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How to Get Classic-Style Themes Back on Windows 8

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Windows 8 no longer includes the Windows Classic theme, which hasn’t been the default theme since Windows 2000. If you don’t like Windows 8’s bright colors, you can get classic-style themes for your Windows 8 desktop – or create your own.

These themes aren’t the Windows Classic theme that you know and love. They’re Windows 8’s High-Contrast theme with a different color scheme. Microsoft has removed the old theme engine that allowed for the Classic theme, so this is the best we can do.

Note that using a Classic-style theme on Windows 8 won’t improve your desktop performance, despite what some websites may say.

Windows Classic Theme

A DeviantArt user named kizo2703 put together a Windows Classic theme for Windows 8. To install it, visit the page and click the Download File link at the right side of the page.

Open the downloaded .zip file and extract the classic.theme file to the  C:\Windows\Resources\Ease of Access Themes folder on your computer.

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Right-click the desktop and select Personalize to view your installed themes. You’ll see the Classic theme under High-Contrast themes – click it to select it.

The resulting theme doesn’t look exactly like the Windows Classic theme, but it’s definitely a lot closer.

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Classic Color Themes

The gray and blue colors weren’t always the only option for a Windows Classic theme. If you prefer another color scheme, such as Bricks, Marine, Desert, or Rainy Day, you can download a pack of Windows 8 themes that imitate the colors of these classic themes.

Download the .zip file, open it, and run the included install.cmd file by double-clicking it.

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After you do, you’ll see the themes under My Themes the next time you open the Personalization window.

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The theme pack includes a variety of classic color schemes – Bricks, Desert, Eggplant, Lilac, Maple, Marine, Plum, Pumpkin, Rainy Day, Red Blue White, Rose, Slate, Spruce, Storm, Teal, and Wheat.

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There’s even an alternate version of the Windows XP Classic theme, which uses more white than gray.

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Customizing Themes or Creating Your Own

To customize a theme’s colors or create your own theme, click the Color button after selecting a theme you want to start from.

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Note that High Contrast Themes use a different engine – they allow you to select different colors for different interface elements, while the standard Windows 8 themes only allow you to select a single color.

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While Windows 8 doesn’t give us as many options as far as themes go, at least its colors are still customizable.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/11/13

Comments (6)

  1. john3347

    Classic Shell makes Windows 7 usable except for the Windows 7 inherent instability. Does it perform equal improvements for Windows 8? Your description here, paints Windows 8 customization tools as ineffective as Windows 8 itself.

  2. Mark W

    It is possible, I think, to produce a proper ‘Classic’ theme for Windows 8 that includes the window metrics for the square minimise/maximise/close buttons, for example.
    I am quite surprised nobody has done it yet.

  3. mike

    Well, there is a whole pile of third party stuff to change the new windows GUI back to the old classic look and feel. You would think Microsoft would get the hint, but having worked there, not really. I personally have started to shift to Apple and Linux. Microsoft has become too deaf to its consumers for me. But, if you want to try and turn back the Microsoft tide here is what I do to my systems when I am forced to work in a Microsoft environment or deal with a freakout friend.

    I image the system first.
    Then I apply all the third party tools I have found so far.
    Then I test them, and most of them work, those that don’t I make note of them
    I install the image and install those tools that work.

    If you want to “get the package” of changes you can’t as far as I know. First you have to play with a handful of queries to plug into google or some other search engine. Then you have to troll the geek sites and drag them into a pile on your machine. I have about fifty or more tools and tweaks assembled now. Don’t just focus your search on things like how do I change windows 8, you have to expand the field somewhat. Since this is an ever changing situation I save my old seaches and tinker with new ones in spare moments since I have some older friends who get freaked out by the new Metro GUI and are always bring friends by to get me to do my magic on their machines.

  4. BillB

    I will no go near W8 until they make it EXACTLY like the old CLASSIC layout. Reson: I want to get some work done! W8 is for the iPad toy world, not for anything close to real world working computers.
    W7 is just as bad, but fixable if you have the time to putz around with it!
    Why can’t MS leave things that work, ALONE?

  5. TonyNY177

    Ditto BillB’s comment. Microsoft has a certain “ailment” causing them to introduce change just for the sake of change, and then expecting users to be impressed. If a new feature supposedly saves just a second or two, but it takes days or weeks to adjust to it, in the end, you’re likely to be worse off. In other words, any gains they claim you’ll enjoy will have been consumed by the time wasted trying to adapt.

    If Microsoft kept seasoned users in mind, they’d NEVER leave them hanging as they do by suddenly making their long-time, experienced users suddenly feeling like novices.

    If Microsoft manufactured automobiles, no doubt they’d even try to swap the location of the brake and accelerator pedals, and then have the nerve to call it a new feature. Sorry to sound so bitter/sarcastic, but that’s how I feel every time one of their “system enhancements” leaves me feeling like I’ve never used a computer before.

    If Microsoft needs a challenge, here’s one for them: Make upgrading computers much easier and transparent for the every-day user. When I see the day that I can hardly distinguish my new desktop/interfaces from the desktop on the computer I replaced, THAT would be an accomplishment worthy of praise.

    Oh, and many, many thanks to How-To Geek for this great article.

  6. anon cowhurt

    ie10 text is grainy. I used the cleartype ‘wizard’, and it looked good.
    It may be unrelated to ie10 rendering.
    am using the 90 day enterprise evaluation.
    nice to see spellcheck in ie…

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