The Beginner's Guide to Windows 7 Customization

Discussion in 'Technology' started by Karuta, Mar 8, 2014.

  1. Karuta Reborn

    Jul 14, 2012
    The Beginner's Guide to Windows 7 Customisation.
    Windows Software and Tools
    Windows Tips and Tricks
    Visual Styles
    Font Rendering
    Font Recommendations
    bbLean FAQ
    Docks and Launchers


    Hello everyone! Welcome to my guide on customising the look of Windows 7. If you're like me and you hate the way Windows 7 looks by default, then this guide is for you! The aim of this guide is to explain everything in the simplest way possible. This guide will teach you how to go from stock windows to something you're completely happy with in just a few hours.

    Let's get started, shall we?

    Windows Software and Tools

    I'm going to start off by giving you some programs to work with. Only some of these are necessary for basic customisation but all of them are helpful and I recommend you have a look at them all. Most are freeware, some cost money. I won't be providing links to cracks or anything like that, that's up to you.

    -Ownership and Resource hacking tools-
    Take Control: (Easiest way to "take ownership" of files, so you can replace your explorerframe, shellstyle, etc).
    Resource Hacker: A freeware utility to view, modify, rename, add, delete and extract resources in 32bit and 64bit Windows executables and resource files (*.res). It incorporates an internal resource script compiler and decompiler and works on all (Win95 - Win7) Windows operating systems. Recommended for advanced users.

    Restorator 2007: Similar to Resource Hacker, Restorator allows modifying, adding, and removing resources such as text, images, icons, sounds, videos, dialogs, and menus in .exe, .dll, and .res files.

    Universal Theme Patcher (needed): This is used to allow installation of third party Windows styles (VS). You'll need this to achieve basic Windows 7 customisation.

    -Dual Monitor Software-

    (Software to help properly identify and place wallpapers on dualscreen setups)

    Dual Monitor Tool: Free and open source!
    Display Fusion: Limited free version. (Personal favourite)
    Multiwall: Just for wallpapers.
    Ultramon: WM, Wallpapers + More

    -Icon and Button Replacement Tools-
    7tsp: "We wanted a simple way to customize Windows 7, so we created 7tsp. The patcher will back up the original (current) system files, and patch your Windows 7 with the items of your choice. There are official color packs available for download, in addition to some user created themes. It's possible to create your own custom Theme/Icon packs and apply them with the 7tsp GUI. Modifications can include icons, bitmaps, cursors, visual style, start button, side panel, logon screen, sounds, fonts, task manager colors, copy animation colors, and more." Requirements: Windows Seven Only. Resource Hacker has to be preinstalled on the system, or reshacker.exe has to be in the same folder as 7tsp.

    7conifier: Similar to 7tsp, but just icons. Acting as an alternative to the paid stardock app "Icon Packager" with less features, this tool can replace Taskbar, Start Menu, Desktop and other system icons with custom icon packs. It comes with six icon packs out of the box (like token), but you can add more by searching online or making your own.

    Manual Library Icon Changer: A tool that patches imageres.dll bitmaps individually, making icon replacement in explorer faster and easier.

    Navigation Button Changer: Software that replaces explorer frame bitmaps and menu icons individually.
    Start Orb Changer: Software that replaces the "start" button bitmaps on your taskbar.

    Tray Icon Changer: Software that replaces bitmaps for volume, wifi, and the action center.

    -Taskbar Software-
    TbarMagic: Homemade program created to completely hide the taskbar and start button, with no gimmicks.
    Ultimate Taskbar Controller: Features options to completely remove elements certain of the task bar, and more.

    -Explorer replacements, Window decoration-

    QtTabBar: An extension for Windows Explorer that brings tabbed browsing to Microsoft's file browser, along with other features.
    Explorer ++: A replacement file browser, you can either install and use it exclusively or use it alongside the default windows explorer. Similar to QTTabBar, it brings features like tabbed browsing and even the ability to customize whats available to you in toolbars and menus. It boasts more features and is more lightweight than default Windows Explorer.

    Nexus File: A file browser that offers FTP support, along with dual pane viewing - making it easier to copy/move files more effectively. It's also skinnable.

    True Transparency: An application that allows you to use PNG images to create skins used to change the transparency, and border effects of windows. Does not work on everything however, and can be unstable in Win7.

    -Workspace Managers and Window Management-

    Dexpot: Virtual desktop support (workspaces). Catalog windows, distribute icons, even have different wallpapers per workspace. Starter guide available on the website.

    VirtuaWin: Also creates additional workspaces.

    Winsplit: WinSplit Revolution is a utility which allows you to easily organize your open windows by tiling, resizing and positioning them to make the best use of your desktop real estate.

    AltDrag: Adds the linux-like functionality of holding alt to drag windows with the left mouse button. Great for those who choose not to use titlebars or window decorations.

    Windows Tips + Tricks

    These are some common, but sometimes less obvious problems some people run into when attempting to customize Windows.

    Here's an image worth looking at if you want some good programs for general maintenance.

    -Center the Icons on your taskbar-
    Here's a tutorial.

    -Changing Your Icons-

    The easiest way to change your program icons individually, without any tools or software, is to edit a shortcut. What I recommend doing is navigating to the programs root directory, and creating the shortcut there so there is no confusion. Creating a shortcut also gives you the added bonus of naming it whatever you want, and even setting launch options. Right click on the Icon>Properties>Change Icon. Use your desired .ico file. Pin this shortcut to your taskbar/start menu! For other icons (library icons, task tray icons) please see the windows software section for tools to help you change them. Its a lot faster and easier than going through registries and replacing files manually. Look for 7tsp or 7conifier for icon packs, and browse for icon packs in the Icon section!


    Tclock is a small program that lets you customize your Windows taskbar clock to your own font, size, and color. It has several additional features. This build works fine for Win7 SP1, Vista, XP, and now Win8: Download
    -A blank start orb-

    Use this template with the "Start Orb" changer found in Windows Tools section.

    -Change Your Log On Screen-

    While you can do this through registry editing, I recommend trying 7tsp. Other Guides:
    To change the buttons:

    Visual Styles

    Visual Styles are the foundation of Windows 7 Customisation. They change the overall look of your desktop. If you want, you can install a Visual Style you like and leave it that, but that's not what I'm here to teach you!

    First off, you're going to need to find a Visual Style that you like. This can simply be done by searching Deviantart for "Windows 7 Visual Style" and browsing through countless themes, but I have created a list of my favourite Visual Styles to make it easier for you.

    -Dark Styles-

    Neiio : Appows 2010
    Ravmunken : Deshou
    Twnsnd : pix_ gray
    Krissirk : Shadow 7
    Juyle : Void
    Charleston2378 : Tavaris
    Solmiler : Placebo

    -Appows Peek Alternates by Monochrome-

    Straight borders with shadow
    No gradients and no shadows

    -Appows Dusk Alternate by Natsume-
    Features a smaller scrollbar, new frames, no transparency, no shadows, and a universal flat color.
    link 1 - link 2

    -Nude/Transparent Styles-

    Minhtrimatrix : Radiance
    Minhtrimatrix : Elune
    Solmiler : Glass Onion
    Giannisgx89 : Dream
    Kiko11 : Leve
    Kiko11 : Bello
    Dpcdpc11 : Leaf
    Ymme1st : Tulip

    -Grey/Dark on White Styles-
    Snipes2 : Silica
    Twnsnd : Pix
    Bgjerlowdesigns : Celestica
    Aaron-a-arts : +1
    Kiko11 : Kombo
    Kiko 11 : Racy
    Kiko11 : Oscuro
    Oscuro Mod: Has sharper corners, and hides the min/max/close buttons.

    -White/Bright Styles-

    Technoseven : Milk
    Rudeboyses : Chill
    Neiio : Memento
    Msergt : Mild
    Chungkan : Coua White
    Kiko11 : Lucido
    Kiko11 : Puro
    Puro Mod: Restyles some windows and has a full white caption

    -Metro/Windows 8 Styles-

    Snipes2 : Static Mango
    Shelkadom : 4 Win8 Themes for Win7
    Exsess : Metro Lite Suite (modded from Shelkadom)
    Giro54 : Aero+


    To learn how you can use these icons, see the Windows Tips and Tricks section. For other icons, like library icons, there are some programs that will help you patch your files and save you a lot of time. Look in the Windows Software section. Additionally, there are a few icon packs you can patch automatically. You will need 7tsp and Reshacker, also available in the Windows Software section.

    -Icon Packs-

    Patching instructions/guide can be viewed here. Most packages are provided by "Ultimate Desktops" on Deviant unless otherwise noted.

    Neiio : Tango (Gnomit)
    Neiio : Minium2mix

    -Minimal (Black&White)-

    Chrfb : Ecqlipse 2
    Ipapun : Devine
    Darkdawg : White Pixel
    Ravmunken : Deshou - Part of the Deshou suite.
    -Minimal (Colored)-

    Smuggle559 : Fudge
    Deep3sh : Minimal Colors
    Dakirby309 : Metro UI
    Jg-Visuals : Retrofukation
    Zen-nikki : Absolute 32


    Yankoa : Metro Station (white, blue, and black set)
    Lukeedee : Gallery
    Ap-graphik : Gallery
    Neteru : Nothing - Minimal bitmap font/text based icons.

    Font Rendering

    Fonts appearing to have a greenish tint or look blurry in Firefox/bbLean/Windows? This is due to an acceleration error, probably caused by subpixel rendering or fonts not being supported in smaller sizes. Windows Cleartype also causes issues with EVERY browser, and overall is pretty bad compared to Mac/OSX font rendering. Read about Cleartype for details on how it works. Consider switching fonts if none of the fixes below work for you, or try and get a version of your font that is NOT ".tff" or true type.

    The best and easiest option in my opinion is to install Mactype or gdipp. These are services that replace Windows Cleartype font rendering with Mac/OSX or Linux font rendering. Mactype is more customizable and has bolder bolds, while Gdipp is easier to use and works immediately upon install. If you are using a bitmap font, font rendering is not necessary. Cleartype should be off and you should not need to use Mactype or gdipp. This is only true if you are using only bitmap fonts. If you are using a mix of fonts, I recommend Mactype since its easier to edit your exclusions.
    Go here for details.

    Recommended fixes for Firefox/Nightly:
    In Firefox, type "about:config" in the address bar and hit Enter. Continue after the warning.
    In the filter box at the top, type "gfx.direct2d.disabled". This value will be set to false by default.
    Right click that line and select Toggle. This will change the value to true. Restart Firefox. You may also want to toggle "Use hardware acceleration when available" in your Firefox settings. This is under Options>Advanced>General tab.
    Try the Anti-Aliasing Tuner too, if you feel the need for more tweaking.

    Recommended fixes for bbLean: Fonts in bbLean:
    Fonts in bblean are pretty much the same as how windows treats them. If they are rendering poorly, read some solutions below:

    Using this method you can redefine the font quality right within your visual style. Bitmap fonts should be "Non-AntiAliased". Sans fonts should be "Cleartype-Natural" or "Proof". This method is the easiest way to not only change all the fonts in your visual style, but ensure they will render at the best quality possible. If you choose to use a sans font, stick with the recommended fonts below and use LCD Default settings with MacType for best results. Keep in mind, some software (like ELPlaylist with foobar) defines font quality on its own, so you may need to change settings within the program. For more information on Font Quality options available, read about them here
    Make sure you disable "smooth edges of screen fonts" in your windows performance options. This is a setting often missed. Just visit control panel> performance information and tools> adjust visual effects> visual effects tab> uncheck the option.
    Edit registries to point to different fonts, disabling font smoothing. Go here for details.
    Font Recommendations:

    -Sans and Sans Serif Fonts-

    Fonts best used for general purpose and reading. Browse for more @

    Trebuchet MS
    Source Sans Pro
    Droid Sans
    Open Sans
    Lucidia Grande

    -Monospace Fonts-

    Fonts best used in coding. Browse for more @

    OCR-A Font
    Source Code Pro

    -Bitmap Fonts-

    Fonts best used in smaller sizes (8pt and under). Browse for more @

    Kroeger 5_55
    Pf Tempesta 7
    Artwiz Font pack - Features several popular bitmap fonts. - A version of cure that supports Japanese characters.
    Monte Carlo

    bbLean is an alternative shell for windows. It takes place of explorer and changes how Windows functions.

    Docs - Website

    -BBlean - Revived-

    Newly launched builds including x64! Plugins and more support soon, keep an eye out!

    -Styles and Settings-

    Please read: Getting Started
    How To: Menus
    Sourceforge - Menu Docs
    How To: Styles (colors and themes)
    Sourceforge - Style Docs
    (If you're a beginner you can also try bbstylemaker from the bblean menu, or launch the .exe
    from your bblean directory.)

    About: Plugins
    99.9% of ALL Plugins will NOT FUNCTION with bbLean 64bit, and a large majority of links and documentation will not be available. Expect dead links and to be on your own.
    Sourceforge - Plugin Docs

    Bblean FAQ

    Q: Certain task tray icons I normally see aren't appearing (battery/wifi).
    A: Install bblean as a shell.

    Q: How do I remove taskbar/tray/status icons?
    A: The easiest way is to shift+right click the icons on your bar. Otherwise, ctrl+right click your bblean bar. Edit settings, and find this line: "bbleanbar.item: Tray". Put a "!" in front of it, so they won't load.

    Q: How to I hide these workspace names (alpha) and the taskbar arrows?
    A: Edit your bbleanbar.rc and put a "!" infront of these lines:
    bbleanbar.item: WorkspaceLabel
    bbleanbar.item: WorkspaceButtonL
    bbleanbar.item: WorkspaceButtonR
    bbleanbar.item: WindowButtonL
    bbleanbar.item: WindowButtonR

    Q: How do I remove the side bars/slits/analog clock (etc)?
    A: Unload the plugins under your configuration. The names are self explanatory.
    You may also edit your plugins.rc and comment out each plugin manually with a "!"
    Settings>Config>Plugins>Edit plugins.rc

    Q: My Volume keys on my keyboard stopped working when I installed bblean. Is there a fix?
    A: Yes. Some kind anons found a fix for it that works, however it involves some scripting with Auto Hot Key. If you are unfamiliar, see the window tiling/autohotkey section.
    First, download NirCMD here. You can find links at the bottom of the page.
    Extract the exes to your Windows directory (C:\Windows).
    Create or add the following lines (without quotation marks) to your Auto Hot Key Script:

    run nircmd.exe changesysvolume 2000
    run nircmd.exe changesysvolume -2000
    run nircmd.exe mutesysvolume 2

    The same method with nircmd also applies to bbkeys. The code for bbkeys would look something like this:
    KeyToGrab(Num9), WithModifier(Win), WithAction(ExecCommand), DoThis(C:\Blackbox\usr\bin\nircmd\nircmd.exe changesysvolume -2000)
    KeyToGrab(Num0), WithModifier(Win), WithAction(ExecCommand), DoThis(C:\Blackbox\usr\bin\nircmd\nircmd.exe changesysvolume 2000)

    Just edit the key you want to use for volume controls, save the .rc and restart blackbox. If you wanted to use the buttons or sliders on a media keyboard, use bbkeyhook to define them.
    Run the script. You an also compile the script with Auto Hot Key, and drop it in your windows Startup folder. This will allow Windows to run it automatically on boot. Copy the compiled .exe to C:\Users\"username"\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Window s\Start Menu\Programs\Startup.

    Q: How do I extend the width of my bbleanbar?
    A: Ctrl+Right click>config>Width percent.
    Alternatively, edit the bbleanbar.rc by selecting "Edit settings" and edit the bbLeanBar.widthPercent value.

    Q: I want my bbleanbar to stretch across both monitors. How do I do this?
    A: There are two ways to do this. The easiest (and recommended to those with equal resolution monitors) is to edit your bbleanbar.rc settings and override the max width percent by changing the value of "bbLeanBar.widthPercent" from 100 to 200. If you have uneven monitors (i.e. 1440x900 and 1366x768) you would use a value closer to 170 or so. Alternatively, you can load in a separate bbleanbar and drag it to your other monitor. You can simply clone your current settings. To do this, follow these steps:
    Go to your bbLean installation directory. Open the plugins folder, and find the bbLeanBar folder.
    Copy + paste it in the plugins directory, and rename the folder to "bbleanbar2".
    Visit Settings>Configuration>Plugins, and edit plugins.rc
    Add the name of your new bar under the current bblean bar entry. It should look like this:
    # - Integrated toolbar with tasks and tray

    Save As plugins.rc
    Restart blackbox.
    The bar should appear automatically, if not you should now have the option to load it within the plugins menu.
    Repeat the steps provided for however many you need. Please note: ctrl+right click your current bbleanbar to drag it around if you aren't seeing the new bar load. Chances are it loaded on top of the current bar, since you cloned your settings.

    Q: My Windows start button/taskbar is still appearing/glitching and getting in the way. How do I get rid of it?
    A: Install BBlean as a shell. If there is still an issue, click here.

    Q: I've installed BBlean as a shell, how do I set my wallpaper?
    A: You can do so by putting your wallpapers directory and image name in your current styles .rc settings manually, or by using bbstylemaker>other>image file name.
    Example: "D:\pictures\wallpapers\wallpapername.png"
    Alternatively, if you'd like to continue to use the same windows personalization settings for your wallpaper, you can do so by navigating to: blackbox>configuration>graphics>uncheck "enable background".

    Q: Japanese characters aren't displaying. What do?
    A: Under configuration, visit Misc>Use UTF-8 Encoding. Restart blackbox.
    (Still not displaying? Edit your blackbox.rc in notepad++. Change the encoding to UTF-8)

    Q: Firefox/my application window is weird looking/overlapping and has a flickering bar. What do?
    A: This is caused by conflicts with the bbLeanSkin plugin. You can unload/disable/uncheck/toggle bbleanskin under your configuration if you choose not to use it. However there may be some ways you can get it to work through trial and error.
    To Disable:
    (settings>config>bbleanskin>toggle skin)
    If you still want the skin enabled, do the following:
    Put these in your Exclusions for Firefox/Nightly:
    Some other exclusions were mentioned on the blackbox4windows forums that may help pinpoint the processes causing conflicts.
    For Google Chrome, put: "chrome.exe"
    To turn bbleanskin off permanently, you can manually comment it out in your exclusions (blackbox>bbleanskin>edit exclusions to open the .rc). Just put a "!" in front of "plugins\bbLeanSkin\bbLeanSkin.dll". You can always uncomment it later if needed.
    Some fixes that may help you get the skin to work:
    Keep the Menu Bar enabled when using firefox. Use addons like App Button Remove and Hide Menubar as work arounds.
    For issues with explorer not being skinned properly, try disabling Aero and transparency.

    Q: I can't close tabs, and Firefox is not operating properly with bblean.
    A: Set Firefox to vista service pack 2 compatibility. Alternatively, downgrade firefox to before version 25. You can also just uninstall bblean as a shell.

    Q: My Rainmeter skin is overlapping with my bbleanbar, what do?
    A: Change the width% of your bblean bar to match your skin. If you are using bb_bar, load
    the background bar on "normal", and set the bb_bar to "topmost" via your rainmeter settings.

    Q: I want a 12 hour clock.
    A: Change your clock format to "%I:%M"
    For additional time and date formats, visit: Clock Formatting
    If you want to completely remove the clock, leave the clock format window blank or put a "!" in front of "bbleanbar.item: Clock" in your bbleanbar.rc settings.


    -Minimal (Black&White)
    Akirafinn : Primus
    Outofashion : Token Grey
    Hitman7112 : Token Dark and Light
    Teft : Obsidian
    Firstfooter : Polar
    Killerbeat : Black Royale
    Drunkensandwich : Contrast
    Exesess : Metro


    Ukintel : Aero 9 Colours
    Nait0 : NB Pack
    Efox-hun : Extenza Pro

    -Silly + Miscellaneous-

    Anime-rai : Miku Hatsune
    Strawberrydinosaur : Nyan Cat
    Cursed-midna : Pikachu
    Whitefox-freefire : Navi

    Docks and Launchers

    Launchy uses keystrokes to find and launch programs/files it indexes. The website asks for payment/donation, but it's free. Skins available on the website, and DeviantArt. Highly recommended.

    Rocket Dock:
    One of the older and more well known docks. Probably the best alternative to Docky for Windows users. Features listed on the website.

    Another older more well known name to docks. Free, but with limited functionality.

    XWidget is more of a platform for customizing widgets and addons to your desktop, like clocks and weather.
    XLaunchpad allows you to organize icons and shortcuts on your desktop in stacks, similar to App folders on an Android interface. XLaunchpad is probably the best option for users on a touch screen.

    The closest thing to a Mac/OSX dock you can find. Full/Ultimate version requires payment, however.

    Another Mac/OSX type dock. This one is free.

    Flashy UI, and larger than most - but offers something different. Can be hidden with hotkeys.

    Another large and intrusive dock, with a flashier UI. Can be hidden with mouse gestures.


    Thank you for reading this guide! Hopefully it helped you achieve your ideal Windows 7 Desktop.

    Credit goes to all of the people that created the skins/themes/tools mentioned in this guide!
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2014