General icon changing
There are several applications that will change most of your systems' icons. All these let you change the icons in your menu start, your drive-icons, icons for (special) folders, your trashcan and 'My Computer'. And some related stuff:
!! Note concerning Windows XP. Most of the applications listed here are reported to work in XP. When using the new alpha-blended transparency, previews may look cluttered, but changes are applied correctly!

To create icons, use the tools described here.
Freeware applications
[*toptool:] Our favorite is IconPhile (Win 9x/2k/XP). Handles all system icons that can be changed, but also filetype icons and individual folders. The option to save schemes in a single file/library (.phl) makes it a must have.

Another good one is ActivIcons (Win 9x/2k). Has all sorts of other customization options too (throbbers, tooltips, names etc.) ánd the option to display animated desktop icons.

And I'm still running More Properties (Win 9x/NT) by Imaginary. You can customize lots more with this great app, actually created in '97, but still very useful.

Another oldie, revived, is the IconPax (Win 9x) format. Icon changing is done with an executable, changes icons automatically. A bit intrusive, but have a look nonetheless.
[*plastic:] If you've been surfing for apps like these, know your way around a bit, you've noticed there's kind of a seperated customizing movement going on in Japan. They've got their own icon-converter and many more apps that would be of interest, but are only available in Japanese...
.. now here's one translated to English. Madonote (formerly Winhand, formerly WinBack Scratcher, freeware for all Win versions) is a very, very complete app in this area. Customizing a lót of icons, but so much more things, described on these pages (toolbar bitmaps, logo's..). The translation is quite good, have a look (thanks A. Waterfield).
Rebuild the icon cache
This is a feature of some of these and other apps. What's being done is, the hidden "shelliconcache" file (no extension, and a hidden file) in your windir gets deleted. This cache gets corrupted once in a while. You can do that yourself but you'll need to restart to refresh explorer, and to recreate the file. This function refreshes explorer and the file immediately.
In XP, find the file(s) "IconCache.db" at x:\Documents and Settings\"profile"\Local Settings\Application Data.
It's also available as a standalone program. RebIC removes any old images from memory and is available from ArcaneWooD Software (free, Win 9x/2k). Great when you've been fooling around without using any app: put a shortcut in your quicklaunch bar (add "-close" to the path).
Shareware alternatives
Most known is MicroAngelo by Impact Software. It's a complete set with icon-progs, with editors for icons, cursors, ani's, and more. Very good. In version 5+ the "engineer" is replaced with MicroAngelo On Display, which adds a rightclick option to every icon on your system, and the ability to have animated icons on the desktop.

There's also E-Icons 98 (Win 9x/2k) by Giovanni La Sala. The latest version can also change folders and more.

IconPackager (formerly IconCustomizer) is now part of Object Desktop (WindowBlinds etc.). Lots of themes for this one available.

Axialis IconWorkshop is another complete icon-utility set, like MicroAngelo.

At Aha-Soft they've got Custom Icons, a regular icon changer with colorize option, but also IconXP, editor and changer for XP, and a bunch more tools with overlapping goals.
Show icons all possible colors
If you've got Windows 98/2k or Windows 95 & the Plus-package installed, you've got the option to show 'icons all possible colors' (if you rightclick your desktop, choose properties, and then the 'plus' or 'effects'-tab).
Don't buy this! At least, not if you're capable of showing 24- or 32-bit colors. Uncheck this option, 'cause it sets the 'bits per pixel', as mentioned, to 16-bit colors!

There's a simple Registry tweak to do set the icon BPP (Bits per pixel) to 16 (if you ain't got 98/2k or the plus package), 24 or 32. Set to 24 immediately with this registry file, if you please.
  • First, check what you graphics card & monitor are capable off by rightclicking on the desktop, choosing 'properties', settings-tab and check under colors what's the highest depth of colors, that's 16-, 24- or 32-bit colors.
  • Then open (x:\windows\) regedit.exe, or (x:\winnt\) regedit.exe.
  • Find the key "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics".
  • Select it, on the right there must be a string value called "Shell Icon BPP".
  • If it's not there, create it.
  • Rightclick on it, choose modify.
  • Enter your color depth, i.e. 16, 24 or 32.
  • Restart.
Note #1: later on, beware, 'cause this option is available in more apps all the time, before you push 'apply' in any icon utility. You might set it back to 16; people tend to check this option in their application by default... (please, I can do the thinking myself...).

Note #2: 32-bit icons are a XP-only feature in Windows... so 24 will do, mostly.

Note #3: while the value is there in XP, it doesn't do anything - icons are displayed 32-bits whatever it's set to.
256 colored icons in the systray
One exception where all this won't work - the systray, in Win 9x/2k (works in Win Me/XP). It can only display 16 colors... until now!

Dr. Hoiby found that a little hex editing your "explorer.exe" will solve this, and provides some patched versions of the file. Mmm careful (!). Dr. Hoiby has a growing list of downloadable language versions and for differing version numbers. Be sure to visit his place anyhow, 'cause he's got a cool application for your systray too, and a testing program for this patch!

But if you're having a different version, here's some things to consider and maybe get it done:
  • First, pick up a good and free hex editor. Check here.

  • Make a copy of your explorer.exe at some easy to remember place.

  • Open in the editor and look for the offsets mentioned below. They're in the left row, but the exact value probably isn't - have a look at the structure and you'll see you've got to find the exact offset somewhere in the row that's most close to it. If you've got a different version, check if it matches one of the known values documented by Dr. Hoiby. Like for Win 98, there's two offset numbers mentioned as being common. If it matches one, you might take the risk (...), just be sure you know how to recover. For 2k there's a whole string and the risk is a little less.

  • (Summarizing Dr. Hoiby's results a bit...) For Win 98, first and second edition, there's two offsets known: 0x4b6b (English version) and 0x41c2 (French, Dutch, Greek, Czech versions). There's a 01 string there that needs to be changed to 11. It seems for the German and Spanish versions this change needs to be done at two different strings, at differing offsets, so there's no guarantee, really.

    For 2k (and 2k+sp1) there's much more clarity. All confirmed versions have this setting at offset 0x19e5 (2k without sp1) or 0x1d51 (2k with sp1). The string that needs to be changed is ff 74 24 18. Set to 6a 11 90 90 and you're done. Same goes for 2k+sp2, tells James Battle, but it's at offset 0x1ecc now (thanks).

  • Now replace the file (check here). If you find it works for a non-documented version, be sure to inform Dr. Hoiby!

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