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Windows 7: Windows Explorer navigation pane background colour changing

29 May 2014   #1
Evelin Ash

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
How to change Windows Explorer navigation pane background colour?


First of all, I'm a complete noob at customizing, so please bear with me.

I've been searching for a way to change the Windows Explorer navigation (folder) pane background colour, the panel that (by default) can be found on the left and shows things like Favourites, Libraries etc. The default colour is white, and lately it has started to hurt my eyes more and faster than it did before. That's why I would like to change it to grey.
I've 'already' managed to do this for the reading pane by editing the shellstyle.dll file (C:\Windows\Resources\Themes\Aero\Shell\NormalColor), but I cannot find any information on how to do this for the navigation pane. That is, I found some topics but most of the time the answers point towards downloading/buying a program that can do it, or needing to send some files to a helpful person who can change it him/herself, and by doing so probably avoid a lot of explaining, which of course I can understand. However, I would like to do this myself so that in the future I'll no longer have to rely on someone else to change that colour. Furthermore, I'm not interested in any other scheme than the standard Aero (yet...) so I would like to do this without downloading/buying any program (which I'll most likely never use again after I changed that one colour - but you never know, of course).

So, where can I find the code for the background colour? Can it be found in the shellstyle.dll file as well? Do I need to look somewhere else? It doesn't seem likely to me that it (the background) is an image I need to edit, as it is just one, simple colour with no special 'effects' (unlike the one of, for example, the Control Panel). I could be wrong, though.

In any case, I found this: How to change left pane BG in start menu and all folders in which the member Bongo says: "The backgrounds for the Windows Explorer on the left side and the main window are fill colors and the only way I know how to change that is to use Ave's Windows7 Style Builder", but also: "The images on the left side of the control panel are different than the areas in the Windows Explorer, for the control panel they are in the shell32.dll and the fill color for the Windows Explorer navigation pane and main area are in the .msstyles". I find that odd, as I (as previously said) changed the main area background colour via shellstyle.dll... Also, I find it unlikely that Bongo (who appears in many threads about this subject and seems to know a lot about it) knows not how to change the Windows Explorer main window background colour, while I do. That's not meant to criticize Bongo, but rather that I suppose he made a typing error there, which still leaves room for me to hope for an answer to my question.

Also found: (never answered...)
Customizing the left Folder Panel and Folder Background. How? (not useful, as that is about images and points towards Ave's Windows7 Style Builder, which I want to avoid)

Can anyone help me? Surely there has to be someone around to know how to do this by hand, i.e. by not using any program?

(Sorry for the wall of text. TLDR; how can I change the Windows explorer navigation pane background colour without using any program, i.e. what file(s) to edit and how?)
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 May 2014   #2

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

You may want to try this:
(Later edit)
It worked nicely for me, though I had to install UxStyle ( ).
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #3
Evelin Ash

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

Hello kon,

Thank you, that link is most helpful and brings me closer to my goal - however not close enough. The program Restorator that is needed is one, a program (duh ) and two, you need to pay for it. Sure, there is a free trial, but what am I to do when the trial is over? By that time I might have altered the colour, but if I want to pick yet another colour I can only return to white. If I still have the original file, that is. If not then I'll end up like the member over here: Restorator alternative?.

I'm not that desparate yet. Until that time, I'll rather wait for another solution, i.e. one that lets me change the colour 'manually'.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

30 May 2014   #4

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

Oh, you don't really need Restorator. Just about any resource editor will do, as long as you can extract and compile the data. I personally use Resource Hacker for the resource part. I think MSVS can do this too. About editing the binaries, you obviously need a hex editor, and for the graphics you need an image editor. But I didn't think they count, because pretty much everyone has one.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #5
Evelin Ash

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

That is good news. Could you please tell me how exactly you changed the navigation pane background colour (step by step)? I mean, for example, how do you extract the aero.msstyles/variant/normal/1033 resource using Resource Hacker? Action > Save as .res file? Or something else? (I have no clue, just tried something. Read quite a number of times about extracting, but no idea what is exactly meant by that...) Saving as hex dump gives a .txt file, with at line 2C1E0 nothing close to FCFCFC. Actually, there are only numbers there. And dots.
I managed to edit the extracted(?) (.res) file using XVI32 hex editor by altering the FCFCFC at line 2C1C0 (which is not the line 2C1E0 mentioned, as that one isn't there: the next line is 2C1F0), but when I try to 'put it back' in the aero.msstyles file (Replace Resource), it gets altered completely. For example, the first line no longer starts with 0000 7C20, but with FC2A1F08...

Opening the aero file directly in XVI32 (and edit it directly) is also no option for me, as it's such a huge list with a large amount of 'FCFCFC' that I'll never know what to alter. Trying could be an option, but should it go wrong (like the system crashes or something) I'd have no idea what to do, so I'd rather not do that.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #6

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

Just for the sake of clarity, here's the step by step procedure.

Tip: in order to avoid the annoying popups asking you whether you want to use your administrator privileges in order to accomplish various tasks such as copying, renaming or moving system files, you could run task manager, go to processes, press "Show processes from all users", kill explorer.exe, press File > New task, write "explorer.exe" and check the "Create this task with administrative privileges" box. Now you're running explorer as administrator.

1. Go to %systemroot%\Resources\Themes
2. Make a copy of aero.theme (assuming that's what you currently use), and rename it as you wish. For example: darkexplorer.theme
3. Make a copy of the Aero folder. Just for the sake of organization, name it similar to your theme (In my example's case, DarkExplorer)
4. Inside the DarkExplorer folder, rename the aero.msstyles file to darkexplorer.msstyles
5. Open darkexplorer.theme with a text editor (you'll probably need running as administrator). You will notice an ini format. Amongst the first lines, there should be something like
[email protected]%SystemRoot%\System32\themeui.dll,-2013
Delete whatever goes after the = sign, and write your theme name instead. This will be the name displayed in Control Panel. No quotes are necessary.
Then, search for the [VisualStyles] section. There should be a property named "Path", leading to a .msstyles files. Change it so that it leads to your own msstyles file.
6. Now we're getting to the serious stuff. Hack into the resources of darkexplorer.msstyles using whatever resource editor you'd like.
7. Find the VARIANT resource type, and open the only resource named NORMAL.
8. If your res editor can't edit hex directly, you may need to export the resource as a file and open it in a hex editor.
9. Go to the hex offset of 0x2C188 and see if the bytes at that offset are "FC FC FC". If not, try 0x2C1E0. In case you still don't find the FC FC FC sequence, do a little search for it. The last occurence of FC FC FC in the file should be what you are looking for.
10. Replace the FC three bytes with the RGB value of your desired color.
11. Save. (If you used an external editor, replace the resource with your modified file)
12. Go to Control Panel > Themes and select your shiny new theme. Open a folder in explorer to check for results.
13. If the Aero look is disabled upon changing the theme, you might need UxStyle on your system. (sorry :P - I hate third party tools too but I just couldn't get around this one)
14. Enjoy your hack!

Hope this helps.

Whoops, you posted while I was writing this. For post #5, here it goes:
To extract 1033 resource as a file in ResHacker, open it, then right click on the icon and choose Save [VARIANT : NORMAL : 1033]... Save [VARIANT] resources... - after which you can remove the generated .rc file and make your edits on the bin.
Read what I've previously wrote about the offset. They aren't always the same on different systems. I noticed that on my machine, offsets are the ones in that topic plus 0x58. Safest bet is searching and replacing. There should be only 5 occurrences of FCFCFC in the resource.
Don't hex edit the whole msstyles.

[EDIT 2] ...and to replace the resource after you've done editing, go to Actions > Replace other resource..., then select your file, and manually write VARIANT and NORMAL in the resource type and name fields.

[EDIT 3] Don't worry about what start offsets ResHacker gives to your resources.
And for a clarification: The offset values that are described in Six9siX's tutorial and here are NOT the ones ResHacker shows you. Those offsets assume that your resource starts at 0x00000000.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #7
Evelin Ash

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

Nope, unfortunately it just won't do it. I'm probably a dork but I still want to 'solve' this. I extract it like you wrote, I get a .txt file which I open in XVI32. I select the right window, search for the last FC FC FC in the document, alter that, save the file, replace NORMAL/1033 just as you wrote (VARIANT and NORMAL, and also 1033) and yes, the exact file seems to be shown again - except, I presume, for the altered part. Plus, when I search the original aero.msstyle file for FC FC FC, it doesn't find it once, whereas it finds it four times in the altered version. Anyway, after replacing, at the top of the Resource Hacker appears the Compile Script button... which I can't click... I save anyway, and the filesize of aero.msstyles increases from 1.144 kB to 1.963 kB. Overwriting and 'starting' the Aero theme, and it won't work. It simply switches back to Classic (the theme I use now)... Any more ideas, please?

Boy am I a pain in the ***.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #8

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

[EDIT] Wait. I think I made a mistake. I told you how to save the hex dump of the resource instead of the actual resource, and when you replaced the resource in the file, you actually replaced it with the altered hex dump of itself. I'm terribly sorry. What I should have told you to do when exporting the resource is:
Right click on it and press "save [VARIANT] resources". Two files will be generated: a .rc file that you can ignore (delete), and the actual resource file (ResHacker will name that Data_1.bin or something similar). Edit that, and you'll probably find the proper offsets.
Sorry about that.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 May 2014   #9
Evelin Ash

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

No problem at all, I'm very glad you have taken the time to help me so far.

I did what you wrote. In the Data_1.bin file that is created, I change the FC FC FC I find in the line 2C160, which is the last of five lines that have FC FC FC in it. I save the altered file, go back to Resource Hacker, Action > Replace other Resource... > Data_1.bin, VARIANT, NORMAL, 1033 (is that one even needed? works without as well...). The file again changes completely, but now there appears no Compile Script button. I save it, overwrite the original aero.msstyles and switch themes (Classic to Aero). It doesn't 'crash' anymore, but it is now a mix of Aero and Classic. That is, my Aero desktop background returns, but the taskbar looks Classic and so does Explorer (still blazing white backgrounds...). (I don't hope this is where UxStyle comes in...)
Well, since it doesn't crash anymore: at least we're making progress.

Furthermore, I cannot save the changed darkexplorer.theme (or as I call it: greyexplorer.theme) file. It says something like it is already in use by a (running?) program... So, I'm actually changing the default Aero theme now and not a copy of it. Perhaps that has something to do with it? Don't know, just guessing here.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
31 May 2014   #10

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

(I don't hope this is where UxStyle comes in...)
Well, you could try patching the DLLs instead. Read this: Uxtheme Patch for Windows 7 SP1 - Windows 7 Customization - WinMatrix but be really careful and make sure you back up the files first; otherwise you just might end up with a corrupted system.

Furthermore, I cannot save the changed darkexplorer.theme (or as I call it: greyexplorer.theme) file. It says something like it is already in use by a (running?) program... So, I'm actually changing the default Aero theme now and not a copy of it. Perhaps that has something to do with it? Don't know, just guessing here.
You're not trying to edit the file while the theme is in use, right? Switch to classic, perhaps log off - log on, run your text editor as administrator and do the editing. Only then, switch back to your theme.
Note: Never edit the system files directly, without at least making a copy of them first.

Meanwhile, maybe you could try uploading your modified .theme and .msstyles files so that me or someone else could check if they're functional?
My System SpecsSystem Spec

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