Dan Maharry

Writing about web development since 1997

Dark Windows Themes - Consistency Not Possible

Over the past few months, several people has posted some dark themes for Visual Studio, most notably Rob Conery, Scott Hanselman and Jeff Atwood. There’s even a community on Ning now for VS theme settings. There’s a lot to be said for working light on dark rather than the other way around, so why not try setting up Windows that way too?

Standard Vista and Aero themes don’t really support this inversion of colour, but the windows classic theme does. Once you’ve switched your desktop theme to Windows Classic you can switch settings for menu bars, standard text, hyperlinks and so on. Indeed, you’ve been able to do so since Windows 3.1/95.

BUT - and it’s quite a large but - no matter what settings you give your theme, the applications you run simply do not behave consistently under theming. Indeed, it’s apparent that there are some display settings that you simply cannot access from the control panel. Let’s take an example. I’ve created two custom windows themes with the same settings with one derived from the Windows Classic theme and the other from the High Contrast theme. (You can download them here to try this out yourself.)

There are differences even in standard windows dialogs like the Personalization control panel where the high contrast-derived theme’s window borders are white...

Outlook in Dark Theme derived from High Contrast theme

whereas the classic theme’s borders are black...

Standard Windows Dialog in Dark Theme derived from Windows Classic

But it’s applications like Office which take the cake. In the high-contrast-derived theme, it’s not too bad...

Outlook in Dark Theme derived from High Contrast theme

In the classic-derived theme, yeuck...

Outlook in a dark theme derived from Windows classic

Now whether or not you like the idea of creating your own windows themes, you've got to ask why it appears you need to buy a third-party theme program like WindowBlinds to really be able to control how windows appears even just to the point where you can get Office XP to turn the colour you want it to rather than it be the colour Microsoft dictates. Vista is supposed to be this wonderful visual treat. OK - so why can’t I bake my own visual cake and eat it?

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