A desktop theme is a way to change the look of a Windows installation (Linux and Macintosh (?) also have them, but not all Linux distros (distributions) have them; instead you can change most or some of the elements separately). It has its own colors, icons, cursors, sounds, wallpaper(s) and sometimes a screensaver (sometimes extras too, like bootscreens and web view elements for 9x themes, and custom start icons for Windows XP to 7 themes).
Desktop Themes were first introduced in Windows 3.0, but they weren’t shareable until Windows 95. Using third-party programs for Windows 95 and above (and/or Plus!, an add-on for all Windows versions up to (and including) XP; Windows 95 Plus!, the first version, was released by Microsoft at the same time as Windows 95), you could save themes, and make your own. One of them is Desktop Architect (still works on Windows XP, not sure about Windows 7 since Win9x-XP themes don’t work on it unless applied manually and resaved as themepacks or you use the Windows 7 Theme Converter). Old themes definitely don’t work on Windows 8, 8.1 and 10; you can apply them manually, but even though there are themes made for these versions, they’re not the 9x-XP kind or Vista-7 kind.
ThemeWorld and houseofthemes have 9x-XP themes galore! House of Themes has the Windows 7 Theme Converter, and they also release new themes every month. Cool! (I have some themes from them and many other places…)
Now, to clear up confusion, here is a list providing what themes the Plus! packs have. (The Plus! packs also had various somewhat helpful applications, but that’s all covered in another article).
- Windows 95 Plus! Pack: Includes Dangerous Creatures (4th fav, 256 color icons), Inside your Computer (high color icons), Leonardo Da Vinci (256 colors), More Windows (high colors), Mystery (high color), Nature (5th fav, high color), Science (256 color), Sports (256 color), The 60’s USA (256), The Golden Era (3rd fav; high), Travel (high 😉 ), and Windows 95 (256). Here’s a YouTube video about it.
- Windows 95 Plus! for Kids: One of my favorites. New themes added were: Baseball (256), Jungle (256), Space (256), Underwater (high color), Horses (256), Bugs (256; a theme creator named Vanessa Zoe made her own version of Bugs and Horses found at ThemeWorld, which is what the links link to; a nice touch is that the (Microsoft) Horses theme is pink 😉 ), RE-man (high), Tree House (256; if it was high color though that would make sense since a treehouse is high 😉 ), Messy Room (256; not much colors to make a mess with 😉 ), and Snowboarding (256 colors).
- Windows 98 Plus! Pack: (Windows 98 contains the 95 Plus! themes by default. Cool! But Underwater’s sound scheme was changed; the actual sounds are the same, but the places they play in are different.) One of my favourite packs along with XP’s and 95 Plus! for Kids. Here’s why: Apart from those, it boasts organic art 3D screensavers (for some of the themes) and eighteen new desktop themes. Here they all are: Architecture (awesome theme and beautiful startup sound), Cathy (it is one of the themes that uses Active Desktop along with Garfield, Jazz, Corbis Photography and FoxTrot; so it has an animated wallpaper which looks funny in higher resolutions; e.g. in FoxTrot the characters blink), Cityscape, Corbis Photography (high color), Doonesbury, Falling Leaves (high colour), Fashion (high), FoxTrot, Garfield (sadly it has only generic cartoon sounds, not quips from the Garf himself or Odie’s barks; happily the icons are correct), Geometry (high color), Horror Channel (higher-quality sounds and color), Jazz, Peanuts (I like the startup and shutdown sounds of this one), PhotoDisc (high color; two Photo themes 😛 which is pretty cool), Rock-n-Roll (high color), Science Fiction (high color), World Traveler (high color), and Windows 98 (high color; I love the startup and shutdown sounds of it more than in the default Windows 98 theme 😉 ). You can tell whether a theme comes from here or is in by default by looking at the sound files’ names. 😉 If they’re shortened, it’s a Plus! Pack theme. (Note: The Windows 98 Plus! Themes for Windows 7 pack by Manan actually has all the themes from the Windows 95 Plus! pack and four of the themes from the Windows 95 Plus! for Kids pack; since none of them are the themes exclusive to the 98 Plus! pack (eg. Horror Channel), it should be called the Windows 95 Plus! Themes for Windows 7 pack, or the Windows 98 Themes for Windows 7 pack since those are all of the themes included by default in Windows 98 without Plus!) Did you know #1: This has the most themes out of all the Plus! Packs (and the largest description due to that 😛 ). Did you know #2: There were two scrapped themes! They’re Gourmet and Skateboard Kid.
- The only thing released for Windows ME was a cool games pack; there was no Plus! Pack at all. 😉
- Windows NT 4.0 Workstation Resource Kit: Contains three themes (along with an extra wallpaper for the More Windows theme in Windows 95): Ancient Pathways (256 colors), Tropical Interlude (256 colors, I like the Shutdown Sound), and Windows NT 4.0 (high color (?), I like the sounds). (Fun fact: On the Tropical Interlude wallpaper, the man on the desktop is supposed to be you! Unless you’re female and/or young, like me. 😉 ).
- Windows XP Plus! Pack: There were two versions of it (one normal one, and another Media Center Edition one), then they got merged into a SuperPack. Oddly, it had less themes than the previous packs; only FOUR! Oh well, they’re pretty nice still, and quality over quantity after all. The new themes were Aquarium, Nature, da Vinci and Space. Each theme (except da Vinci) has two wallpapers. They also came as WMP skins and screensavers. (Tangent: I remember using the Aquarium theme with the Nature WMP skin (some cute leaves! 😉 ) a few years ago. Normally I’d use the rubber duck WMP skin, and also the Anemone skin (before I knew how to pronounce it right; I pronounced it like enemy lol), and the Thirteensomething and Scooby Doo skins because they looked cool, not because I was a fan (although I liked Scooby Doo). Tangent over). There were also some WMP visualizations (Windows Media Player 10): Oddworld: Munch’s Odyssey, Maxx’s Kingdom and Plus! Undersea Wonders. (The one I loved the most when I was a kid was the fountain one in WMP 9. 😛 ) It also had some skins for WMP 9, from the MCE one. Here’s a YouTube video about the SuperPack.
That was it! There were also some Ultimate Extras for Vista, which had a Dreamscene app which allowed you to put videos as wallpapers and a fun puzzle game called Tinker (starring a robot, of course 😉 ), and some other stuff (no themes though), but then it ended. I have some fond memories of the XP one, because I grew up with XP. 🙂
I believe that literally all of these themes had screensavers (correct me if I’m wrong), but I don’t have them all. (I don’t even have all of these themes! I only have the sounds of all of the 98 Plus! and XP Plus! themes from here, and all of the Windows 95 Plus! themes and Baseball, Jungle, Space, and Underwater from the Plus! for Kids pack from Manan’s pack above). Literally all of these themes have screensavers, (except for the NT Resource Kit ones?) and I know this because… I HAVE THEM ALL NOW! (Except for Ultimate Extras and the WMP stuff, and including Gourmet and Skateboard Kid.) Thanks to the following kind people:
- WinWorldPC (for the 95 Kids ISO which I got the 95 Kids themes from)
- YayPonies (AFTER I got those themes from the ISO, YayPonies shared a zip file of his 98 themes on his Twitter account (@YayPonies_eu, scroll down a bit and click the tweet with a picture of an MLP theme), which contains all of the 95 Kids themes! 😛 Along with some custom themes including the MLP theme!)
- Matheus Silagi (link to YouTube video, click on the link in the description; problems with the collection are: only Plus!.part1.rar works [the other parts are corrupted], and IconPackager + 98Theme.rar cannot be downloaded because it’s blocked by OneDrive which claims it has a virus [Silagi said in one comment in a different Plus! video of his that it was just a game trainer, but he still didn’t fix the problem by removing the trainer, even though there’s one file in the collection which was uploaded in 2017!])
- Caleb’s Collection (link to my upload of it on MEGA; for Gourmet, Skateboard Kid and earlier versions of most of the themes from the 98 Plus! Pack and all of the themes from the 95 Plus! Pack)
- Archive.org (for the XP Plus! ISO which I used for the XP Plus! theme [fun fact: it has Microsoft Dangerous Creatures [another link] and Microsoft Dogs!])
- Travelling TARDIS (for cool Windows-related videos including the Plus! ones [95, 98, Kids and NT on his channel so far])
BetaArchive mentions a Windows 95 Plus! theme called Modern. Searching for it gave no results about it (not even a video!), so it’s probably a typo or mistake of some sort.
Top 5 lists for each Plus! Pack:
Windows 95 Plus!:
- Inside your Computer tied with Science
- Mystery (especially due to the wallpaper)
- Dangerous Creatures
- The Golden Era
Windows 95 Plus! for Kids:
- Underwater tied with Horses (one reason why is because of the Clam Recycle Bin icons, which inspired little me to make some stories about a clam named Clammy who looks like those Recycle Bin icons 😛 )
- Jungle (one reason why is because of the the Venus Flytrap icons)
- Messy Room
- Tree House
Windows 98 Plus!:
- Science Fiction (due to it being a well done theme overall)
- World Traveler
- Falling Leaves (note: if we include the scrapped themes, Gourmet would replace Garfield due to Garfield‘s lack of Garfield sound clips and Gourmet‘s cool concept and wallpaper, although Garfield would become 5 and push Falling Leaves down to 6 due to me preferring non-abstract wallpaper for general use)
Windows NT 4.0 Workstation Resource Kit:
- Tropical Interlude
- Ancient Pathways
- Windows NT 4.0
- More Windows 95
Windows XP Plus!:
- Aquarium tied with Nature
- da Vinci
That’s the end of my desktop themes guide! I got the info from Wikipedia, BetaArchive and some videos (including the ones linked above), and there are some links to some themes above. (Of course, I also made my own themes, but that’s a different page.)
Edited on June 08, 2018 (added the fact that the XP Plus! themes have two wallpapers except da Vinci).
Edited a lot on August 5, 2018 (fixed some mistakes hiding in plain sight, such as the fact that I didn’t give all my favourite desktop themes; Photography’s not a theme [so I made a similar mistake to BetaArchive 😛 ]; added that 98 contained the 95 themes by default, added credits, etc.).
Edited once more on August 13, 2018 (added Archive.org and Caleb’s Collection; Mathew -> Matheus; end of my guide -> end of my desktop themes guide; distros -> distros (distributions); clarified that the themes in Manan’s pack are the ones included in Windows 98 by default).
Edited for the fourth time on Nov 6, 2018 (added Top 5 lists; added Coming Very Soon…; other edits).
Edited on Dec 2, 2018 (added link to Caleb’s Collection finally!).
Edited on Jan 19, 2019 (added colors, Travelling TARDIS and misc edits).