[Guide] What is the Difference between a Theme, Themepack, Skin, Visual Style and msstyles?

There are many people who are confused between various terms related to Windows customization. Actually some websites offer free Windows themes to download and some offer free skins. Some of them provide .themepack files and some provide .msstyles files to download. Confused? Which files should you download and which not?

We receive many emails regularly asking "What is a themepack file?", "What is a visual style?" and so on...

Today in this topic, we are going to clear all the confusion! We'll tell you what all these different terms mean?

So without wasting time, lets start the guide.

In this tutorial, we'll define following terms:

  • Theme
  • Skin
  • Themepack
  • Visual Style
  • msstyles

All above mentioned terms are frequently used to define a Windows theme and we'll know what's the difference between them:

Theme vs Skin:

Basically, themes and skins are same. When we talk about Windows, we always use term "Theme", on the other hand when we talk about applications like WinRAR, Winamp, Yahoo! Messenger, etc, we use term "Skin". For example, download free themes for Windows or download free skin for Yahoo! Messenger.

If we use a 3rd party software to customize Windows look, we use term "Skin". For example, download free WindowBlinds skin for Windows, etc.

So Theme and Skin refer to same thing.


Themepack is a new filetype introduced by Microsoft in Windows 7. It basically a collection of wallpapers, icons, sounds and color settings to customize Windows 7 look-n-feel. You can consider Themepack as a type of Theme.

Microsoft releases lots of themepacks for Windows regularly which can be downloaded using following topic:

Download Windows Themepacks and Wallpapers

Visual Style and msstyles:

Visual Style and msstyles are same thing. Actually Visual Style is a type of Theme and msstyles is a Windows filetype which refers to a visual style.

Visual Styles are used for Windows only. Most of the time, when we download a 3rd party theme for Windows, its actually a visual style.

You can find out whether the downloaded file is a visual style or not by looking at its file extension. If its a .msstyles file, its a visual style.

The problem is that no one uses the term "Visual Style". Almost all of use use "Theme" term, that's why people get confused.

Visual Style vs Theme:

Since both Visual Style and Theme are used in Windows, what's the difference between them?

Visual Style can change the complete Windows look. It can change window borders, start menu look, dialog boxes, menus, etc. A Visual Style has the power to completely customize Windows UI.

On the other hand, a .Theme file can only change window colors, sounds, icons, wallpapers.

Theme vs Themepack:

Themepack is a new filetype introduced in Windows 7. On the other hand, Theme filetype exists since the days of Windows 98 or older.

Both are almost same thing just the extensions are different.

We hope, the above explanation will clear your doubts. Please feel free to ask any kind of questions in your comment...

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Posted in: Themes & Wallpapers, Windows 7, Windows 8 / 8.1, Windows Vista, Windows XP

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  • Hi, Vishal,
    I was wandering at MSDN for the difference between theme and themepack files. They wrote, A theme file is a .INI text file whereas a themepack file is a .CAB(cabinet) file. okk. And I've already created some .theme files using coding. But the problem is, I want to convert them to .themepack file. How do i do so? In what extension should i have to use? .themepack or .cab or else?
    plzzz help....

  • VG

    ^^ First create an archive. It can have any extension such as ZIP, etc and once you create the archive file containing wallpapers, etc, change its extension to .themepack.

  • Umm.. What about skin pack?
    Nice information btw :)

  • ^^ Skin pack = collection of skins.

  • OK..i understand your explanation but i want to know the difference between theme and RAIN METER skins?.....i have applied theme to my pc and sometimes my pc slows down because of theme .....but this dont happen when i apply only rainmeter skins...why? thanks in advance

  • VG

    ^^ A theme will never slow down your computer but a skin pack or transformation pack may slow down as it also installs many 3rd party utilities, etc.

    On the other hand, Rainmeter skin doesn't skin the whole Windows UI. It adds its own UI separately, thats why it doesnt slow down Windows.

  • thanks a lot, vishal nd ur ask vg.com is simply a awesome website for downloading themes...keep it up

  • VG, in my Windows 8.1, I cannot uninstall Mozilla Firefox 29.0.1.
    It shows the message Please wait while the selected program has been uninstalled or being changed.

  • VG

    ^^ Restart Windows and then try again.

  • How to edit an .msstyles file? Does it tamper the copyright and marks as 3rd party??

  • VG

    ^^ Yes. If you edit Windows default .msstyles file, it'll remove the digital signature and Windows will treat it like a 3rd party theme.

  • bravo,, excellent guide for beginners... thannks vg..

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