Engineering Windows 7

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Creating, Saving, Sharing Themes in Windows 7

Creating, Saving, Sharing Themes in Windows 7

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When we posted the new "inbox" desktop backgrouns, the reactions showed just how personal, personalization can be.  Building on that theme of personalization (pun intended), we wanted to share some of the work we did on themes in Windows 7.  We’ve shared data about customization in previous releases of Windows and this post builds on that.  This is also an area where we know there is very broad spectrum of desires (needs) for personalization and we definitely had to balance the engineering and design efforts.  I’ve received mail from many folks wanting to personalize (tweak) nearly every pixel on the screen—from border width, to title bar transparency percentage, to height of taskbar, to color/size/location of the close button (I’ve received each of these in email more than once).  At the other end are customers who are enormously happy when they can easily change the background picture and color scheme, and many do.  With Windows 7 we picked a group of settings that we believe represent the most satisfying settings to broadly personalize, and would also provide the most robust platform that maintains application compatibility, and made those easy to change.  In addition we wanted to make it easy to package up those settings so you could save and share them.  We think of this as the start of bringing robust personalization (and customization) to a broader set of customers.  Katie Frigon, a program manager on the core user experience team, authored this post. 


PS: Things are "slowing" down as we have talked about in how we will get to the RTM milestone.  You might have noticed the announcement we made today in Asia regarding Windows 7 release and availability. Thank you to everyone who has been using the RC and helping to reach the next milestone.

Creating and Sharing Windows 7 Themes

In early builds, you may have noticed that Windows 7 includes a variety of themes that change your desktop background, window color and sounds with a single click. These themes are located in the Personalization Control Panel which is easily accessed from the desktop context menu.

Personalization Control Panel

Personalization Control Panel

Desktop Context Menu

Desktop Context Menu

In the RC, you can see a number of new themes, for example the “Architecture” theme. This theme is comprised of six architectural photos which cycle on the desktop background, a complementary “Twilight” window color and the “Cityscape” sound scheme which was inspired by the sounds of an urban jazz club.

Elements of themes in Windows 7

A theme is a coordinated set of Desktop Backgrounds, Window Colors and Sounds.

Windows provides a set of themes in box and if customers want more there is a prominent link in the Control Panel to get additional themes online. This link takes you to the Windows Online theme gallery where Microsoft provides additional content including a variety of international themes.

Personalization Control Panel: Get more theme online link

Personalization Control Panel: Get more theme online link

Creating a theme

While our customers enjoy the content we’ve provided both in the box and online we also know that they enjoy and desire the option to customize their PC’s even more than choosing a theme. Windows 7 continues to be about your PC reflecting you and what you do, as well as putting you in control of that experience. So, if you do want to go beyond the options in the box and on the web, it is easy to create and share your own themes. Creating your own theme can be as easy as just changing your desktop background image while keeping the rest of the settings the same or you can change all the settings one-by-one.

From our Beta Customer Experience Improvement Program data we see that customers are changing and creating themes. We also see many users changing the different settings, the most popular being desktop background:

Figure 1: Break out of theme type

Figure 1: Break out of theme type

Note: Only 15% of the beta users kept the default theme. 77% of the beta users created a custom theme by changing one or more elements of the inbox themes.

Figure 2: Percentage of Beta users selecting each theme component in a session

Figure 2: Percentage of Beta users selecting each theme component in a session

Note: 35% of beta users who opened the Personalization CPL clicked on “Desktop Background”.

Now let’s look at how you can change the different settings and save a custom theme. To start, you can change any of the theme settings by starting in the Personalization Control Panel.

Personalization Control Panel: Click on the items beneath the theme gallery to change your theme settings.

Personalization Control Panel: Click on the items beneath the theme gallery to change your theme settings.

Let’s start with the desktop background control panel. This control panel has been enhanced for Windows 7 to support the pictures library and the new desktop background slideshow capabilities. If you choose the “Pictures Library”, we will show all of the pictures in that library including subfolders. All you need to do is select more than one photo to have them cycle as your desktop background slideshow. In this example, I have selected some of my favorite photos from a recent trip to Hawaii to use as my desktop background.

Desktop Background Control Panel: Windows 7 adds support for libraries and desktop background slideshows. I’ve selected the pictures I want to use in my theme.

Desktop Background Control Panel: Windows 7 adds support for libraries and desktop
background slideshows. I’ve selected the pictures I want to use in my theme.

When personalizing your PC, you might want to go further than just changing your background. Changing your window color or sound scheme is simple, just click on the items beneath the themes gallery. We provide 16 window colors to choose from and the ability to pick a custom color as well. New to Windows 7, we include 14 sound schemes with the OS inspired by a variety of regional music traditions, so you have plenty to choose from. If that isn’t enough, you can include your own sounds if you want.

Windows Color and Appearance

Sound control panel

Window Color and Sound Control Panels: It is also easy to change your window color
or pick from 14 diverse sound schemes.

After you change the desktop background, window color or sound scheme, you will notice that we have created a new “unsaved theme” that contains your changes. Your unsaved settings will be preserved when trying other themes in the gallery so you can get back to your most recent customizations. If you are happy with your personalization settings, you can ensure that they are always available in the themes gallery by clicking “Save theme”.

Personalization Control Panel: I clicked "Save Theme" to ensure that my current personalization settings will always be available in the themes gallery.

Personalization Control Panel: I clicked "Save Theme" to ensure that my current
personalization settings will always be available in the themes gallery.

Sharing themes

After saving your personalization settings for your own use, you might want to share these settings with friends and family or bring the settings to another PC. Windows 7 allows you to share your themes by right-clicking on your current theme and selecting “Save theme for sharing”. After specifying a name and folder destination for your theme, Windows will collect all of your custom desktop background images, sounds, mouse pointers and icons into the new .themepack file format that can be applied on another computer running Windows 7.

Personalization Control Panel: When I’m ready to share my theme with Friends, Family and on the Web, I right-click on my current theme and select “Save theme for sharing”.

Personalization Control Panel: When I’m ready to share my theme with Friends, Family and on the Web,
I right-click on my current theme and select “Save theme for sharing”.

Sometimes after I take a fun vacation I like to create a theme that reminds me of the trip. To do this I select the best photos from the trip to rotate as my desktop background and then pair those with a matching window color and Windows 7 sound scheme that best matches the mood of the trip. After I save as a new .themepack I can either share this file via Windows Live to friends and family or use it from another PC in my house via Homegroup.

Sharing with Windows Live

Since all of the personalization settings are now contained in a single file, it’s easy to upload the theme to Windows Live Skydrive and post a link to the theme on a Windows Live Spaces blog. Once my friends and family upgrade to Windows 7, they will be able to download themes from trips that we went on together so they can enjoy my photos on their desktop background.

Windows Live: I can also upload my theme to my Windows Live Skydrive and add a link to the theme on my blog.

Windows Live: I can also upload my theme to my Windows Live Skydrive
and add a link to the theme on my blog.

Sharing via Homegroup

In Explorer you can create a themes Library. Then from another computer in a Homegroup you just browse to the shared location and click on the desired theme to apply those settings with a single click.

Explorer: I created a themes library on one of my PC’s and shared it with my Homegroup. From another PC in the home, I can click on any of these themes to apply them.

Explorer: I created a themes library on one of my PC’s and shared it with my Homegroup.
From another PC in the home, I can click on any of these themes to apply them.

But wait…there’s more.

One additional way we’ve added value with Windows7 themes is by capitalizing on the growing popularity of RSS photo feeds to share photos. Enthusiasts can create a theme where the desktop background slide show points to an RSS photo feed. For example, my sister lives across the country and we only see each other about once a year. An easy way for me to keep her up to date on my family is to send her a Windows 7 theme which points to my RSS photo feed. When I upload new photos they will appear on her desktop automatically.

Because there are a few different ways to create an RSS photo feed, the process to include an RSS photo feed in a Windows 7 theme will only work if your RSS photo feed links to the high resolution photos using the “enclosures” method. The feed should only reference picture formats such as JPEG or PNG. Due to this limitation themes must be created manually when including an RSS photo feed.

So, to create one of these themes you can follow these steps:

  1. Download the template from MSDN.
  2. Open the template using Notepad.
  3. Replace {themename} with the name you want to appear in the Personalization Control Panel themes gallery.
  4. Replace {rssfeedurl} with the full path to your compatible RSS photo feed.
  5. Save the changes as a file with the “.theme” extension.

It is ready for you to share! Send the file via email, etc. to your friends and family.

Photo sharing sites can also offer these Windows 7 RSS photo themes which provide more ways to connect their customers.

Looking ahead

Themes in Windows 7 make it possible for you to make the PC reflect you. Beyond my example of sharing personal photos as a theme, we hope that users will find new and creative ways to use themes in Windows 7. Wedding photographers can include Windows 7 themes in the packages they deliver to their clients, Artists can create themes that showcase their creative style and businesses can create themes that promote their brand. We look forward to seeing how you are using themes to Personalize these aspects Windows 7.


PS: We've posted some additional themes you can download and use on which is the US English link from the Themes control panel.

Leave a Comment
  • Please add 8 and 1 and type the answer here:
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  • what happened to the ability to hover over a background and see a live preview?

    if i click on of the 6 images in windows desktop backgrounds, i'm returned to the themes. so i can't preview the background that i want. i can right click

    on each  one and it will preview on the desktop, but i have to deal with the

    context menu covering up most of the next image. if i move right to left, i

    can get around that.

  • With all these improvements to theme management, and 85% users customizing themes, it's very strange to see theme management removed from W7 Starter

  • You should be able to choose which elements you wish to save to -- and load from -- a theme.

    For example, I may want to backup or share my window colours but I never, ever, ever want to mess with my sounds.

  • The first Microsoft thing that Microsoft have to do with Windows is to offer al least the same functionality like Windows XP.

    I think that Aero Peak, Aero Snap and Aero etc is very usefull and nice things to an operating system but this things are not importan if the operating system not offer at least the same functionality that Windows XP do and this is the first thing that Microsoft have to do after developings new features as Aero Gadgets.

    In my company and our customers dont like Windows Vista and stick with Windows XP because only few and little things that Microsoft can correct it very easily:

    1. Expand "All Programs" in Start Menu. Windows XP can do it. Vista and Seven can't.

    2. I want to order the "All Programs" in Start Menu. I disable de option to not order Programs alphabetically, but every time i restart the computer or install a new program the "All Programs" menu sorted alphabetically automatically. This occurs in Windows Vista and not fixed in Windows Seven. What are Microsoft doing this three years with Windows Seven? Correcting bugs and fails or adding touching capabilities and Aero Peaks, Aero Snaps, Aero etc's...?

    3. The possibility to customize Windows Explorer toolbar. Windows 95 to XP can do it. Vista and Seven can't. Most users requiered the "Up Folder" button in Windows Explorer toolbar and not need the options that Microsoft put in this toolbar that cant change it.

    4. The ability to catalog music in Windows Media Player Library AT LEAST like WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER 10. Imposible to catalog in Windows Media Player 11 and 12 because is only album centric and in Windows 7 Microsoft remove the advanced tag editor.

    5. If a antispyware program tells me to delete a file called "spy.dll" stored in C:\Windows\System32, can someone tells me how to search this file in Windows Vista or Seven? Very complex and a lot of clicks in Vista ans Seven.

    Or if i'm a developer or a technical and i want to find a file in the system or windows folder is very complex to me to find it. For example i want to search the host file to modify it, or to find the winipcfg application. Windows Search is not valid to a very lot of users.

    6. Removing tabs controls in some Control Panel options and in more places in all Windows, makes all things more complicated and make doings actions more slowly and with more clicks than in Windows XP. For example, in Windows XP, in the "Appearance" option i cant change the background wallpaper, the screensaver and more things only with one click to change between options. In Windows Vista the same thing is going back and double clicking in other option making changing any option very frustrating.

    If some work with Internet Information Server 7 in Windows Server 2008 this same topic of removing tabs is more frustrating making to "Go back" continuously to change between options. Why Microsoft is removing the tab control and making all things more complicate, more complex, more slower, and less practical.

    Microsoft need to think that all Windows users are acomodate to a user interface for more that 10 years since Windows 95. Microsoft cant change this from one day to another. Microsoft must offer at least the same functionality and compatibility like Windows XP does. Microsoft cant remove features and cant remove behaviors because all users are acomodate with this.

    The Office 2007 toolbar is usefull and good, but Microsoft must put an option to configure it with older menu's and older behaviour because most users are accomodate to it and needs time to change to a new user interface and behaviour. Need to do the same with Windows Vista and Seven.

    A user does become to first use Windows Vista is frustrating because its imposible to use it in the same manner like Windows XP do. Its imposible to "Go up folder" because the icon not exist, imposible to search because indexing is not complete, imposible to find things in the caotic "Control Panel", imposible to do the same things that do with Windows XP, and this is the REASON of why this user and all of mayority of users return to Windows XP and discard Windows Vista.

    The first reason of the Windows Vista fiasco is not perfomance, compatibility or features. The first REASON is that users are acomodate for more than 10 years with a user interface and changing it at all is frustrating users.

    I have a computers company and the mayority of users come back and asked to downgrade to Windows XP because its imposible to work with Vista. Only a few users have complained about the performance or compatibily of Windows Vista.

    Microsoft needs to offer the same Windows XP functionality, the same Windows Explorer, the same customizations.

    And when all of this is complete, then add new feature like Aero Snaps, Aero Peaks, Aero Tips, Aero Chips, Aero Tricks and so on.

    Today Windows Vista or Seven is not for me. Why? Because I cant expand "All Programs" in "Star Menu", cant customize my Windows Explorer toolbar (the options included are not valid for me) and its imposible to me to find the files i want to find and imposible to me to catalog music with Windows Media Player 11 or 12. I'm stick in Windows XP with Windows Media Player 10 as the vast majority of users.

    When i see Windows Vista or Seven and think that is an operating system for domestic users only or for multimedia users only. Windows Explorer in Vista and Seven is focusly on media files. But what about companies, technicals, developers and so on. When I open a developer folder project in Vista or Seven i see it like media files. This is incongruent for an operating system. And operating system must cover all kind of users. Not the mayority of users. This is the cause of the fiasco of Vista. Companies, technicals and developers dont want and operating system do only for media or domestic users (the mayority of users).

    All technical, developers and so on need the ability of customize the operating system like Windows 95 to Windows XP do. Don't like a closed operating system. If i want it i buy a Mac.

    Microsoft needs to think seriously and slowly two things:

    1. Cant change a behaviour and a user interface that users are acomodate for more than 10 years. Changing it makes rejection of users.

    2. Think not only in the mayority of users. Think of all users, especially technicals, devolopers and more.

    When Microsoft develop the Windows 95 user interface used psychologists and sociologists and studied the behavior of people: builders, housewives, children, engineers, developers, governments and others to develop the user interface and get the best performance and ease of use to them.

    What happened with Windows Vista?

    Microsoft think, please think.

    "If I want a Mac, I buy a Mac, not Windows Vista or Seven."

  • Hello everybody,

    I was wondering if there is a possibility to constantly update the themes. Basically, it would be fun to "subscribe" to a theme "feed". It would be a good idea to be able to add a theme to a centralized node (could be offered by Microsoft) or public domains that expose the content (themes and, going forward, theme components) based on a standard interface, and people around the world could subscribe to that theme and have new content as soon as the owner of the theme updates the content (adds new images, changes sounds for different actions, etc.).


  • Thank you JaviAl for saying what was on my mind since the first time I saw Windows 7: "It is a Mac!"  Windows is becoming way too Mac-like.  I bought a PC so I could run WINDOWS!

  • @JaviAl

  • How about deeper theme support? It's needed the uxtheme patch?

    And how about Windows 7 UI? It will be nicer to see old-like Vista style (or a black theme) with two lines (like application name/document name) per button on taskbar.

  • Hi!

    First off, I'd like to congratulate you for your job on this blog. Yes, really.

    All the PR stuff annoys me, therefore having the guys working on the product sharing a bit of their insights, I think it's really cool.

    However, for all the awesomeness that we're promised with Windows 7, I find several bits worrying. Namely, why several features are gone?

    I completely understand why you removed bundled apps like Windows Movie Maker or Windows Mail, but why did you strip out the advanced tag in WMP, the "open the last opened windows at log on" option from Explorer, the network activity animation in the system tray, or the Software Explorer thingy from Defender?

    I'd really like a blog post to explain your reasons on these ones.

    Thanks anyways for the blog. Keep the updates coming!

    Oh, and I sincerely hope we'll get a similar blog for Windows 8. =o)

  • @JaviAl

    1. and 2. You can expand All Programs.  

    Right Click the task menu and go to properties.

    Click Start Menu.  Under Privacy make sure "Store and display recently opened programs in the Start menu.  Now click customize.  

    You will see an option for "Start menu size."  Increase the "number of recent programs to display" to something very high.  You can uncheck the Privacy setting and your number will still be put to use.

    Now you won't get the scroll bar unless you have so many programs that the menu is taller then your resolution.  And if you have that many programs why don't you start using the new Start menu the way it was designed?

    Windows key -> type what you want -> hit enter.  So much faster and efficient then when clicking with a mouse.

    3.  How is hitting the "Back" button any different then the up button in the old WinXP Explorer?  Up and Back did the same thing under WinXP except when browsing through multiple computers on the network at the same time.

    4.  I don't use WMP for my Music so can't comment but remember there are other options out there that are FREE that will meet your needs.

    5.  Set your Indexing Options to cover all of your drives and ensure it indexes DLL files as well.  Then just click the Windows Key and type the file name.

    6.  What's wrong with them making everything far more efficient?  The old menus are slow and inefficient.  Yes, some people hate change but that's life.  Better off learning the new method and making yourself more efficient.  Not to mention making life easier.

    In the end if you want the "Same Windows XP functionality, the same Windows Explorer, the same customizations" then stick with Windows XP until the end of time.  Or you can accept that evil thing called CHANGE and join everybody else by moving forward with bigger and better things that make you more efficient.

  • @Mr. Steven Sinofsky

    PS. 22 October Windows 7 is avaiable only in US

    or all Language? (ps. Italian :D )



  • 1. When selecting multiple pictures for the desktop background, it's impossible to preview without losing your current selection.

    2. It's hard to keep track of which pictures are selected especially when there are many pictures in the folder/library.

    3. It's impossible to reorder the pictures in a slide show.

  • Thanks for this advice! I set the NASA Image of the Day feed as my background. I knew it was possible, but I didn't know it was this easy until this blog post.



    Expanding the start menu? How many programs do you need on a regular basis that you can't just pin them? I think the Vista start menu cut my 'time to open a new program' in half, and the Windows 7 taskbar has probably cut that in half again. Thanks Microsoft!

  • C'mon, when you buy a new car, only a steering wheel a gear stick and the pedals are in the same place (roughly). Everything else is somewhere else. A mob for conditioner always changes places.

    Folder up? In Seven it's even better than in any previous Windows. You just click in the address bar on the folder higher in the hierarchy, and you can go up as many levels as you want in ONE click! In two clicks in address bar (not a click and doubleclick like in XP), you can go to a neighbour folder!

  • When reading JaviAl, I just feel pity how much people are simply slaves of their habits.

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