Programming Windows

Theming & Visual Styles in Windows 8

The following is based on the Windows Developer Preview and might not accurately represent the final version of Windows 8.

A significant change in Windows 8 is the removal of support for Windows classic theming. In the Windows Developer Preview, there is no Windows Classic theme, and all themes (including Windows Basic and the four high contrast themes) use the Desktop Window Manager (DWM) for desktop composition (in Windows Vista and Windows 7, it was only enabled for Aero themes).

While some users may miss the Windows Classic theme (it might return in later builds, of course), this is definitely a positive development. All themes will receive the benefits of hardware acceleration, and there will no longer be the need to maintain a separate code path for when the DWM is disabled (as long as the program targets only Windows 8 or later).

In order to maintain compatibility with earlier versions of Windows, when a high contrast theme is selected, Windows 8 will simulate the Windows classic theming model unless an application specifies Windows 8 as a supported OS in its application manifest. The sample program I made for the previous post did not include such a manifest, so it doesn’t work correctly in the Windows Developer Preview with high contrast themes:WPF sample without manifest

Compare this to a task dialog:

Task Dialog (High Contrast #1)

(The button in the WPF window is also drawn incorrectly, but presumably that will be fixed in .NET 4.5.)

Adding the appropriate manifest to the application causes it to work as it should:

WPF sample with manifest

I’ve updated the sample code in the previous post to include the manifest file.


Early Windows 8 UI Changes

Some early screenshots of Windows 8 have leaked recently, providing some clues as to what changes we might see in the user interface.

  1. User Account Pictures in the Taskbar

    Two screenshots show a 32×32 px (actually 28×32 px in the second screenshot) user account picture in the taskbar, located between the clock and ‘show desktop’ button:

    Windows 8 Taskbar 1

    Windows 8 Taskbar 2

  2. Updated Language Bar

    Assuming the ‘ENG’ in the second screenshot above refers to ‘English’, an updated language bar may be part of Windows 8. (The three letter language code would mark a change from ISO 639-1 found in previous versions of Windows to ISO 639-2.)

  3. Centred Window Titles

    Rafael Rivera spotted this in Sinofsky’s Windows 8 ARM demo at CES earlier this year. (Photo by Long Zheng.)

    Windows 8 Title

    A new screenshot seems to confirm this:

    Windows 8 Title 2

    Windows has had left-aligned window title text since Windows 95 – in Windows 3.1 and earlier it was centred. Office 2007 and 2010 notably broke that convention, however, using centred text as part of their custom-drawn title bars (make a Microsoft Word window narrow enough and you can see the custom chrome replaced with the OS standard).

  4. Refreshed DWM-less New Theme 

    While the resolution of the screenshot immediately above leaves a lot to be desired, we can still see some clear differences from Aero Basic as it appears in Windows Vista and Windows 7 (update: in fact, this theme might be a DWM-enabled theme). The window border colour is almost flat (there is a very subtle gradient), the window corners appear to be square at the top as opposed to just the bottom, and the ‘X’ on the close button is coloured black, not white (the window appears not to be active). Additionally, it looks like the close button is flush with the window border (as in Aero), in contrast to Aero Basic where a 7 pixel border is drawn above the caption buttons. Finally, the button control seems to have a new theme.