Windows isn't known as the prettiest OS out there. Sure, Windows 7, with its Aero flaunting default theme, is the best looking edition yet, but anyone who wants pure eye candy has generally gone the way of the Mac.
Look behind the curtain, though, and you'll discover myriad user-created themes that can visually elevate your desktop to another level. There are even themes out there to make your PC look like a Mac. The best place to find them is DeviantArt -- a site with a thriving community of talented developers that contains hundreds of free downloadable themes.
This guide is going to take you through installing the ClearScreen Sharp theme as, simply put, it's the cleanest, sharpest (hence the name), most visually appetising theme out there. It's even on par with Mac OS X Lion's default offering. If we were the bosses at Microsoft we'd set it as the default theme of Windows 8. We're not, though, so we'll just show you how to install it instead.
If, for some crazy reason, you don't like the Clearscreen Sharp theme, we've suggested no less than nine others for you to try out. Simply click through the numerical links above this article to browse through them.
Create a restore point
It's highly reccomended that you create a restore point before following this guide. In fact, scrap that. We insist on it. We're going to be making delicate changes to your computer's registry performing actions that, should you slip up, will mean that you'll have to use a Windows 7 CD and system restore to get your PC up and running again.
1. Go to this page and learn how to create a restore point before doing it.
2. Print off this webpage that tells you how to use a Windows CD to go back to the restore point that you created.
Download VistaGlazz and copy the theme files
1. VistaGlazz is the program used to apply pretty themes. It's free and, despite its name, runs perfectly fine on Windows 7. Download it from here, install and open it. Click on the computer picture shown here on the right. Click on the 'patch files' button and then click 'reboot'.Your machine will now, unsurprisingly, reboot.
2. Head over to this page and download the ClearScreen Sharp theme. Place the folder on your desktop. The two files you need to copy to your Themes folder will share the same name. One will be a folder and another a .theme file. Copy both, as shown below. The full path is Start > Computer > C: > Windows > Resources > Themes.
3. Double click 'clsSharp.theme' and hey presto -- you're now sporting a slimmer, sexier interface. Our next step is to get rid of that pesky Windows Start orb.
Renaming and copying explorer.exe
1. Navigate to the resources folder that we found earlier. Inside it are two folders -- x86 and x64. If you're running 32-bit Windows, double click on x86. If you're running 64-bit Windows, double click on x64. Right click explorer.exe and rename it to explorer2.exe.
2. Copy explorer2.exe and paste it into your Windows folder. The full path is Start > Computer > C: > Windows. Close the window.
Editing the registry
3. This is trickiest and most dangerous part of the tutorial, so it's important to have created a system restore point and to follow the next instructions closely. Click on Start. Type 'regedit' into the search box and press enter. This will open the registry editor.
4. On the left hand side of the folders listed in the left hand pane, click on the small arrow to the left of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, then the one next to SOFTWARE, then Microsoft, then Windows NT, finally clicking on the WinLogon folder itself. Find the entry in the right hand pane called 'Shell' and right-click on it. Left click Modify.
5. Rename explorer.exe to explorer2.exe and click OK.
Kill explorer.exe and then run explorer2.exe
1. Click Start, type 'task' into the search bar then click 'View running processes with task manager'.
2. In the Windows Task Manager window, click on the Processes tab, find explorer.exe in the list, right-click on it and click End Process twice.
3. Click File then 'New Task (Run...)'. Click on Browse and navigate to your Windows folder. Find explorer2.exe, click on it and click Open. Click OK to see the Windows orb change to the new theme's sleek, black version. If you ever want to go back to the original Windows 7 theme, simply repeat this part of the tutorial, clicking on explorer.exe rather than the modified version. It's always best to call it something other than explorer.exe so as to retain the original file.
Completing the look
You're probably going to want a new desktop wallpaper to go with your new, shiny theme. DeviantArt is also an excellent resource for user-submitted wallpapers, as is interfaceLift. Another cool utility can be found in the way of Rainmeter, which can display all sorts of gadgets and widgets on your desktop.
If you've gone for one of the Mac-aping themes, simply right-click your taskbar, unlock it and drag it to the top of the screen. For an OS X-like dock, try Rocketdock.