FAQ: Using msstyles for Windows XP


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Basic Questions

Q: What is uxtheme?

A: Uxtheme.dll is the file in Windows XP that controls the theming engine. By default, uxtheme.dll is locked, so third party (i.e. non-Microsoft) visual styles cannot be used. Fortunately, it is easy to unlock uxtheme.dll to allow the use of non-Microsoft visual styles.

Q: Where can I find uxtheme.dll files?

A: Uxtheme Repository: http://www.withinwindows.com/uxtheme-patches/

Q: How do I use uxtheme.dll?

A: Luckily, hacked uxtheme.dll files are readily available. One need only replace the default, locked uxtheme.dll with the hacked, unlocked version.

Q: How do I replace uxtheme.dll?

A: This is very easy to do.

1. Download the unlocked uxtheme.dll. Extract the file to the desktop. Here is a version for sp2 2180 English: https://www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?act=...t&id=122794

More are here: http://www.extended64.com/blogs/rafael/

2. Download Replacer. Extract Replacer to the desktop (create a folder called Replacer and extract the contents of the compressed file).

3. Run replacer.cmd. A black command prompt window should appear.

4. Browse to C:\Windows\system32 and find uxtheme.dll. Drag this file into the command prompt window. Press enter.

5. Drag in the unlocked uxtheme.dll from the desktop into the command prompt window. Press enter.

6. Confirm the replacement and wait for Replacer to finish. Press any key when prompted.

7. Reboot.

Q: How do I use visual styles (msstyles) now?

A: This, again, is very simple.

1. First, download a visual style. The Completed Visual Styles Section and Deviantart are two good places.

2. Extract the visual style to a folder with the same name in the following directory: C:\Windows\Resources\Themes. For example, if the msstyles file is xyz.msstyles, create a folder called “xyz” in C:\Windows\Resources\Themes and extract xyz.msstyles to that folder.

3. To load the visual style, go to the Display Properties > Appearance > Windows and Buttons, and find the visual style. Do not look for the visual style in the Themes tab. You can also double-click the msstyles file.

Q: What is the difference between a theme and a visual style?

A: The terms “theme” and “visual style” are often thrown around carelessly and used interchangeably, which adds to the confusion, but the distinction is clear.

A visual style (*.msstyles) is the file that skins the windows, taskbar, start menu, and other elements of the Windows appearance. Visual styles are loaded in the Appearance tab of the display properties dialog.

A theme (*.theme) is a visual style with saved settings, wallpapers, icons, and so on. Themes are loaded in the Theme tab of the display properties dialog.

When people say themes, they usually mean visual styles.

Q: What is a shellstyle and how do I install it?

A: Shellstyle.dll is a file often bundled with the visual style that skins the common tasks pane (and other panes, e.g. the add/remove panel). No installation is necessary. Simply unzip the visual style to the appropriate directory as mentioned above and make sure the shell folder is in the visual style folder along with the msstyles file.


Q: My uxtheme did not patch! What do I do?

A: Now hold on there. How do you know it failed? The easiest way to check to see if uxtheme.dll was patched is to simply double-click the msstyles file of a third party theme. If double-clicking loads the display properties dialog with the correct visual style, then the patching process was successful. If not, re-patching is necessary. You can try to re-patch in safe mode and make sure the themes service is set to automatic. To make sure it is set to automatic, go to Run > services.msc > and set Themes service to automatic.

Also, you should do a search for uxtheme.dll and delete all instances of the file NOT in C:\Windows\system32. Extra uxtheme.dll files can conflict and cause problems. Deleting them will solve almost every issue regarding patching.

Q: Uxtheme was patched successfully, but visual styles do not appear in the Appearance tab dropdown list. What do I do?

A: This is a common problem, but one that deserves more attention than it is currently given. The problem is caused by a misnamed visual style folder. For the style to appear in the list, the folder name in which it is residing must correspond to the name of the msstyles file. For instance, gloss.msstyles must be in its visual style folder named “gloss” in the correct directory (C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes) and it will appear. The correct path for the file itself should then be:


And equivalently, the shell folder should be in the same “gloss” folder: C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes\gloss\shell.

Q: I patched, but my start menu and taskbar are not skinned or visual styles do not work. What is wrong?

A: First, check to make sure the correct version of the dll is being used. Also try patching in safe mode. Then check the directories to see if uxtheme.dll has been misplaced. It should only appear in the system32 folder, and not in the Windows folder. If all else fails, try replacing uxtheme.dll with Replacer in safe mode several times. Some have indicated that this fixes their problem.

Q: My system freezes during "Please wait..." when I try to apply a visual style. What's wrong?

A: This is most likely caused by extra uxtheme.dll files. Do a search for all uxtheme.dll files and delete the ones that are not in C:\Windows\system32.

Other Questions

Q: How do I create visual styles using the .msstyles format?

A: The easiest way is to modify an existing visual style. You can use Stylebuilder to do this. Note: you do NOT need Stylexp installed to use Stylebuilder, so ignore the error message, but you must be patched (obviously, you'll need to be able to apply visual styles in order to use Stylebuilder. That's all the error means).

Resource Hacker and Resedit are similar programs that can be used to modify visual styles. These are simple and intuitive, and are my personal recommendation. These allow you to modify images (bitmaps, png files, etc.) and values (in the textfile section) to change the visual style. This is all that is needed to create a visual style.

Q: Why don’t people use Stylexp?

A: The uxtheme hack has several advantages over Stylexp.

-the uxtheme hack is simple. You simply replace the file with a hacked one and that’s it. No installations, no need to run and configure programs, no hassle.

-the uxtheme hack does not waste resources. Stylexp patches uxtheme.dll in memory, but the uxtheme hack replaces the file physically on the system. This means that you are unlocked forever (until Microsoft creates a new uxtheme.dll file).

-the uxtheme hack is completely free!


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