so i've been running windows xp at home for awhile now (still on win2k at the office). and i must admit, i rather like luna, which is the "new" interface introduced with xp, the one with the big rounded buttons and corners. i think it's a lot spiffier than the "classic" interface (though i much prefer the classic start menu and control panel, etc). but one thing that really truly sucks about luna is that there is no functionality built into the OS to customize it.
windows users have been spoiled since the days of 3.1 (maybe earlier) by an interface that was super easy to customize... even if you didn't download "power toys" such as microsoft's unsupported tweakUI (or a superior third-party product like tweakxp), windows always gave you tons of choices for tweaking out color choices, etc. if you wanted a black title bar, black windows, and black text, you could do it... it would be impossible to read, but hey, that's your problem.
however microsoft took a big step backward when designing the luna interface: there doesn't seem to be any built-in functionality to allow you to change your color scheme if you want to use luna. either you use one of the built-in color schemes (the default blue one, a silver one that's all gray [and admittedly better looking than the blue one], and a hideous olive one), or you must disable luna and go back to classic if you want to change your theme around any further. if you go back to classic, you can change the colors like always or even apply themes designed for older versions of windows... but you're stuck with all the quaint square boxes and such. if giving your money to microsoft really gets you excited, you can buy plus! for xp, which gives you a couple more xp themes, but still no tools for truly customizing the interface from what i can tell.
i find this to be extremely disappointing. we are living in the age of skins: programs like winamp have hundreds and hundreds of skins to choose from, with devoted fans designing new ones every day. same goes for browsers like mozilla or firefox. shit, even windows media player is skinnable, with many choices out there. so why doesn't microsoft provide a tool for users to customize luna? do they think we're too stupid to do it right?
fortunately, there are alternatives... and you don't even have to hack the system (though you can do that too, if you know how). i found a way when my search for xp themes took me to themexp.org. it's chock full... no, it's overflowing with themes for xp, icons, "visual styles", and much more. though, because microsoft has never provided a tool for doing this stuff, you must install a third-party program style xp from tgtsoft to get any of the themes to work.
i think it's worth it, though, because with style xp you get a level of customization that microsoft would never give you. i just wanted a visual style that looked like luna but with darker colors: black menu bars and such. and there are many such visual styles available on themexp (i think the one i installed is called "dark xp", though i can't find it there now... still, there are other black luna-esque options there). but using style xp you can change everything: colors, buttons, window shapes, and even add stuff like transparency. if you want your winxp machine to look like you're running mac os x panther, there is a visual style to do so. there's tons of stuff there: in fact there are currently 1,996 visual styles on the site! and that doesn't include the other neat stuff like icons, boot screens, wallpapers, etc. if none of those almost-2000 visual styles suit your fancy, you can customize your own. it's pretty neat.
i haven't had quite as much luck with firefox themes because there just aren't as many. i prefer "compact" browser themes that take up the absolute minimum amount of screen space, yet i also want one with dark colors. alas, there is no such theme available for firefox. for example i adore the silver skin firefox theme, but the damn thing's toolbars take up too much vertical space... that means i have to scroll through my pr0n or browse full-screen (and even at full screen with small icons, it still uses more space than i'd like).
i managed to find instructions on mozilla.org for how to design/customize themes (can't find a link because the developers section is currently down for maintenance), and you know, i could do that. it looks complicated, but not really that hard. i could build an awesomely complex theme with nice dark colors if i wanted to. but because it is complicated, that would probably be a big project. and i have too many other projects going on, what with web design, databending, and making new tracks for my audio projects. so i won't be building any firefox themes anytime soon. i'll just have to settle for what's available. maybe i should contact the silver skin designer about creating a more compact version; that would be pretty cool...