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 have them; instead you can change most or some of the elements separately). It has icons, cursors, sounds, wallpaper(s) and sometimes a screensaver.
Desktop Themes were first introduced in Windows 3.0. 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 using 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 7 kind.
Now, to clear up confusion, here is a list providing what themes the Plus! packs have.
- 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 (2nd fav solely due to the wallpaper, high color), Nature (5th fav, high color), Science (256 color), Sports (256 color), The 60’s USA (256), The Golden Era (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 (3rd fav because of the Venus Flytrap Recycle Bin icons, 256), Space (256), Underwater (1st fav, high color; 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 😛 ), Horses (256), Bugs (256) (wish I could find these two; although a theme creator named Vanessa Zoe made her own version of these two (found at ThemeWorld); 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: All of the previous themes. 😛 (Some of them were changed so that Windows 98’s name was on the wallpaper instead of 95, eg. Windows 95 was changed to 98 [duh 😉 still 256 colors, duh 2 ;)]. Also, Underwater’s sound scheme was changed; the actual sounds were the same, but the places the played in were different.) One of my favorite packs along with XP’s. Here’s why: Apart from those, it boasts an organic art 3d screensaver and nineteen new desktop themes. Here they all are: Architecture (2nd fav, awesome and beautiful startup sound), Cathy (it is one theme to have Active Desktop so it has an animated wallpaper which looks funny in higher resolutions along with Garfield, Jazz, and FoxTrot; e.g. in FoxTrot the characters blink), Cityscape, Corbis Photography (high color), Doonesbury, Falling Leaves (high colour; 5th fav), Fashion (high; 4th fav), FoxTrot, Garfield (1st fav; 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), Photography (three 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 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.) This has the most themes out of all the Plus! Packs.
- Windows NT 4.0 Workstation Resource Kit: It’s not a Plus! Pack, but there are three themes in it. Ancient Pathways (256 colors), Tropical Interlude (256 colors, fav, I like the Shutdown Sound), and More Windows 95 (just More Windows from 95 with a different wallpaper). (Fun fact: On the Tropical Interlude wallpaper, the man on the desktop is supposed to be you! Unless you’re female and/or a kid/teenager, like me. 😉 ). Of course, there’s also a Windows NT 4.0 (I bet it’s high color 😉 ) theme here too, like the others (‘cept XP 😛 ).
- Windows ME Plus! Pack: N/A. There’s a Windows ME (High Color) theme, but that’s it (it’s default?). (In fact, the only thing released for ME was a cool games pack; there was no Plus! Pack at all.)
- 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. It didn’t contain previous themes, unlike the others, and 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), 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): 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 tho rhymo), but then it ended. I have some fond memories of the XP one, as you can see. 🙂 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).
That’s the end of my 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.)
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.
Edited on June 08, 2018 (added the fact that the XP Plus! themes have two wallpapers except da Vinci).