Customizing the Startup and Boot Screen in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Hack, Tweaking, Vista

Windows Vista has a great new look, but after a while, the new look can get old. With the help of some cool tools and tricks, you can customize many components of Windows Vista.

This chapter guides you through customizing two parts of your computer: the boot screen and the Welcome/Logon screen. I show you how to replace the boring boot screen and even how to activate a hidden boot screen.

Then this chapter moves on to a discussion of customizing the second part of your computer startup, the Welcome/Logon screen. This screen can be customized in several ways, such as customizing the user pictures and various settings that will allow you to increase your privacy and change the way the Logon screen behaves. I even show you how to change your Logon screen background.

Customizing the Boot Screen

Every time I turn on my computer, I am forced to stare at the boring Windows boot screen. I must admit that I found the moving bars amusing at first, but after a few months I became bored and wanted something different. Changing the boot screen is not something that Microsoft made easy; however, it is still possible with a few cool hacks.

Activating the hidden boot screen

Over the several years that Windows Vista was in the planning stages and in development, many promises were made about new features and enhancements. One of those promises had to do with high-resolution boot screens. This was going to be a great feature replacing the ancient 256-color boot screen that has been with Windows since Windows 95. Over time, as development of Vista was slipping behind schedule and developers were plagued with hardware compatibility problems with the high-resolution boot screen code, the feature was pulled from the final product.

Although this feature never made it into the released version of Windows Vista, there appears to be some parts of it left in the system. This section shows you a cool trick that will enable a hidden boot screen that looks like it was part of the high-resolution feature. It is nothing super fancy or elegant, but it sure is better than the boring boot screen that Vista shipped with, which looks like it is missing the Vista logo.

Before we proceed, note that some users have problems with using the hidden boot screen-possibly the reason why Microsoft hid it in the first place. If you are one of those users, simply boot into Safe mode and undo the steps for enabling the boot screen. Unfortunately, it is not currently known exactly what hardware has problems with the hidden boot screen. When you are ready, follow these steps to enable this boot screen on your PC:

  1. Click the Start button, type msconfig in the Search box, and then press Enter.
  2. When the System Configuration Utility loads, click the Boot tab.
  3. Locate the No GUI boot box and select it.
  4. Click OK and reboot your computer.

You should see the hidden boot screen after you reboot your PC. As I mentioned earlier, if you have problems with the hidden boot screen, just boot into Safe mode (hold down F8 when you boot up) and remove the check from the No GUI Boot box.

Customizing the boot screen image

The alternative boot screen that you just enabled in the preceding section is a great improvement compared to the boring moving progress bar that shows by default. However, this is still not good enough. With the help of a few cool tricks, you can create your own high-resolution, 24-bit boot screen without hacking any system files.

How is that possible? Thanks to the new language-independent operating system components in Windows Vista, some resources are stored in regional language files rather than the actual system components. This allows Microsoft to easily create a localized version of Windows Vista in any language by just creating new MUI (multilingual user interface) files that contain localized versions of bitmaps and text. Because MUI files are not digitally signed by Microsoft, you can make your own that has your own boot screen image in it, which allows you to customize the alternative boot screen to use any image you desire.

This new feature in Windows Vista provides a great enhancement and alternative to the traditional method of hacking system files as you had to do in previous versions of Windows to do things such as changing the boot screen. In addition, there is a great tool developed by Dan Smith called the Vista Boot Logo Generator that will automatically compile the boot images you select into an MUI file. This makes the overall process simple compared to trying to change boot screens, as you did in the past.

To get started, you need two images, one 800 × 600 and one 1024 × 768 image, both saved as 24-bit bitmap images. When you have those images picked out, resized, and saved, you are ready to follow these steps:

  1. Visit and download the latest copy of the Vista Boot Logo Generator and install it.
  2. Click the Start button, type vista boot logo, and press Enter.
  3. After the boot logo is downloaded, click the Browse for Images button in the 800 × 600 section and select your 800 × 600 24-bit bitmap image. Do the same for the 1024 × 768 section.
  4. After you have both images selected, click File and select Save Boot Screen file as to save your MUI file. Save it to your desktop.
  5. Next you need to replace the winload.exe.mui file located in c:\windows\system32\en-us with the file you just created. However, it is not as easy as a simple copy and paste because the Windows system files are protected. First, I recommend making a backup of the existing winload.exe.mui file so that you can copy it back if you have problems later. To get around the file protections, you need to take ownership of all the files in the en-us folder. Right-click the en-us folder and select Properties.
  6. Select the Security tab and then click the Advanced button at the bottom of the window.
  7. Select the Owner tab, and then click the Edit button.
  8. Select your account from the Account list and check Replace owner on subcontainers and objects. Click OK to apply your changes.
  9. Click OK to exit all the open Properties windows. You need to go back into the folder properties to change the file permissions. This time you will have more rights because you are now the folder owner. Right-click en-us and select Properties again.

10.  Click the Security tab, and this time click Edit.

11.  Click the Add button. Type in your username and click OK. Your account name should now appear on the Permissions list.

12.  Select your account, and then select the Allow column for Full control.

13.  Click OK to save your changes and OK once more to close the Properties screen. You will now be able to copy the winload.exe.mui file you made and saved to your desktop to c:\windows\system32\en-us. After you copy the file and reboot, you should see your new boot screen.

If you do not see your new boot screen and instead see the progress bar, make sure that you turned on the alternative boot screen as shown in the previous section. If you have any problems with your new boot screen MUI file, you can always boot using your Windows Vista install CD into a command prompt and can copy back the old winload.exe.mui file.


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