Skin Vista to look like XP

You may be stuck with Vista, but with a few tweaks and tricks you can make it look and feel just like its predecessor.
  • Rick Broida (PC World (US online))
  • 24 July, 2008 16:15

Your new PC came with Vista. Maybe your office deployed Vista. Or, perhaps, you got caught up in the early hype and bought Vista. Whatever the case, now you're stuck with it. Wish you could turn back the clock and restore your beloved Windows XP? Unless your name is Marty McFly, you're outta luck.


But all is not lost: You can give Vista an extreme interface makeover, tweaking it to resemble XP. Just because you're stuck with Vista doesn't mean you have to look at it all day.

Strictly speaking, you still have a few ways to get your hands on XP if these makeover tips don't satisfy your thirst for the older version of Windows. While supplies last, you can find boxes of XP on some retail shelves. And some system manufacturers offer XP downgrades with the purchase of a Vista Business or Ultimate license.

However, if you're not interested in scouring the earth for one of the last remaining boxes of Windows XP, or if you don't feel like jumping through hoops to buy a version of Vista that comes with an XP license, the following tricks will go a long way toward making you feel more at home in Vista.

Turn Off Aero Glass


Sure, Vista's much-ballyhooed Aero Glass environment makes the OS look pretty, but at what cost? To XP die-hards, the translucent windows amount to little more than system-slowing eye candy. To make your machine look and feel more like XP, and to improve its performance in the process, you'll have to break through the Glass.

Start by right-clicking any empty area of the Desktop, and then clicking Personalize in the context menu. Next, click the Window Color and Appearance option. Clear the Enable Transparency check box and click OK. Presto: solid, XP-like windows and a zippier PC.

Roll Back the Theme


Don't like Vista's fancy-schmancy colors, buttons, and fonts? You can easily switch back to a more XP-esque theme. Head to the same Window Color and Appearance option as in the last step, and click the link marked Open classic appearance properties for more color options. In the 'Color scheme' box, choose Windows Standard, and then click OK. Wait a minute while Vista undergoes its XP transformation. When it's done, you'll see a familiar-looking Start menu, taskbar, and so on.


Careful observers will note that the above option implements more of a Windows 2000 look than a Windows XP style. For maximum XP-ness, call in outside help: Stardock's WindowBlinds. This $20 utility lets you tweak just about every aspect of Windows' appearance or choose from hundreds of user-designed themes--including the aptly named Windows XP Style, a veritable doppelganger of XP's classic Luna theme complete with a big green Start button.

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Restore the Start Menu


Now that you've rolled back the overall theme, it's time to revert to the classic Start menu--the one with a fly-out program list instead of Vista's cramped, scrolling list. Open the Control Panel, and type start menu in the search box. Click Change Start menu to Classic view, and then choose the Classic Start menu option. Click Apply, and say hello to the menu layout you know and love. Like the Windows Standard theme, the Classic Start menu will seem more Windows 2000 than Windows XP, but if you've installed WindowBlinds with the Windows XP Style theme as discussed in the preceding page, it will look just about perfect.

Bring Back the Hourglass


Not of fan of the cycling blue circle that appears when Vista is busy? Here's how to restore XP's familiar hourglass pointer: Right-click any empty area of the Desktop, choose Personalize, and then click Mouse Pointers. In the Scheme drop-down menu, select Windows Standard (large or extra large, your choice). Click OK.

Turn Off User Account Control

Most Vista users already know that User Account Control, or UAC, is the scourge of the earth. It pops up constantly, such as when you try to change a setting or install a program--it surfaces so frequently, in fact, that most users just click past it without a second thought, thus defeating its purpose entirely. (Seriously, Microsoft, did you user-test Vista at all?) XP never bothered you this way, so if you truly want to re-create the XP experience, UAC must go.


Fortunately, showing it the door is a cinch. Open Vista's Control Panel, and type UAC in the search box. Click the Turn User Account Control (UAC) on or off link. On the next screen, clear the Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer check box, and then click OK. Rebooting seals the deal, sending User Account Control back to hell where it belongs.

Restore the XP Boot-Splash


While Windows takes its sweet time booting, it presents you with a splash screen. This may seem trivial, but if you want to make Vista as XP-like as possible, that means restoring the XP boot splash screen. To do so, you'll need two things: an XP boot image (which you can find by doing a Google image search for "xp boot splash") and a free utility called Vista Boot Logo Generator. This is not a beginner-friendly operation, so when you install the program, make sure to read all of the instructions and follow them to the letter.