktop background and desktop icons, you can select a screensaver for your theme. You can use any number of screensavers supplied by Windows XP, or you can download screensavers from the Web (you need to save these screensavers in the C:\WINDOWS\System32 folder for easy access; you learn more about screensavers in Chapter 12, "Adding Screensavers to Your Skins").
You can create your own picture slideshows using any pictures stored in a folder on your computer. We discuss My Pictures slideshows in Chapter 12.
In the Display Properties dialog box, click the Screen Saver tab (see Figure 4.7). The available screensavers are listed in the Screensaver drop-down list.
Figure 4.7. Select a screensaver for your theme.
To select a new screensaver, click a screensaver in the list. For example, I plan to use the 3D Text screensaver (supplied by Windows XP). To preview the screensaver, click the Preview button, and to return to the dialog box, click the left mouse button again.
Most of the screensavers provided by Windows XP have settings you can modify. Only the Blank and the Windows XP screensavers do not have additional settings.
We more closely examine screensavers in terms of what they actually are and explore downloading and installing additional screensavers from the Web in Chapter 12.
In terms of the 3D Text screensaver I have decided to use as the screensaver for my cat theme, I need to modify its settings to personalize it for my theme.
After you have selected a screensaver (such as the 3D Text screensaver), click the Settings button to modify the screensaver's settings. The number of settings you can modify vary from screensaver to screensaver. In the case of the 3D Text screensaver (see Figure 4.8), there are a number of possibilities for modifying the look of the screensaver.
Figure 4.8. You can modify the screensaver settings.
In the 3D Text Settings dialog box (refer to Figure 4.8), you can specify the text you want to use on the screen (when the screensaver runs) and several other settings related to the screensaver. The dialog box is divided into areas in which you can specify the font to be used, the rotation type for the text, and the surface style for the screensaver (using the appropriate text or drop-down box).
Slider bars provide you with control over the resolution, size, and rotation speed of the screensaver's text when the screensaver is activated. The bottom of the dialog box enables you to select a custom color for the text and use a .bmp file as the template for the texture or reflection of the text.
When you have completed your modifications to the screensaver settings, click OK. This returns you to the Screen Saver tab, where you can view your modifications by testing the screensaver.
Idle Time and Password Protection
Before we leave this short discussion of selecting and modifying the screensaver (more can be found in Chapter 12), we need to discuss two additional settings: the wait time and password protection.
To set the idle time for activation of the screensaver (idle, meaning nothing is going on via the keyboard or mouse), use the Wait spinner box (or click in the box and type a time). The default is 10 minutes.
You also have the option of requiring a password to deactivate the screensaver after it is active. This can be useful in situations when you want to protect files on your computer or don't want other people using your computer.
To use the password option, click the On Resume, Password Protect check box. Now when the screensaver comes up (after the specified idle time) and you click the mouse or press a key on the keyboard to deactivate the screensaver, you need to provide a password to shut down the screensaver (see the tip that follows for information on setting your password).
The password you use to unlock the screensaver (when you have password protection enabled) is your user password. If you are using Windows XP Home as the only user, you probably don't have a password at this point (on Windows XP Professional, it is the password assigned to you by your administrator). To set a password, select the Start menu and then select Control Panel. In the Control Panel, select User Accounts. At the bottom of the User Accounts window, click the icon that represents your account. You can then click Create Password and create a password for your account. If you create a password, you also have to use that password when you log on to Windows (as well as using it to disable the screensaver); be sure you really require all that security before modifying your user account.
After you have selected your screensaver and modified the settings, you are ready to move on to the next step in creating your custom theme: configuring appearance settings, such as the color scheme.