Style XP provides a single application that enables you to set nearly all the options we have discussed (in previous chapters) related to theme elements, visual styles, and other skin elements. It makes pulling all the options together to quickly skin the Windows interface easy.
When you open the Style XP window (refer to Figure 6.1), you are presented with a list of choices on the left side of the window; the default selection is Options. When you make a choice on the left side of the window, the options related to that category are available in the Style XP window.
Let's take a look at the options provided by each of the choices on the left side of the Style XP window. We can then discuss how to use these various options to apply skin items to Windows.
Style XP Options
When Options is selected in the Style XP window, you are looking at settings such as how Style XP is loaded at startup and whether the default skin background is loaded. The following settings are offered when Options is selected:
By default, Style XP is enabled and skin backgrounds are loaded (when you select a new skin). If you like quick access to Style XP, you can enable the Run at Startup option.
For brief help on an option listed in the Style XP window, point at the option and a description of that option appears on the status bar of the Style XP window.
Explorer Bar Options
The Explorer Bar option enables you to change icons on the Explorer bar, customizing one of the most frequently used utilities in the Windows environment. When you click the Explorer Bar option on the left side of the Style XP window, a dialog box opens letting you know that a com object needs to be registered so alternative buttons can be used on the Explorer bar. Click OK to proceed.
The Explorer Bar settings (this includes both Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer) appear in the Style XP window (see Figure 6.4). Sets of Explorer bar icons are listed (in the case of my installation, Electric Blue, iCandy Jr, and Windows XP Default appear); you can select any of these and then apply them to Windows.
Figure 6.4. Icon sets can be applied to the Explorer bar.
You also are provided other options, such as an option that replaces missing buttons (in a replacement set) with buttons from the default Explorer bar buttons, an option for the Explorer animation (throbberthink of the throbbing Window icon in the Internet Explorer window), and an option for the replacement of the Go button.
Let see how you would download and then apply an icon set. Under the Preview window, click Download an Explorer Bar Set. You are taken to the www.themexp.org website.
Scroll down, and on the left side of the page click the Explorer Bar Icons link. Explorer bar icon sets are listed by date (see Figure 6.5).
Figure 6.5. Explorer bar icon sets are listed by date.
To read more information about a particular icon set, click the More Info button (for that particular set). To download an icon set, click the Download button.
The Explorer bar icon sets exist as Zip files; however, you don't have to unzip them to add them to Style XP. Click the Save button (after clicking Download) and then specify a location for the file download.
After the download is complete, go to the folder you used for the download and use the Extraction Wizard to unzip the files in the zipped archive (typically, a default folder is provided to which you can unzip).
After unzipping the file, return to the Style XP window and click Add an Explorer bar Set. The Choose Explorer Bar window opens. Use it to navigate to the folder created by the Extraction Wizard, which contains the Explorer bar icon set. Select the icon set and then click Open.
The new Explorer bar icon set is added to the icon set list in the Style XP window (you might have to minimize and then restore Style XP to get the screen to refresh and show the new icon set). Also, the icons in the set are displayed in the Preview window (see Figure 6.6).
Figure 6.6. The downloaded Explorer bar set is added to Style XP.
You can now apply the new Explorer bar icon setclick Apply Explorer Bar.
Changing the look of toolbars in Windows and Internet Explorer enables you to select a button set that complements the theme and visual style you are using, thus enhancing your skin. You can download and add button sets; some of the themes/skins you download will include an icon set that has been created to match the look of that particular skin.
As we discussed earlier in the book, a theme controls many of the settings related to the Windows interface. The desktop background, desktop icons, mouse pointer, and screensaver are all elements that make up a theme.
Our earlier discussion of themes in Chapter 3, "Applying and Downloading Windows Themes," and Chapter 4, "Creating Windows XP Themes from Scratch," didn't really include visual styles as part of the theme because we were stuck with either the default Windows XP visual style (Luna) or no visual style at all (the Windows Classic look). Style XP allows you to change the visual style at will (including using downloaded visual styles or visual styles you create with a visual style/skin editor), so the visual style becomes another element of the overall theme (rather than a separate consideration). This means you can select various theme settings in Style XP, including a choice of visual style, and then apply the settings en masse.
When Themes is selected in the Style XP choice list (see Figure 6.7), the currently available themes are listed. Other options available allow you to view theme parts and set options related to icons, backgrounds, and screensavers.
Figure 6.7. Themes can be selected and created.
You can apply any of the themes listed by selecting a theme and then clicking Apply Theme. If you do not want to apply such theme elements as cursors, icons, a background, or a screensaver associated with a particular theme, use the check boxes provided in the Apply Options area (use the scrollbar to locate the appropriate elements).
You can also view theme parts from this screen. In the Theme Parts area, you can view the visual style, background, or sound scheme assigned to the currently selected theme (even before you apply it to the interface).
You can also download and add new themes from this screen by clicking Download a New Theme. This opens Internet Explorer and takes you to the themexp.org website. Because themes are a collection of elements, you won't actually find a collection of complete themes on the site. But you will find visual styles, backgrounds, and the other elements we have already discussed in our overview of Style XP. Downloading all the elements using the appropriate Style XP screen (such as backgrounds, icons, and so on) is what enables you to assemble all the elements for a new theme.
More importantly, you can create a new theme on this screen and then select the various interface elements and settings that make up the theme. Because Style XP provides access to all the theme elements, visual styles, and even logon and boot screens, you can create a theme that is in reality a complete skin. We walk through the steps of putting all the elements together to create a skin later in the chapter.
Themes you download from the Web do not always contain all the elements we associate with a theme. For example, the theme might not have custom desktop icons or include sounds or a screensaver.
Visual Style Options
When you select Visual Styles in the Style XP choice list, you see a list of the visual styles currently available on your computer (see Figure 6.8). When you select a visual style, the color schemes for that visual style are also listed.
Figure 6.8. The Style XP visual style options.
You can select any of the available visual styles and then click Apply Style to Current Theme to apply the visual style to the theme that is currently selected (under the Theme options). If the visual style has different color schemes available, click a color scheme to preview it. Applying the style after selecting a new color scheme applies the style and the new color scheme to the Windows interface.
As with the other elements we have discussed, you can download visual styles directly from the Style XP window. After the style has been downloaded, you can add it the list.
To download a new visual style from www.themexp.org, click Download a New Style. In the Internet Explorer window, click the Visual Styles link on the left side the themexp.org page.
After you select Visual Styles and the new page opens, you can see (on the left side of the page) a list of visual style categories, such as cars, fantasy, and so on. Click a particular category to view the available visual styles.
For example, you can select the Nature category to view nature-related visual styles (see Figure 6.9). You can view additional information on each visual style and download any of the visual styles.
Figure 6.9. Visual styles can be viewed by category.
The actual download files for the various visual styles come in two flavors: wrapped and zipped. If you download a visual style that is wrapped, it comes in the form of an executable file and you have to unwrap (run the executable) the visual style after you download it. You can then add it to Style XP using the Add a New Style command.
Visual styles that are zipped only need to be downloaded. Because Style XP can read the contents of the zipped file, you can add the new style by locating the zipped file (after selecting Add a New Style).
When you add a new visual style, it appears in the visual style list and a preview is provided in the Preview area. To apply a new visual style to the current theme, click Apply Style to Current Theme.
A number of skin websites wrap their visual styles and themes to save server space. Some of the sites use an installation procedure that can add toolbars and other software to your computer (themexp.org doesn't appear to be one of these). Go through the installation steps slowly (when running the installation program), and don't install things you don't want. Some of these unwanted add-on programs can be quite annoying.
Visual styles that are wrapped into an executable must be unzipped using the Extraction Wizard. You must then use the executable file to install the visual style. The Display Properties dialog box opens, showing the new visual style. Many of these visual styles also contain theme elements, so a new theme might also be shown in the Properties dialog box with the same name as the visual style you downloaded.
Click OK in the Display Properties dialog box and the new visual style (theme) is applied to Windows. You are then returned to the Style XP window.
If you refresh the Style XP screen (just change from the visual style screen to another screen and then back again), the new visual style appears on the visual style list and a preview is provided. If you don't want the visual style applied, select a different visual style and apply it.
Style XP also makes managing and applying backgrounds to your themes/skins easy. If you click Backgrounds in the choice list, you can see a preview of the current background and a list of other available background/wallpaper files (see Figure 6.10).
Figure 6.10. Style XP also enables you to view and select Windows backgrounds.
The Backgrounds screen also lets you set background settings such as position (center, tile, or stretch) and the background color for the desktop. As with other theme elements, you can select a background from the list and then apply it to the current theme (click Apply Background to Current Theme).
You can also download and then add backgrounds to the Style XP background list. Click Download a New Background to download a background; then use the Add a New Background command to add the background to those available in the Background list. Background downloads are zipped, but you do not have to unzip the file to add the background to Style XPjust locate the zip file you downloaded when you used the Add a New Background command.
Logons and Boot Screens
Logon and boot screens are more advanced elements of a skin. You can see from the Style XP choices list that Style XP provides the ability to change your logon screen and the Windows boot screen (you can download and add new logon and boot screens as you can the other skin elements). Changing the Windows boot screen is actually a somewhat tricky proposition. Including these elements (logons and boot screens) does create a complete Windows skin, but we will forgo their discussion at this point and look at them separately in Chapter 13, "Changing XP Logon Screens and Boot Screens."
When you select Icons on the choice list, you get a list of the available icon sets. A preview of the icons currently cached by the system (loaded into the computer's memory) is also provided (see Figure 6.11).
Figure 6.11. The Style XP icon set options.
You can select any of the icon sets in the list and then apply them to Windows by clicking Apply Icons. When you apply the icon set, the Select Icons to Apply dialog box opens. Click OK to apply all icons to the current theme.
Icon sets consist of shell icons (My Computer, My Documents, and so on), folder icons, drive icons, and extension icons. You can choose to use only a subset of the entire icon set when you apply a selected icon set. Just clear the check boxes in the Select Icons to Apply dialog box of the icon subsets you do not want to apply to the current theme.
As with other theme elements, you can also download icon sets (click Download an Icon Set). When the download is complete, you can add the icon set to Style XP using the Add an Icon Set command.
In terms of the icon set preview, you can view different subsets of an icon set. You can view the shell icons, folder icons, drive icons, misc (miscellaneous) icons, and extension icons (such as the icon that represents a Zip file or movie clip) by selecting one of the options adjacent to the Preview area.
You can see from our discussion of Style XP that it is very consistent in terms of how you download and then add themes, theme elements, and visual styles. The default site from which to download the various items is www.themexp.org.
The cool thing about the Preview area is that it can be used to change icons in a particular icon set (which is a great time-saver). In the Preview area, click any icon in an icon set and the Change Icon dialog box opens (see Figure 6.12).
Figure 6.12. You can browse for an alternative icon in the Change Icon dialog box.
We already discussed changing icons earlier in the book (in Chapter 4), so you should be no stranger to the Change Icon dialog box. You can select a different icon from an alternative icon set or select an icon you have created.
After selecting the new icon, click the OK button in the Change Icon dialog box. You are returned to the Style XP window.
You can't change any of the icons in an icon set that is cached (currently loaded) or change the icons in a special icon set (such as the Windows XP default icons) from the Style XP window. In terms of the XP default icons, you can change the icons as we discussed in Chapter 4.
When you click Transparency in the Style XP choice list, you are provided with a set of options related to the transparency of GUI elements, such as the Start menu, taskbar, and menus. For example, if you want to make the taskbar transparent, click the Taskbar check box (see Figure 6.13).
Figure 6.13. You can set the transparency for interface items such as the taskbar and Start panel.
You can then set the degree of the taskbar's transparency by selecting from a range of very low to very high (note the Taskbar Transparency option buttons shown in Figure 6.13). The higher you set the transparency on an object such as the taskbar or Start panel, the harder it is to read that particular item.
Creating your own icons and icon sets enables you to personalize the Windows environment as you apply themes and skins. Creating and working with icons is discussed in Chapter 10, "Creating Icons and Mouse Pointers."
Even though the transparency of GUI items isn't exactly a skin element, it is a special effect that can add to the overall visual impact of a Windows skin. Experiment with the transparency options. How much they add to the overall look of your skin will depend on the visual style you are using and the background you use for your skin.
Style XP also provides the capability to rotate or cycle themes, visual styles, backgrounds, and logons. This is a great feature in that you can rotate through some of your favorite skin elements either at logon or on a daily or weekly rotation. The Rotation Options screen allows you to select a particular skin element, such as a theme, and then include available elements in the rotation (you select a theme from the list and then click Include; see Figure 6.14).
Figure 6.14. You can set up a rotation schedule for skin elements such as themes, visual styles, and backgrounds.
Rotating skin elements can provide some variety in terms of the Windows interface. You can mix and match elements as you see fit and set the frequency for the rotation cycle.