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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.

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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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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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 http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/Windows7/Personalize which is the US English link from the Themes control panel.

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