Earlier this week, Jason de-mystified the process of styling your Windows system with custom themes, along with the tweaks needed to pull it off. Those Windows Vista users who just can't commit to patching, finding and copying themes, however, might find comfort in Vista Visual Master, a free, all-in-one tool for opening up your Vista system to themes, downloading and installing them, and tweaking tons of other graphical elements, including icons, your log-on picture, boot screen, and more. Read on for a peek at how Vista Visual Master can mold your system to your liking and make theming easy.
Update: As many commenters have pointed out, the site hosting Vista Visual Master appears to have outright copied tutorials and instructional posts and re-posted them, without credit. The site itself (which the software links to) is also ad-heavy.
Others have noted that Vista Visual Master may not work with Vista systems patched with Service Pack 1, or at least systems in which other theme tools have made changes to the core
uxtheme.dll file. So proceed with caution, and, of course, back up files before you change them.
Grab a copy of Vista Visual Master (VVM) at the creator's Vista123.net site. The app supports both 32- and 64-bit Vista builds. When launching it, I'd recommend using the "Run as Administrator" feature from right-clicking its icon—I ran into some file access hang-ups when I didn't, and in some cases, I couldn't apply themes.
Once you're installed and launched, you'll arrive at VVM's first tab, "System Settings." There are some cool tweaks here, nothing you can't accomplish with other utilities, but kind of nice to have quick access to while you're messing with the total visual style of your system.
Now for the meaty stuff, "Theme Patch":
Check one box, and VVM will patch your
uxtheme.dll file so Vista can use non-Microsoft-approved themes. I'd recommend making a backup of that file, as Jason detailed, before letting VVM take care of it. The patching worked for me on the first try, and after that, theme-changing became a simple matter of downloading, choosing, and hitting "Apply Theme." The built-in download link takes you to Vista123's collection of themes, which are nice, if mostly subtle. The "Restore Default" button is, of course, a very, very good thing to have, as some themes are more buggy and rough-edged than others.
I tried out Vista123's copy of "Blue as the Sea", and liked the way it coloured, shaded, and otherwise subtly moved my Vista system toward a blue colour scheme.
Beyond basic theme-applying, VVM lets you tweak individual elements of your system's looks, right down to, say, the icon for PDF files. The "System Icons" tab lets you tweak (and restore) icons, mostly the kind that appear on the desktop:
"File Type Icons" gives you the same change/restore options, but for every single icon on your system. Good, perhaps, for when you've got one particular icon that just looks darned ugly.
Next up is "Logon Picture," the background you see when you're prompted to choose a user and type your password:
Very simple—you can use pretty much any picture that fits your screen here, keeping the centre log-on box in mind. You can apply, restore, and grab Vista123's offerings here.
The remaining links are less exciting or handy. "OEM Information" lets you tweak the owner/organisation/branding that appears when clicking "Properties" on My Computer and elsewhere. "Boot Screen" can put any picture in place of the progress bar screen during load-up, though, as the site itself points out, it's not all that hard. "Vista Extras" is just links to free software (the kind that likely help keep Vista Visual Master free), although they're good picks.
That's it for my tour of Vista Visual Master. If you're looking to get in deeper, check out (sorry for the broken record linking) Jason's guide, which includes the steps for Windows XP.
What's your impressions of Vista Visual Master? Which themes do and don't work through it? Tell us your take in the comments.