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How to hack / change your start button in Windows XP Professional


Hacking the Start button

This works on XP Pro Build 2600 (The final verison), and it should work on all other versions as well.


First off, you need to download a program called Resource Hacker. It's kinda like a hex editor, it allows you to change bitmaps, text, ect. in program files.
Windows XP has a feature called Windows File Protection. This feature stops you from changing important system files, that could leave your operating system, non-fuctional. The file that we need to edit, Explorer.exe, is protected by Windows File Protection. What we need to do, is make Explorer.exe not part of Windows File Protection. Once we do that, we will be able to edit Explorer.exe when we want, and as much as we want.

There are two way's of doing this. One way, is taking explorer out of the the file protection. The other way is to totally disable Windows File Protection so that you can edit any file you want without Windows replacing it.

Click on your start button -> then Run and type in "%systemroot%\system32\Restore" without the quotes. Now you should see the file filelist.xml. What? You don't see it? We can fix that. In windows explorer click Tools->Folder Options->View and scroll down where it says Hide protected operating system files (recommend) and un-check it. Also click where it says Show hidden files and folders, and uncheck Hide extensions for unknown file types. Lastly, hit Ok. Now, you should see filelist.xml listed. Right click on filelist.xml and click properties. Uncheck where it says Read Only and then click OK. Good, now we can edit filelist.xml. Right click filelist.xml again, and click Open with then on Notepad. The file should now be opened in notepad. This is where Windows File Protection looks to see if it needs to protect a file or not. Where it says:


add this a line above it:

Now, click file -> Save. (NOT Save as)

Next click on your start menu-> run and type in "%systemroot%\system32\dllcache" without the quotes. In this DIR, find and delete Explorer.exe. This is a backup copy of Explorer.exe and windows might try and replace this copy with your hacked copy if it isn't deleted. After you delete it, windows will popup a message, just hit cancel then yes.

We should now be able to edit Explorer.exe as we wish. Run Resource Hacker (The file you downloaded earlier). In ResHacker click File-> Open and open Explorer.exe. Mine is located in C:\winnt\explorer.exe yours maybe located in C:\windows\explorer.exe. Once you have it open you should see something like this:

To change the "Start" text on the start button go to: String Table -> 37 -> 1033. To the right, you should see the words "start". You can change this to anything you want. I changed mine to LinuXProX. Next, hit the Compile Script button above. Now, go to String Table -> 38 -> 1033. Again, to the right you should see "Start". Change this to the same thing you changed the other one to, mine says LinuXProX. Next, hit the Compile Script button above. Now, if you just wanted to change the start button text, you can skip down to "Saving".

Don't you hate the little icon (image) on the start button? Well, we change it, and it's very easy to do.
In ResHacker, go to Bitmap -> 143 -> 1033. You should see the window that is on the start button to the right. To change it, you Action -> Replace bitmap -> Open with new bitmap. Now you can make your own image, or you can use my image . If you want to make your own, it has to be 25x20 and 16 million colors. Once you found the bitmap you want to use, just click open then click Replace.

Lastly, to change the Start Menu border, go to Bitmap -> 167 -> 1033. (This is Windows XP Pro. If you have Home Editon It's Bitmap->166->1033) Click Action -> Replace bitmap -> and where it says Select bitmap to replace: scroll down to 167 or 166 if you have XP Home Editon. Now, click Open file with new bitmap and find the image you want to replace it with, click open, then on Replace.

It's best to make your own image on this one, I just edited the default bitmap since I'm not that great with graphics. Maybe someone will make me a cool one, and send to me. *Hint* *Hint* :) If you want to edit the default image, or use it as a template, just right click on the Windows XP Pro/Home image and click copy. Now, open up your favorite graphics program, I have Jasc Paint Shop Pro, and hit CTRL-V. That should paste the image from your clipboard to your graphics program. If you want to make your own, it has to be 21x233 16 million colors. Once your down editing, just save it as a .bmp somewhere on your drive. I saved mine to C:\test.bmp :).

UPDATE10/4/01 3:42PM

I keep finding more and more stuff to hack in explorer :) It's almost like linux, well maybe not.. Anyway, if you're like me and HATE the Help and Support button, you can take it off the start menu real easy. Load up ResHacker, open Explorer.exe go to Menu -> 204 -> 1033. On the right, find where it says Help and Support and delete that whole line. Lastly, click compile.


There are alot of bitmaps in Explorer.exe along with Text Strings, that you can change, just hack around in it and see what you can find. If you try and save Explorer.exe it wont save. Why? Because Explorer.exe is currently running on your computer and it can't save it while the program is running. So how am I suppose to save it? Well, there are a few ways to do that. One, you could save your hacked version to floppy, boot to dos and copy it. Two, if you dual boot you could save it from within another operating system. Or three, the easiest and fastest way, save it without rebooting, and here is how:

Hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and Windows Task Manager should popup. Click on the processes tab and find Explorer.exe, and click it once. Now, hit the end process button at the bottom (Make sure you don't have any other programs open). Your taskbar at the bottom of the screen should disappear. Hold ALT then click tab while holding ALT, then let off the ALT. Keep doing this until Resource Hacker comes in to view. We can now save Explorer.exe because it is not running. Click File-> Save as-> and find Explorer.exe again, mine is located in C:\winnt\. It will ask you if you want to overwrite, just click yes. Now, ALT-TAB back to Windows Task Manager and click on File -> New Task -> in the black type in Explorer.exe, or type in the full path to explorer like: C:\winnt\explorer.exe. If you did everything correctly, you should see your new image and name on the start button, along with the start menu border.

Here is what mine currently looks like:

I'm working on changing the Green color of the Start Button. I found the bitmap of it, and I'm currently hacking around the digital signature. I'll add a guide of it, once I get it completed.

-Update- 11/05/01

Okay, after a few weeks of playing around with this, and asking around, I have found a way to change the color of the windows xp start button.
You must first download a program called Styles XP once you install it, reboot your machine. Browse to X:\winnt\resources\themes and replace x:\winnt with the path to your windows dir. Now, make a copy of the stylesXP_1 folder. Rename this to stylesXP_2
Open stylesXP_2.theme with notepad and browse to the bottom of the file, find this line : Path=%ResourceDir%\\Themes\\StylesXP_1\\StylesXP_1.msstyles change that to: Path=%ResourceDir%\\Themes\\StylesXP_2\\StylesXP_2.msstyles Open stylesXP_2.msstyles with Resource Hacker You should know by now, how to use resource hacker. Open the Bitmap folder. Click Action, replace bitmap, find the COLORHERE_STARTBUTTON_BMP (colorhere = blue, homestead or metallic) Find the bitmap of your new startbutton and click replace, then File > Save. Now, right click on your desktop, Properties. Themes : stylesXP_2

That's it! If the start button dosen't change its most likely that your not using the color of the startbutton you changed, ie : you changed the silver button but your using the blue color theme.

If you run into problems, try copying your "Luna" folder and rename the copied version to stylesXP_2. Then copy Luna.theme and rename the copied version of it to, stylesXP2.theme. (Ofcourse edit that file like I said above).


Until next time, Happy hacking! :)

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