Vista Visual Styles Pack

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Vista Visual Styles Pack is a theme for XP that mimics the look and style of the Windows Vista desktop.

It provides a range of changes that you can optionally apply to different facets of Windows XP to transform these to a Vista-like look and feel.

A number of Vista functions and Vista-like applications are also provided.

If you like the new look of Windows Vista and would like to have it on your XP then you’re in luck; “Vista Visual Styles Pack” delivers an excellent copy of the Vista look as well as a recreation some of the toys and widgets that Vista provides as well. Here are some notes on this software:

  • Vista Visual Styles Pack offers 2 Vista themes, Basic and Aero. These are very similar but have slight differences (most apparent in open windows and dialog styles).
  • The range of customizations possible is just simply impressive: you can change the look of the start menu, taskbar (and system tray), system font, and open windows and dialogs. You can also choose a Vista-style tray clock, Vista icons, Vista sounds, visual tooltips (similar to the Visual Task Tips program), Vista boot screen, new screensavers, new wallpapers, cursors, a customized media center, and a Vista-style sidebar with widgets. (See screenshot; note that the wallpaper in my screenshot is not provided in this package).
  • This software will claim some resources from your computer but is not a big resource hog. A full install with all the bells and whistles will claim around 50 megs extra of your computer’s RAM (compared to Vista’s 500). However, note that most of this is due to the third party applications that provide Vista-like functionality (clock, widgets, tooltips, etc.). The theme modifications themselves simply replace those of XP and do not cause any resource expenditures in and of themselves.

Installation:

  • Program installs like any other application, although it is recommended that you create a restore point, before installing. It seems to have 2 installation methods: applying UI transformations to system files and applying it to setup files. The difference, I believe, is that in one case system files are modified while the other they are preserved but the Vista UI files are run instead. In either case you are able to uninstall completely and revert back to the pre-installation state.
  • When installing make sure to uncheck the box that will change your browser home page to that of Vista Style Pack’s developer if you dont want that to happen.
  • You will need to disable security programs (antivirus, anti-spyware) when you install, as these will prevent and/or intercept many changes to the system files.
  • Setup will ask you to check exactly which customizations/additions you want in your system. There are many options to choose from (described below); you could choose to customize every possible detail so that it resembles Vista or just go for the minimal customizations of the Vista theme and/or a few other details.
  • If you want to add or remove specific customizations or features after you install, you can do so by running the ’Vista Transformation Pack’ entry from windows add/remove for some of these; however, for others you will have to run the uninstaller (it will let you remove only those things you don’t want).
  • You can use the add/remove entry to perform a number of maintenance issues: fixing icons, fixing services that reverted back to the pre-transformation state.

The Verdict: I am usually not big on customizing the Desktop but I must admit that this are pretty darn cool. This is an extremely ambitious project and the fact that the developers pulled it off so well is quite remarkable. However, having installed this and played with it I am not entirely sold on the attractiveness of the Vista theme itself (I prefer the XP icons to the modified ones, am not too excited about the Vista font, and much prefer the widgets offered by a program like Klipfolio than these Vista style ones). Also, for a project of such scope there invariably are some bugs. For example, my IE 6 was modified such that it had 2 address bars, only one of which worked. It also lost a number of IE extensions that I used frequently.

On the other hand, if you are interested in transforming your Windows XP (or 2003) so it looks and/or behaves like Vista this is probably one of the best ways to do it; it looks cool, and is extremely easy and hassle free to set up. (Not to mention 100% free).

Version tested: 6.0

Compatibility: Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. (32-bit versions; 64-bit compatibility is planned for future releases). Requires only a DirectX 8, 64MB RAM graphics card.

Download here.