How to Create Operating System Themes

How to Create Operating System Themes


Here is a complete guide to make your own theme for your favorite operating system. References are provided for Windows based operating system, Mac and Linux. I did not find any other used widely. Themes are commonly knows as the visual style of your working desktop. You like to add your favorite wallpapers, color styles, icons, etc. Themes are like icing on the cake. For every beginner who starts learning a computer this is always a fun part. Decorating your desktop is not a childish thing, many believe this is a kind of representing there style of working. Basically many operating systems come with default themes and there are also ample of third party support available to download free themes. You must be careful before using this stuff. Many of them contains virus and systems are widely infected only because of screensavers, themes, customizing tools, etc. Making your themes is a safer way to avoid such stuff and you have more choice to customize your system. This is same like dressing yourself. Some of you might be thinking who is going to see my desktop when I am working. This is not the actual thing which will tell you to stay behind, but this is just a personal preference. How we decorate ourselves, our house, our table, etc because it make us more comfortable. We found ourselves to stay easy with the customize thing personalized as per our choice.


Anyhow leaving all personal interest behind, company’s tries to give you a standard theme which help the product look more professional. I had noticed in the era of operating system development that developing companies are making their product more visually perfect. The better it looks the better it gives the feeling of latest technology. You can imagine a clear difference between Windows XP and Windows 7. Enhanced desktop version, glassy finish, enhanced icons, etc. The same is applicable for Mac and Linux also. There was time when people tries to work on black dos window. But today even the media players, office suite, etc comes with customization option. We hardly notice this stuff. This clear stays that companies are working on user preferences on choices and colors. Like clothes you too have a choice to customize your operating system now. This is a kinda geek work. Theme design for Windows is not a big deal, but there is a process which changes as the operating system change. I am not only listing you the manual methods, but some tools which can help you to generate your theme.


Linux Theme Guide:

I love this operating system. There are many reasons behind which you can understand only if you had used it. The best part of this operating system is that it makes you brighter in IT. It is like learning while you work kind of operating system. Tons of tweaks and advancement encourages the open source community to contribute their best. I am not just talking about the old version of Linux, but this are all those distros which are out with many names. One of them which has gained a good popularity is called as Ubuntu. I can say this is the first kind of operating system which can beat other commercial OS. Good graphic layout, nice navigation features, free supports, etc makes the operating system easier to handle. Many of us are working on Linux. Talking about customization Linux offer a lot more than any other operating system. Leaving all other distros I will concentrate on Ubuntu. Because if you learned something on this, then you will find similar settings in other also.


Maximum Linux Distro uses Gnome. This is a kind of user friendly desktop environment used on open source operating system. In simple word it is the explorer.exe of Linux. Do not get confused, it is far better. To make your own theme in Linux you will need to understand and learn about Gnome modification. Modifying Gnome will let you to customize your entire systems looks. Another important point for writing themes for Linux is to understand about GTK Theme. This theme determines the content of Linux desktop that is the toolbar, menu, buttons, etc. There are number of parts in which Gnome is divide or better to say made up of. They are as bellows:

Icon Themes:

This is the first part where you define the icons. This is used in the menus and toolbars. I have a short tutorial on this which will guide you to work with icon themes. Basically the default location for the icons is stored in different directories. The location can be /usr/share/icons or /usr/local/share/icons. So first you will need to determine where the icons are stored. The location above contains a number of sub-directories which is used to categorize the content properly on the base of size and types. The format the supports are png, svg and xpm. Each of this extension has function which you have to understand. The first one .png is considered to be good for bitmap icons while svg for vector icons. XPM gives legacy support to the theme. The themes content is properly defined by the index.theme config file in Gnome. This is the second important part which you must take care.

Lets Begin with creating Icon Theme:

index.theme config file: This is the first step to being. This is the actual theme file which will be used. Create a folder first. Before making the theme I want to tell that the entire work of theme is based on .ini style config file. This file is responsible of defining various sections of theme. So this should not be broken. Code used are: 

  • [IconTheme] – The layout part. It consist of [Directory], Size = IconSize, MinSize = IconSize, MaxSize = IconSize, Threshold = SizeThreshold==, Type = IconType, Context = IconCategory and Type = IconType.
  • Name = ThemeName – The name of theme shows in Gnome Theme Manager
  • Comment = Any comment on theme shown in Gnome Theme Manager
  • Directories = Contains all elements based on icons size, or category.
  • Inherits = This consist of RootTheme. It helps you to display the default icons incase of any issue with the new theme.


Gtk+ Themes – The location of Gtk+ Theme lies in /usr/share/themes/ or ~/.themes/. So if you want to post your theme then just create a folder inside ~/.themes/ and add it with the name you want for the theme. I will give you a basic overview of Gtk+ Theme architecture. There are some elements which make this entire theme working on your desktop. Some of them are:

  • Widgets: Now you can figure out about what I am going to talk. This are the widgets which lies on your desktop and they are needed to be added separately. These widgets can be downloaded for free on base of your need.
  • Styles: Style part consist of desktop properties. Here you can define how the desktop elements should be displayed.
  • Engines: Engines are something which are used to generate or run these themes. you can use a number of different engines to create the best theme you want for the operating system.


GDM Themes –

GDM theme is another part which is made up of a number of items. They consist of a background image, the screenshot, and icons in the icon bar, xml file to define the theme style, etc. To start making your theme you can simply copy paste any existing theme file and edit it on the base of your requirement. By default, Debian, this prompt identification provides a graphical login screen “Blue Debian”. This screen is managed by GNOME Display Manager GDM or simply. If you can not find this very fun login screen, never mind! GDM is highly configurable.

The GDM daemon is responsible for managing the system displays, including: user authentication, user session startup and closing of the session. As such, this demon has a powerful configuration management. It should be noted that any changes made by users are stored in a custom configuration of GDM, regardless of the default configuration, to facilitate the work of the administrator. This custom configuration file for GDM is at this location: / etc / gdm / gdm.conf. The system configuration file default GDM (/ usr / share / gdm / defaults.conf Debian) contains the default configuration options of GDM and should not be changed by the user.

Note that the location of many configuration files is defined in the GDM configuration files. It is therefore to consult the system configuration file and the default configuration file customized GDM if the files are not found where indicated. Sometimes such information is wrong! This is the case with Ubuntu Studio 7.10 (I have not checked the others) which indicates, in the / etc / gdm / gdm.conf-custom, the location of system configuration file default is / usr / share / gdm / defaults.conf. Now this file does not exist on Ubuntu Studio 7.10! This is actually the / etc / gdm / gdm.conf! This is unfortunate … This kind of shells shows the limits of Ubuntu development clocked at half. Ubuntu 7.10, these two files are then in the / etc / gdm and are named gdm.conf file (default configuration) and gdm.conf-custom (custom configuration file).

Screenshot Background and correspond to the background while Shade Shade-left and-right correspond to the arrows. Once they are changed we must keep the same format or otherwise the issue will not work.

  •  If we change the names we put the name of the fund in the line: file=”background.jpeg” <normal alpha=”1″/>

Changing the background image name

  • For the arrows in the following lines: file=”shade-left.png” <normal alpha=”0.08″/> / file=”shade-right.png” <normal alpha=”0.08″/>


Metacity Themes – The Metacity themes have always been a bit crappy mostly for my taste and many people want to create your own. The downside of this is that there is little information about it and in the forums are restricted to scare.

Gtk+ Engines – Go to “System – Administration – Access Window. The screen that will show you go to the tab “Local”, click on “Add” and select the tar.gz archive in the folder GDM. Select the new theme and the next reboot you will have the brand new login screen.

You can refer to site for getting more details on editing the files properly. The same has been mentioned in more detailed way on the site about editing each and every part of the themes. That can be a long process and something a bit complicated for those who had never done this before.

Mac Theme Guide:

Mac is another popular operating system which has gain a nice respect in terms of service. The operating system is costly and has customization option which are rarely knows and used. The reason the actual interface given on the desktop is already smoother that user never tries to go for any kind of manipulate. Mac systems are very straight forward and better than others. If you need an operating system which can help you to perform your work easily without the issue of error, crashes, virus, etc then you must opt for Mac operating system. Going for a custom theme builder or manual process there is nothing much to do in it. I will advice you to download directly ready made themes and use them on your system. Theming in MAC works a bit differently.

The functionally first started with Linux operating system which is then taken up by many other operating systems. Theming just means modifying the look of your system. The option come in MAC system also. You can play with color and some option where customization is not detailed. There is an app which can help you to work with MAC theming. It is called as ShapeShifter. Still you can get this app on your MAC system. The pp gives you easy interface to modify the preferences. You can play with icons, mouse, etc on this. For Leopard there is a tool called as Magnifique which offers you similar support.

Windows Theme Guide:

How to Create Themes in Windows XP

Click above and read the guide on making a theme for Windows XP. Windows XP is still used in some system and I had seen many prefers. But there will be time when this system will disappear entirely from the market. Still the process is not going to cost you much. Try reading the guide for better highlights.

How to Create Themes in Windows Vista

Windows Vista is another operating system of Windows which lie like a stucked version between XP and 7. I really did not enjoy this and was happy that soon Microsoft released Windows 7. I am providing you some basic steps that can help you to create theme for Windows Vista. There are two methods to do this. First using a manual process and second by using a readymade tool called as Vista Style Builder.

Method 1: Manually building Windows Vista Themes

Anyhow to create a theme for Windows the first thing you will need to do is to modify the .dll files. This are protected files. They can be edited via notepad. But that will be a bit complicated process for you to understand what to do where. So the best way to do this is by using an automated tool or Windows feature to create a theme. I am providing you a very basic step of Windows Vista. Right click on your desktop and choose Personalize. Now this part offers you ample of option to change the Wallpaper, Color scheme, Resolution, etc. You can save the theme with any name and you just need to click on that next time if you want to load your personal preference. Going for the dll hacks is not recommended as it goes against the company policy of modifying the protected system file. There are many free offers on web that you can use to get many free themes and wallpapers. I will recommend you to check properly before downloading or making any changes to your system via third party tools. They can contain virus and infect your system which can lead to complete formatting or loose of data.

Method 2: Using Vista Style Builder



Vista Style Builder is one of the best tools which can be used for creating a customize theme for Vista. It now comes with Windows 7 support also. This tool allow you to create custom styles also called as msstyles. It is quite quicker here to create styles. You can modify from Start Menu button to task bar to everything in this. Just run the tool and click on Start a new visual style. The benefit of this tool is that it allows you much option to entirely change Windows Vista. Just have a look at the image below. The image shows the modification process of multiple Windows theme. The tool is not free. You will need to purchase a license copy for the same. Other than this Microsoft site also offers you many free Windows Vista themes.

How to Create Themes in Windows 7

Windows 7 is another advance operating system which removes the flaws of Vista. I found this option much easier here. The option to customize theme in Windows 7 is lot more similar to Windows Vista. The manual changes which is done from Personalize section allows you to save your theme and load it as you want. Here you have choice to choose the number of images you want add in your theme with a time which will keep changing the wallpapers in the end. You can tick the images you want and load the theme. So here there is an option to make a theme as per your mood. Here are detail steps:

Method 1: Manually building Windows Vista Themes

Open Personalization. You can access this by two ways first by Right Click on Desktop > Personalization and second by clicking on an image in Start Menu or just type personalization in the search box of Start Menu. The following changes you can do to your current theme:

Desktop Background – This part consist of the images that you like to display on the backside of desktop. It is a kind of slide show where you can tick the images you want and leave which you don’t. It recommended keeping your picture in My Picture folders so that Windows can sync it automatically. Or else you can click on Browse and provide the images location.

Border Color: Here you can change the border color of Windows. These settings are also applied on Taskbar and Start Menu of Windows. Just click on Windows color and choose the best color that suits you.

Windows Sound: Windows sound allows you to change the sound alerts. This is common in all versions of Windows. There is a Sound Scheme list where you can choose the best you want. I am not sure up adding your own sound. If you want you can create wav sound files and change the existing one.

ScreenSaver: The screen is one more additions that you can do in your theme. You can choose the one which you like and save it for future reference. Windows will also save the settings done to the screen saver.

Method 2: Windows 7 Theme Maker

Like for Vista the tool Vista Style Builder can be used for Windows 7 also. If you want you can try that. Or else there is one more free tool that can be used for Windows 7. It is called as CustoPack Tools. This is a free tool which is used to customize your Windows. The tool is compatible with all versions of Windows. Install the tool and start customizing your Windows 7. You can choose default packs from existing or else you can create your own also. The tool offers you to accumulate a number of graphic elements that can be used to make your own theme. You can find icons, cursors, pics, etc.



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