In order to use unsigned themes and visual styles on Windows XP, you have to patch or replace a file named uxtheme.dll on your computer. This file is what controls the new visual styles in XP. In most cases third-party theme managers or the free Multi-Patcher have no problem patching your uxtheme.dll file.
But what do you do when these programs give you an error saying they can't patch your uxtheme.dll file? Or even after installing the program you still can't load themes and styles? Here's how to replace your uxtheme.dll file manually.
- Ensure that you do not have the Windows XP installation CD in your cdrom drive.
- First, open Windows Explorer and go to Tools --> Folder Options --> View (tab). Put a check mark beside:
"Show hidden files and folders"
"Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)"
Click Apply and Okay and close Windows Explorer.
- Next, click Start --> Search --> All files and folders (button). Click the little plus symbol beside "More advanced options" and put a check mark beside"Search hidden files and folders". The first three items should now be checked. Scroll up and type uxtheme.dl_ in the "All or part of the file name" box and click Search. Wait for the search to finish. When it's done, rename ALL uxtheme.dl_ files to _uxtheme.dl_. Don't worry. These are just backup files.
- When done go Back in the Search screen and this time search for uxtheme.dll. Rename ALL to uxtheme.bak (any extension - doesn't matter).
- Next, download the pre-patched uxtheme.dll file for you system. Pre-patched uxtheme.dll files for XP SP2 can be found at http://www.withinwindows.com/uxtheme-patches/ or using the direct download links below:
Many thanks to Rafael Rivera and the many contributors for creating and making these available! You'll need WinRAR to extract these files. See the Notes below for how to check your version of Windows.
- UnRar and extract the uxtheme.dll file you downloaded into c:\windows\system32. Within a few seconds of copying the file, you should get a pop-up window titled "Windows File Protection":
Click the OK button. You should then see a second Windows File Protection pop-up window asking you to insert your SP2 CD:
Click the Cancel button. You'll then get a third pop-up window asking you if you are sure you want to keep the unrecognized file:
Click Yes. Wait for it... You'll probably then get yet another pop-up window asking for the SP2 Cd again. At this point ignore the pop-up and REBOOT.
If you don't these see pop-ups immediately upon copying the downloaded uxtheme.dll file into c:\windows\system32, go back to step 2. There's still a backup copy somewhere you missed.
When your computer restarts, you'll get (you guessed it), another pop-up window saying that your uxtheme.dll file is either unsupported or is patched. Just close the window. You won't see it again.
That's it! You have successfully replaced your uxtheme.dll file with the patched version and should now be able to load up unsigned XP themes and visual styles
Make sure that you download the right uxtheme.dll file for your system.
To check your exact Windows version, go to Start --> All Programs --> Accessories
--> System Tools --> System Information. On the System Summary page (the
first page shown), look at the line that reads "Hardware Abstraction Layer".
It should say something like Version = "5.1.2600.2180 (xpsp_sp2_rtm.040803-2158)":
The last four number (.2180 in this example) must match the version of the
pre-patched uxtheme.dll file you download. To check the file version, right-click
the uxtheme.dll file you downloaded and go to Properties --> Version (tab):
The File Version of the file should match the version listed beside Hardware
Abstraction Layer in System Information. Language can be confirmed here
If the file version does not match that of your system, don't copy the file
into your system32 folder. It won't work.Why all this trouble?
uxtheme.dll is a protected operating system file. As such, Windows keeps
several copies of uxtheme.dll, plus compressed uxtheme.dl_ files at various locations
on your system as backups. If it senses that uxtheme.dll has been replaced
with a different version, it will immediately overwrite the changed version with
one of it's backup copies. This is why it is necessary to find and rename
all copies of uxtheme.dll and uxtheme.dl_ everywhere on your system. Generally
speaking, there are only a handfull of places these backup copes are stored:
- The Windows XP installation CD.
- The Windows XP Service Pack 2 CD.
- A Windows XP installation folder on your hard drive (HP, Compaq and Dell computers are bad for this - if your system came with a 'Recovery CD' and not an actual 'Windows XP' installation CD, the XP installation files are somewhere on your hard drive, on an additional hard drive or on a parition. Will be in a ~/i386 folder somewhere on your system).
- C:\Windows\System32\LastGood (if exists)
If just one uxtheme.dll or uxtheme.dl_ exists in any of these locations, Windows
will find it. That is why it is necessary to find ALL copies and backups
of this file and rename them so Windows can't find them to overwrite your patched
copy. The reason you want to rename them is so that you can move them back
if you ever have to re-install Windows or SP3 comes out. Windows should
still run without a uxtheme.dll file. You'll just be limited to the Windows
Classic desktop.Recommended Theme Manager Software:
Once you've successfully patched your uxtheme.dll file, check out TuneUp Utilities 2008
for loading and managing themes, visual styles and more all from a single interface.