Customizing Windows

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Customizing The WinXP Boot Screen

Windows XP has a great new look, but after a while, the new look can get old.With the help of some cool tools and tricks, you can change many parts of Windows XP. This chapter will guide you through customizing two parts of your computer, the boot screen and the Welcome/logon screen. You will learn how to replace the boring boot screen with premade screens and even how to make some of your own.Then, this chapter will move on to customizing the second part of your computer startup, the Welcome/logon screen. This screen can be customized in several ways, such as selecting to use the new Welcome screen or the old Windows 2000 style logon screen. Also, there are a handful of different hacks that will help you customize each screen and make it look even better.Would you like to replace the Welcome screen with a screen you made yourself? You will also learn how to replace the Welcome screen and how to make one of your own.

Customizing the Windows XP Boot Screen
Every time I turn on my computer, I am forced to stare at the boring Windows XP boot screen. Although, I must admit, I found the moving blue bars very amusing at first, after a few months, I became bored and wanted something different. Although changing the boot screen is not a feature that the Windows XP team at Microsoft has built into Windows, doing so is still possible.

Changing the boot screen
The image that is displayed during the boot is hidden away in a system file called ntoskrnl.exe. This system file is loaded during the system boot and is what displays the boot image and animation. When users first started to make their own boot screens, they would use resource hacking tools to hack into the file and replace the old Windows XP bitmap image file with one that they made. Then, they would swap the old system file with the hacked version of the system file so that the new boot screen would be displayed. The majority of users do not start off by making their own boot screen. Instead, they download one that someone else made from the Web. Unfortunately, the only way to distribute a boot screen is to share the system file that the author has hacked from his or her system. This method of distributing boot screens works for some people, but it may cause serious problems for the majority of users.

The problems of changing the boot screen
If you download a hacked system file with a new boot screen and replace the old file on your computer, after you restart, you may find that your computer will not start and will give you a nice error message. “C:\Windows\System32\ntoskrnl.exe is missing or corrupt.” Missing or corrupt? Uh-oh. This is the most common problem that users experience when trying to change their boot screen using the file swap technique.

Users that get this message, or any similar error message, are receiving it because they replaced their system file with a file that is not compatible with their version of Windows XP.

Windows XP was released in many different languages for different parts of the world. Each language version of XP has a slightly different version of code. Additionally,
Microsoft continuously releases software update patches to update the code of the system files such as the monthly security updates and almost yearly service packs. All of these factors result in several different versions of the boot screen system file floating around on the Web.

You could find a boot screen file that was made from a hacked system file from the German version of Windows XP. Or more commonly, you could find a boot screen that was made from a hacked file from the original version of Windows XP.When you try to install that boot screen on a computer that, for example, has Service Pack 2 installed on the English version of XP, you will have problems.

Windows XP will only work with a specific version of the system file that contains the boot screen. This arrangement complicates the change of the boot screen with the common file swap technique. It will do so because users will have difficulty telling on what version of Windows XP a particular boot screen that is distributed on the Web will work.

Users have to be aware of more than just the version problem. Because you are downloading a hacked version of a critical system file that is executed during the boot sequence, you could possibly download a version that someone modified and in which he or she put some variation of malicious code that could harm your computer. Read the next section to find out how to change your boot screen safely.

How to safely change your boot screen
Check out the following ways to change your boot screen by using special tools that will allow you to do it safely. Several different boot-screen-changing programs are available on the Web. Some of these programs are shareware and others are freeware. I have used them all. Not all of them have been user-friendly, and some of them have been an out-and-out pain. The one I prefer to use is BootSkin by Stardock, which also happens to be free. This program is by far the easiest and safest one to use to change the boot screen. Instead of replacing the system file, it just installs a special driver that skins the boot. This arrangement does not impact system performance and is a nice alternative to having to deal with system files.

The BootSkin app is a great piece of software, but it does not do everything. Currently, it does not allow you to use the thousands of boot screens already made that are posted all over the Web. It will only allow you to run boot screens that were made especially for the program. True, hundreds of boot screens are available for this application, but thousands of hacked system files are out there. Because of this limitation, I have decided to show you all how to convert these hacked system file boot screens into safe BootSkin files. But first, let’s get started using the app.

Using BootSkin to change your boot screen
Once you have the BootSkin application installed, start it up by using the link in the Start menu under WinCustomize and perform the following steps:

1. Once you have the application running, changing the boot screen is very simple. Just navigate through the list of boot screens by using the scrollbar arrows

2. Once you find the boot screen that you like, click the item and then click the Preview button to see a full-screen animated preview of what the boot screen will look like.

3. Click a button on the mouse again to exit the full-screen preview. If you like the boot screen, then click the Apply button. That’s it!

Once you reboot, your new boot screen will be displayed every time. If you would like to change your boot screen back to the default Windows XP boot screen, reopen the BootSkin program and select the default system boot screen from the top of the list; click Apply.

Where to get more boot screens for BootSkin
Want more boot screens that will work with BootSkin? The following are two sites where you can find more skins that are already compatible with the program.

· Win Customize:
· Skinbase:

another advantage of using the Bootskin app, besides the safety it provides, is the small size of the skin files. Instead of having to download a hacked system file that can be quite large, BootSkin files are a fraction of that size. Once you have downloaded the boot screens that want, Just... double-click them and they should automatically be loaded into the BootSkin program and be available for selection if the file has the .bootskin file extension. If that is not the case, then you will have to do a little work to get the file into the right format. Some boot skins that you will find from other sites such as Skinbase could be in a ZIP archive. A BootSkin file is just a ZIP archive that was renamed.To make ZIP archive skins work, just rename the .zip to .BootSkin and you will be able to import the skin by double-clicking the file. Once you have clicked the BootSkin file, it should show up in the list and you will be able to select it as your boot screen.

How to convert boot screens to work with BootSkin
Because BootSkin will only allow you to use boot screens that are in the BootSkin format, if you would like to use all of the boot screens that are floating around the Web, you will need to convert them into the BootSkin format. Doing so will involve a lot of steps, but after a short while you will be flying through them in no time.

First, I recommend that you browse around the Web and download some boot screens. Following is a list of a few good sites from which to get boot screens:

· ThemeXP:
· Belchfire :
· XP Theme:
· EZ Skins:

Make sure that when you download the screens you save them all in one place. I made a folder on my desktop called Boot Screens in which to store mine.

Now that you have some boot screens downloaded on your computer, you are ready to start converting them to use with BootSkin. Follow these steps to get started:

1. First, extract the image files from the boot files you downloaded. You could do this with a resource hacking tool, but then you would have to worry about converting the image with an image editing program with the special boot color palette; this is just not the easiest way. Instead, I recommend you use a program that was originally designed to change the boot screens to extract the image files. It is a free application called LogonUI & Boot Randomizer by User XP

Caution: The LogonUI & Boot Randomizer application has the capability to change the boot screen with any existing hacked system file boot screen. However, I do not recommend you use it for that purpose because of problems that I have experienced using the program and because I do not like the fact that it patches the kernel system file. Because of that, every time you apply a new system update that modifies your kernel system file, you will have to download a new version of the application so that it will work with the new kernel file and will not automatically revert your system file to the older version.

2. Now that you have the file for the app extracted and ready to use, launch the app by double-clicking LogonUIBootRandomizer.exe. The first time you run this application, it will want you to set it up so that it can change your boot screen. If you see the multiboot screen, click OK, as that is your only option. Then when the NTFS Detected screen. click the Close button.

Tip: If you get an error the first time that you run LogonUI saying that the comctl32.ocx component cannot be found, download this file from the following URL, or any other site, and put it in the same folder as your application:

3. Next, you may be prompted with a third configuration screen if you are running
Windows XP Service Pack 1. The screen will say that it has detected Service Pack 1 installed and wants to know if you want LogonUI to work with older (nonService Pack 1) boot skins. Click Yes on this screen.When the application has started up, you are going to see the final configuration screen asking you where the folders on your computer are for your boot screens. This step is important, as you will need to specify the folder on your computer to where you download all of the boot screens. Click the three dotted button on the right of the text boxes (. . .) to specify the path easily. Click OK, when you are done. You are now finished with the LogonUI app.

4. If you still see the configuration screen, click OK once more. Now you should see a list of your boot screens in the upper-left window. Click one of the screens to see a preview. If you receive a message asking if you want it to locate the progress bar automatically, click OK, wait a few seconds, and you will then see a preview.

5. Select the boot screen from the list that you want to convert so that it shows up in the preview area. Then, right-click the Preview of the boot screen, and select See Bitmaps in File.

6. The background of your screen will go gray and you will see some numbers in it. Eachof the numbers in the box represents an image file stored in this system file. Click number 1, and you will see a preview of the image. Then click the Save button and the Save Picture dialog box will show up.

7. At this point, you will want to change the file format to a bitmap. This can be done by clicking the Format drop-down box and selecting .bmp from the list because Stardock’s BootSkin app can only read bmp files.

8. Next, you should change the location and name of the file to a new folder named after the name of the boot skin so that identifying and finding the image file will be easier later. It is best to place this folder inside of a master boot skins folder such as my boot screens folder I mentioned earlier to keep things organized and simplify the conversion process. You can do so by clicking the button with three dots on the bottom of the dialog box. Once you get the file name and folder set, click the Save button.

9. Now, you are almost finished with the extraction portion of converting the boot screen. If the boot screen that you are converting also has a progress bar (the active bar moving left to right on the screen), then you have to do one more step. (If the boot screen does not have a progress bar, skip to the next step.) After you have clicked the Save button in the last step, return to the screen that shows all of the different numbers for the different bitmaps stored inside the file. The progress bar is stored in bitmap number 4. Select the number 4 item from the list and click the Save button. Then repeat step 8 to save the bitmap file.

10. You are now finished with the LogonUI app portion of the conversion and are getting close to completion. The next step is to create a BootSkin configuration file. The format of the configuration file is simple.

Open up a copy of Notepad from the Accessories menu in the Start panel to create your own configuration file. The first line of the file should contain [BootSkin] to indicate that this is a configuration file to the BootSkin application.Type in Type_0 in the second line to tell BootSkin what type of screen this is.Next, you will need to include some identification information in the file.Type Name_“Name of your screen” on the next line. Do the same for author and description.Now you will have to specify which bitmaps you want to use for the progress bar.Type in ProgressBar_ImageName.bmp. Next, you will have to specify where the progress bar will be displayed because BootSkin makes it possible to display the progress bar anywhere on the screen. The location of the progress bar will be determined by the coordinates that you enter in the configuration file.Type in ProgressX_265 and ProgressY_383 on the next two lines. Feel free to replace 265 and 383 with any numbers you like. Keep in mind that the resolution of the boot screen is 640 _ 480, which limits the maximum x value to 640 and the y value to 480. The width/length of the progress bar must also be specified.Type in ProgressBarWidth_118 to do this. If the boot screen that you are converting does not have a progress bar, then just omit the four lines involving the progress bar. The last part of the configuration file is where you specify what you want the background image to be.Type in Screen_BackgroundImage.bmp to set this.When you are finished typing in all of the configuration data, save the configuration file in the folder that you named and extracted all of the bitmaps to in step 8.

11. The last step of the process is to copy your newly created files to the BootSkin skin directory. If you installed BootSkin to the default location, it is located at c:\Program Files\Stardock\WinCustomize\BootSkin\skins\. Create a new folder in this directory that is the same as the name that you entered in the configuration file in the last step. Then, copy the two image files (one if you have no progress bar) and the bootskin.ini file to this folder. The next time you start up BootSkin, you should see your new boot screen.

Although performing these steps might seem (and be) a little time-consuming at first, once you have converted a boot screen, any conversions thereafter should take you a minute or less. As mentioned previously, the process I just described to change your boot screen is the safest possible way to do so. You will not have to get caught up in the mess of looking for compatible boot screens for your version of Windows and you also will not be limited to any number of available boot screens if you use my conversion tips.

Making your own boot screens for BootSkin
Now that you know how to convert boot screens, making your own boot screen will be a snap.The most difficult part of the process would be creating your image file.To get started, youfirst need to know the basics.

If you have not already noticed, boot screens are a 640 _ 480 resolution image. These images are limited to only 16 colors (4 bits). This limitation makes the ability to create a cool-looking screen a little difficult. The help of a nice graphics converter utility makes the image look much better when you have to convert it to only 16 colors. A good utility that I use is the free version of Stardock’s Skin Studio. This is a program that was designed to make Visual styles for their Windows Blinds application, but it also has a good graphics converter that was made especially for BootSkin within it. Download a copy of this utility from Once you have it downloaded and installed, you can start the application from the Object Desktop folder in the Start menu. Follow these steps to convert your images:

1. The first time that you run Stardock’s SkinStudio, you will be greeted with a registration screen. If you do not want to register, just click the Register Later option and the program will load. Now that you have Stardock’s SkinStudio started, you will want to click the Close button on the Welcome screen that asks you what you want to do, because what you want to do is not listed there.

2. Next, click the Tools menu bar item and expand BootSkin and then select Prepare Image.

3. This will bring up the Boot Screen Image Prepare window. Click the Browse button and select the image that you want to convert on your computer.

4. Then, you will see a preview of your image converted by a method known as dithering. This process allows the image to look better by using the same technique that newspapers use to print color and photographs on paper. Most newspapers are printed with only three colors. Dithering makes it possible for the massive newspaper presses to print an image that appears to include thousands of colors from only three basic colors. How is this possible? It is all a trick with your eyes. All images in a newspaper are made up of thousands of tiny dots. Each of the dots is one of the three printing colors. The placement of the dots and combination of one or more colors is what gives the illusion of color. For example, if you want to print something in a color such as orange, then print a grid of red and yellow dots next to each other. There are various methods to dither the image built-in so that you can play around and see which one makes your imagelook best using the drop-down box next to the dither image check box.

5. Once you have the image looking the best that you can get it, just click the Save button and you are set!

If you do not want to use the boot screen preparer and do not know how to use Adobe Photoshop or any other robust image editor, I suggest you visit the Web site that automatically converts and resizes background photos for you: http://server1.belch Just click the Browse button and select your image file, then click the Convert button, and sit back for a few minutes and your converted image should come up eventually. I have found that the site does not work well with files other than bitmaps, so it might be a good idea to convert your image to a bitmap first and then let the converter resize the image and decrease the colors automatically.

If you would like to make your computer’s boot screen more attractive and alive, an animated progress bar is for you.To add a moving progress bar to your boot screen, just make a bitmap image that is saved in 16 colors that has a resolution of 22 x 9 pixels . Don’t worry about trying to animate it; that small image will be moved around automatically by the program displaying the screen.

Once you have your image files in 16 colors and at the right sizes, just create a new folder in the BootSkin skin folder (C:\Program Files\Stardock\WinCustomize\BootSkin\skins) and copy in your image files. Then create a quick bootskin.ini file for your boot screen from the sample file in the Chapter 1 folder on the companion CD and you are finished. Load up BootSkin to preview your new skin and, if it looks good, you are ready to roll. If you reboot to see your new boot screen in action and you notice that the boot screen does not show up correctly or at all, the problem may be caused by the bitmap file being in a format other than 16-colors/4-bit options available. Make sure that your file is converted correctly and is saved in only 16 colors.With the correct configuations in place, everything should work properly.

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