Would You Like Vista Without The Headaches? Cancel Or Allow?

If you are anything like me then you wait a minimum… a MINIMUM… of six months before installing a Microsoft operating system on any computer that you personally own and operate. I personally shoot for one year. The problem is I really like the looks of Windows Vista much more than the oh so goofy default Windows XP look and feel. If that also sounds like you then read on because I have good news.

A while back I ran across an online tutorial that detailed how to skin your Windows XP desktop to look just like Vista. That sounded like my cup of tea so I gave it a whirl. I ran into a few hiccups during the process, so I decided that I would repackage the tutorial along with some of my observations and edits. The original tutorial is called Make XP look like Windows Vista / Longhorn for free! on tech-recipes.com. That site, by the way, has a lot of other pretty cool tutorials too. I may do a full blown site review in the future. Well, without further ado, here’s watcha gotta do:

1) Changing Your XP Theme – The Patch

This is the bulk of the work and will provide the biggest “oohh… ahhh” for you dollar (well actually it’s free). There are plenty of styles out there that people have kindly designed to be just like Windows Vista and contributed them to the internet. However to be able to use these styles you’ll have to alter your Windows XP system a bit. There is a system file, usually located at C:\WINDOWS\system32\uxtheme.dll that controls the theme engine in Windows XP. To patch this file we will need to download a utility called Uxtheme Multi-patcher 5.5. After downloading the file, unzip and run it. Follow the instructions; they’re pretty simple. When Windows complains about the corrupt file and asks that you insert your installation media just choose to the Ignore option. You will need to reboot your system after this.

2) Styles, Skins and Customizations

At this point you are ready to go get yourself some Vista-looking styles to run. I found two that I liked and while I’d like to give you direct links them… I can’t find them! It’s seems that they are moving targets. The original tutorial lost his original style links as well. So here some resources that will give you a place to go find some styles to give you that Vista look.
Deviant Art

After downloading your style you should extract it to C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes. Now ideally you should be able to select this style by right-clicking your desktop, selecting the Appearance tab, and then choosing your style in the Windows and buttons drop-down combo box. This was a bit hit and miss for me. About one out of every five styles would actually show up in the list. If it does not show up in this list, just go to the directory you extracted it to and double-click the “.msstyles” file that you find there. This will bring up the Display Properties dialog where we were just expecting to see the selection, only now it will be there and you can click Apply. Voila!

* The original tutorial quoted changing your wallpaper as a whole step in this process. 😐 Umm, I think you can handle this one on your own. Besides most of the themes I downloaded had them included and most people tend have their own personal choice in wallpaper.

3) Changing The Cursor

You can download the aero cursor pack over here. Just read the read me file supplied and enjoy. Additionally, you can go to How to change your mouse pointers article and change your mouse pointer to the 3D-White(system scheme), it looks very similar to the original cursor in Vista.

4) Pow, Pow, Power Toys!

Microsoft… Yep the big boys, have some really great utilities for their own operating system. They are free as well. You can get to them at the Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP page and I suggest the following utilities:
– ClearType Tuner
– Open Command Window Here
– Alt-Tab Replacement
– Tweak UI
– Power Calculator

I highly suggest the Clear Type Tuner as most of the Vista themes use the ‘Segoe UI’ font, which is a ClearType font. This is the default font used in the “real” Windows Vista. Now while these are not all required for this tutorial… come on Shelly! Come on! You’re reading a tutorial on hacking your desktop. You know you want more utilities that allow you to have more control over your OS. Go get em and come back… I’ll wait.

5) The Vista Sidebar

Well, this is where I started having some problems finding things. The original files/links on the tutorial were nowhere to be found. All were dead ends. I searched around for a bit but couldn’t find anything so I resigned to not have a sidebar. Then a few days later this article showed up on Digg: Install the Vista Sidebar on XP – In One Package! I gave it a whirl and it installed fine, but it was a little buggy and I couldn’t ever get any new gadgets to install. So off it came.

Finally, I ran across another solution that was completely different but offered the same end result. I’m still not completely satisfied with it, but it’ll do for now… and it looks cool! It’s called Thoosje’s Vista Sidebar and is built on Stardock’s DesktopX Pro platform. It has a nice selection of calendars and clocks. There are gadgets to show your hard drive usage, CPU and RAM usage, a web search gadget, a weather gadget and a few others. It also has several visual styles for blending into the desktop which you can choose from.

6) Screenshot! Enjoy

Well, that’s it. Below you’ll find a screenshot of my desktop now. If you look close enough you can actually see the calendar and tell that I’ve been running this for several weeks now. I can say that I’ve had no problems with it since and I’ve enjoyed my new Vista shoes. I’ve also recently visited with a friend who bought a Dell that had Windows Vista pre-installed and witnessed his frustration with the OS quarks. 🙂 Click the thumbnail to get the large screenshot.