Make active window more visible on Windows taskbar with pressed button look

In older versions of Windows like Windows XP and Vista, going all the way back to Windows 95, the button of the active window was always shown in a pushed-in state on the Taskbar. This was essential to make it easy for the user to figure out which was the foreground window. In Windows 7 and later versions, the active window is shown with a very subtle white glow which is not so effective in visually differentiating the active window from the inactive ones. Let's see how to fix this issue for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

In Windows 7 and 8.1, the taskbar buttons are all flat and the active (selected) window button doesn't feel pressed or pushed down. In fact, it is slightly brighter and therefore harder to notice. After years of training users' muscle memory to look for a pushed down button, Microsoft changed the behavior in Windows 7 to add a shinier appearance for the active window's button. Besides making it harder to spot, this also makes the white text harder to read. It greatly impacts usability because unless you know which is the active window, you can't click on it to quickly minimize it.

Luckily, there is an Aero-based theme mod for Windows 7 SP1 that fixes this issue so the active (foreground) window button appears slightly darker and also looks like it is pressed or pushed.

In the screenshot below, the window in the middle is the active window (3rd one):

And now notice how in the screenshot below, which is of the fixed theme, the window in the middle is darker, appears to be pressed/pushed and therefore immediately makes it clear regardless of the color of the taskbar or its transparency that it is the active window:

Windows 7 users could revert to the classic theme to fix this but that turned off the Desktop Window Manager resulting in a visually degraded, less smooth experience. Windows 8.1 completely removed the classic theme so users faced an even bigger dilemma.

Thankfully, the Windows community has stepped in and helped in resolving this issue. The Windows 7 SP1 theme makes the button of the active window appear pushed down and darker in color. Our friend PainteR also helped us to port this theme to Windows 8.1 Update 3!

I am sharing the theme here. On Windows 7, it is a patched/third party theme based on the default theme and because Microsoft allows only signed themes to be used officially, you must install some app first that allows you to use third party themes. See

How to install and apply third party themes in Windows 8.1

On Windows 7 SP1, everything else about the Aero theme remains the same, only the look of the active window button on the taskbar is changed to fix the usability. Similarly on Windows 8.1 with Update 3 (November 2014 rollup), everything else about the default theme remains the same, only the look of the active window button on the taskbar is changed.

Here are the instructions in short:

  1. Download this theme's ZIP file:
    Download the theme
    If you are running Windows 8, extract the files from the folder "Windows 8 themes" to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes.
    If you are running Windows 7, extract the files from the folder "Windows 7 themes" to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes.
  2. Just before you apply the theme, make sure UxStyle is installed and stop and restart the "Unsigned Themes Service" from Services.msc.
  3. Double click the .theme file to apply it. For Windows 7, the theme is called Windows.theme. For Windows 8, it is called Aero8.theme and Aero7.theme.

Note that these themes will only work with Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update 3 Nov. 2014 rollup (KB3000850). Don't try to apply them on Windows 7 RTM (without SP1) or on Windows 8 or 8.1 before Update 3, otherwise certain user interface elements like jumplists may appear broken.

Windows 10 users are out of luck as Microsoft disabled taskbar button skinning based on themes (visual styles) in this OS. Also, as Windows 10 constantly keeps changing, a theme will not work for long. Major updates will break it.

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Author: Gaurav Kale

Gaurav is a software enthusiast from India and Classic Shell tester & UX consultant. He started with Windows 95 and is good at software usability testing. He firmly believes that user experience is just as important as software code quality and architecture for software to be successful.

6 thoughts on “Make active window more visible on Windows taskbar with pressed button look”

  1. Installed uxStyle just for this, download theme, wont apply on Win7sp1, says “This theme can’t be applied to the desktop.” Went over to Deviant, downloaded some random Win7 theme -> Worked just fine. Something’s wrong with your theme :-( PS: It’s called aero7 for Win7, not Windows.theme…

    1. Ah thanks. Now the theme ZIP file is updated. The theme in Windows 7 themes folder is for Windows 7. There are 2 themes for 8.1: one with the default 8.1 appearance but pressed taskbar button and the other with the Aero theme from Windows 7 ported to 8.1 AND pressed taskbar button. ENJOY!

      1. Ok thanks, so now I can apply it, but what it does for me is that it disables Aero and sets the desktop to “Classic” mode (ie. everything looks like Windows 2000).

        1. That happens if you haven’t stopped and started the Unsigned Themes service again *just before* you apply the theme. There’s nothing anyone can do about it except to revert to the default theme, restart the service and try applying the theme again. Microsoft prevents unsigned themes from being applied.

  2. Hi, if I already have a different theme installed, what should I keep that theme and still have this pressed button look? How can I extract this particular feature from this theme?

    1. You can’t. Theme creation takes time. Selectively applying only a part of a theme is not possible. You can use Vista Style Builder/Windows Style Builder but you still need some knowledge of ms-styles editing to edit the theme.

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