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Personalizing and Configuring Windows 7 : The Windows 7 User Interface (part 3) - Branding Windows 7 like a PC Maker

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4. Replacing the User Interface

We happen to believe that Windows 7's user interface is a tremendous improvement over those of both its predecessors, Windows XP and Windows Vista, and various competing operating systems such as Mac OS X. You may not agree. If that's the case, you might consider one of the utilities out there that enable you to replace the standard Windows 7 UIs with new skins, some of which are quite attractive. The best of the lot is Stardock WindowBlinds, which offers custom UI skins with configurable color schemes (see Figure 8).

An alternate (and wildly popular) approach is to replace several system files with modified ones to enable Windows to use homebrew Microsoft Styles (.msstyle) files. Rafael has been modifying the system files responsible for "theming" in Windows since they debuted in Windows (code-named as Whistler) and upkeeps a repository of files on his site (www.withinwindows.com/uxtheme-files).

Microsoft Styles files, unlike Theme (.theme) and Theme Pack (.themepack) files, enable you to control how all the various UI elements in Windows look, like the Start button, the Taskbar's height, and even the appearance of window shadows. If you're interested in creating your own Microsoft Style, and have a lot of time on your hands, check out Ave's Windows 7 Style Builder (www.win7stylebuilder.com).

Figure 8. Tired of the stock Windows UI? WindowBlinds is the tool for you.

NOTE

You may be wondering why Microsoft would lock down the use of custom styles. Branding and support are two reasons. Imagine the nightmare scenario of trying to explain where the Start Orb is located when it has been modified to appear as a sunflower instead.

5. Branding Windows 7 like a PC Maker

This one is just good old-fashioned fun: if you've ever purchased a new PC, you've probably noticed that the PC maker has customized the System Properties window with their logo and other information. Well, you can customize this information yourself. There are two ways to handle this. You can muck around in the Registry, which is time-consuming and difficult, or you can simply use the wonderful freeware utility called WinBubble (http://unlockforus.blogspot.com), shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. WinBubble provides a number of tweaking features, including the capability to modify the OEM branding.

Once you apply the changes, check out the System Properties window to see the havoc you've wrought (see Figure 10). Neat, eh?

In case it's not obvious, WinBubble can also be used to remove branding, so if you purchased a PC and want to get rid of that HP logo in the System Properties window, this is a great way to do so.


Figure 10. A customized System Properties window, courtesy of WinBubble

NOTE

WinBubble does a lot more than just help you change the branding. In fact, this handy utility is, we believe, the tweaking tool that's closest in spirit and functionality to Microsoft's long-admired TweakUI. Microsoft never made a version of TweakUI for Windows Vista or Windows 7 for some reason, but it doesn't matter: WinBubble fills that gap quite nicely.

Unfortunately, WinBubble hasn't been updated to take advantage of the ability to brand the logon screen, new to Windows 7. This tweak isn't difficult to implement, however. Simply open the Registry Editor (Start Menu Search, type regedit) and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_ MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\ Background. Then, click Edit => New => DWORD, and name it "OEMBackground," as shown in Figure 11. Finally, double-click the newly created value name and assign it a data value of 1.

Figure 11. Adding the OEMBackground DWORD

After turning on this feature, navigate to the C:\Windows\System32\Oobe\Info\ Backgrounds folder (creating any missing folders in the process) and drop your background image inside. There are a few rules you must follow, however:

  • The image must be less than 256 kilobytes in size.

  • The image must be named as background<height>x<width>.jpg (e.g., background1920×1200.jpg).

NOTE

Changing your theme will unfortunately trample over your logon background.

NOTE

Due to the number of different resolutions out there, you may have issues changing the logon background image. The supported resolutions follow:

768×1280, 900×1440, 960×1280, 1024×768, 1024×1280, 1280×960, 1280×768, 1280×1024, 1360×768, 1440×900, 1600×1200, 1920×1200

If you don't see your resolution in the preceding list, rest assured there's a failsafe. Simply rename your image to "backgroundDefault.jpg," and you'll be good to go. Keep in mind, however, your image may be resized, stretched, or otherwise distorted to fit your weird resolution.

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