Windows Server 2008: Install Desktop Experience to Utilize Vista Theme

If you are tired of using the Windows Classic theme on your Server 2008, you can install Desktop Experience so that you can enjoy the eye candy goodness of the Vista theme. Desktop Experience will also install Windows Media Player, Windows Sidebar and photo gallery. Follow these steps to install Desktop Experience and liven up your server:

1. Click Start and select Server Manager

2. When the Server Manager window appears, go to the left pane and select Features.

3. On the right, click the Add Features link.

4. Check the Desktop Experience checkbox

5. Click Next.

6. Click Install

7. When the installation is complete, Windows will notify you that you must restart your server to complete the process.

After you have rebooted, go to Services and make sure that the Themes service is started and set to Automatically Start (thanks DTron!). After that, you are ready to change the theme on your server.

1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize.

2. Select Theme.

3. From the Theme Settings window, use the Theme dropdown and select the Windows Vista theme.

4. Click OK.

So you go from a boring look like this:

To a much better visual experience:


About Rob Rogers

Once a prolific author here on Tech-Recipes, Rob has moved on to greener pastures.
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42 Responses to “Windows Server 2008: Install Desktop Experience to Utilize Vista Theme”

  1. December 16, 2008 at 9:18 am, vishal said:



    • January 02, 2009 at 9:06 pm, rayson said:

      doesn’t seem to work on mine


      • August 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm, The Pervert said:

        Because your’re and idiot.hehe …mine worked


  2. March 11, 2009 at 11:16 pm, MulberryTree said:

    To find Services: Under the Server Manger:
    Yeah, I’m sure most of you are thinking duh, but I had trouble finding it.


    • January 01, 2010 at 5:01 pm, Anonymous said:

      Yeah. You can open services in most Windows operating systems by WIN+R -> services.msc


  3. March 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm, JJ said:

    UGH, I prefer windows classic. If you are in the biz, ie, a software developer, you might. But the way you make it sound, it’s a no-brainer, and in my opinion, I’ll stick with classic.


  4. April 19, 2009 at 10:44 pm, TGP1994 said:

    I love the aero themes. I’m not much of a developer like the poster who I think will be above me in this post, but I’m a sucker for shiny aero icons :P

    Oh, and I love the fact that Server 2008 is free to students :)


  5. April 29, 2009 at 7:30 am, pankaj mourya said:

    this is a best themes
    please send me themes for me free


    • July 09, 2011 at 11:01 am, Concoctclicks said:

      Fluorescent Pigments,Fluorescent Dispersions,Plastic colouration,Textile Printing,Printing Ink,Fluorescent,Latex coloration,Candles,Crayons,
      Screen ink,Offset Ink,Flexographic ink,Gravure ink,Paint,Luminescent,Pigment paste,Thiobarbituric acid,Pigment Yellow 185/ PY 185,Pigment Yellow 139/ PY139,Paper coating.


  6. June 16, 2009 at 11:38 am, raj said:

    nice site


  7. July 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm, Anonymous said:

    thanks for this nice post


  8. July 22, 2009 at 8:14 am, Anonymous said:

    am getting this error message

    ” the theme could not be loaded because the theme service is not running”

    even after starting the theme service.Can anyone help me out.


    • August 03, 2009 at 6:30 pm, Anonymous said:

      run: services.msc
      start service called “Themes”


      • July 24, 2010 at 3:44 pm, guest said:

        I’m pretty sure he said “EVEN AFTER STARTING THE THEME SERVICE…”

        I’m having this same issue…


  9. August 11, 2009 at 1:45 pm, Anonymous said:

    it good sugetion


  10. August 11, 2009 at 2:37 pm, Anonymous said:

    i want a somethink defferent look of server
    thats why i m want somethink defferent thems


  11. August 22, 2009 at 4:06 pm, Dennis Nii Atuquaye Okai said:

    well this kinda cool cos it is really helping me as a server administrator


  12. September 09, 2009 at 8:42 am, Senthil said:

    thanks for the help.
    really helped.



  13. September 28, 2009 at 8:48 am, balaji said:

    Really helped and cool tip


  14. January 03, 2010 at 9:55 am, Anonymous said:

    Dear shamanstears,

    When I open Server Manger the left pane does not inlcude “features”.
    It only lists:
    - System tools
    - Storage
    - Services and Aplications.

    What should I do to fix this?

    Thanks a lot!


    • January 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm, Anonymous said:

      Are you sure you didn’t open Computer Management instead of Server Management


  15. March 05, 2010 at 1:26 am, Anonymous said:

    I don’t have Server manager on my start up… is there another way to download?


  16. April 13, 2010 at 6:04 pm, Anonymous said:



  17. July 07, 2010 at 2:00 pm, Anonymous said:

    Am I the only one that wants to disable the Vista theme? I always pick one of the simpler ones as I don’t want the theme to be one of the factors that make my computer slow.
    Sandra Millhouse @ Virtual servers UK


  18. July 15, 2010 at 9:14 am, Pallab_server said:

    i love this


  19. August 19, 2010 at 3:03 am, Encee said:

    Do you know how big is this Desktop Experience? Because, I need to install the Disk Clean UP Manager and I only got 200MB left in my hard drive. Should this be enough to install the Desktop Feature? You can email me at Thank very much for your time.


  20. December 21, 2010 at 5:00 am, jamil said:

    i added features..
    then i opened themes from personalize…
    but there is no option for vista themes….


  21. December 21, 2010 at 5:06 am, jamil said:

    i just found the sol


  22. February 15, 2011 at 7:28 am, Soren Fog said:

    I had the same problem as Jamil above. I installed the Desktop Experience and enabled the Themes service. But I also saw no selectable “Vista” theme in the Themes dropdown listbox.

    So I started Googling and ended here. I followed the link in the first reply above, and the last (expandable) link on that page states basically that “not all video cards support Aero”. My server 2008 runs in a Virtual PC under Win7, and Win7 Virtual PC emulates a S3 Trio, which probably doesn’t support Aero. But it could at least support the Vista Basic theme. It seems the conclusion is that it is not possible to use anything but Windows Classic in a virtual Server 2008.

    I buy top notch hardware both in my company and at my home (test) set up. My PCs and network can cope with the demanding graphics, even in a virtual PC or as a remote desktop (I know when to disable features due to bandwidth limitations). I use various themes and coloring to distinguish the VPCs we use in my company, both for my own and my colleagues’ benefit. With every other Windows system we can set themes up easily, it’s only with Server 2008 we got this silly issue (we are not using ANY Vistas, but lots of old XPs, some server 2003s and many new Win7 coming in now). At the same time we wanted to move the 2003 servers to 2008, but sorely missing this option of using themes to distinguish servers.

    Any way around this problem? Can I somehow override the default behaviour and force a Vista Basic or Aero theme on Server 2008 despite the (virtualized) hardware limitations?


  23. March 09, 2011 at 5:33 am, Electeh Muktsar said:

    I had the same problems. I installed the Desktop Experience ans enable the theme service. There is no selectable vista theme in thesettings


    • May 09, 2012 at 7:52 am, pingping said:

      you have to open “personalize >> theme >> browse”
      then choose “My computer >> :C >> Windows >> Resources >> Theme >> aero(theme).
      And if you have an error message you have to open “run” in start menu and type “services.msc”, click “OK” and changes “Startup type into manual” and “click start in Service status title” then click “OK”.
      And now you can see “Window Vista” in “personalize >> theme” settings.


  24. March 14, 2011 at 1:02 am, Clydedoris said:

    me too. i couldn’t find the vista themes even after enabling the desktop themes.


  25. March 30, 2011 at 1:34 am, stumbler said:

    You may have to load the theme
    Go to “Browse…”
    Navigate to C:WindowsResourcesThemes and select aero.theme
    That gets Vista into the themes, but I still have the problem getting the error “theme could not be loaded because the theme service is not running”
    Even after stopping and starting the service
    But this is with RDC and it seems that remote may not support this…


  26. May 17, 2011 at 7:14 am, Karthik Be06 said:

    I am not able to enable Desktop experience in Window 2008 standard R2 chinese simplyfied, could any one help me on this


  27. June 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm, Jobyjoseph777 said:

    thanks …


  28. July 09, 2011 at 11:02 am, Concoctclicks said:

    Fluorescent Pigments,Fluorescent Dispersions,Plastic colouration,Textile Printing,Printing Ink,Fluorescent,Latex coloration,Candles,Crayons,
    Screen ink,Offset Ink,Flexographic ink,Gravure ink,Paint,Luminescent,Pigment paste,Thiobarbituric acid,Pigment Yellow 185/ PY 185,Pigment Yellow 139/ PY139,Paper coating.


  29. December 31, 2011 at 4:56 am, hadi said:

    thank u and i am really great to see ur website


  30. January 10, 2012 at 3:07 am, Mancharagopan said:

    Must Start the theme service before apply the theme.


  31. January 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm, Blake said:

    I can’t get this to work, the only option that becomes available is Windows 7 Aero theme… It won’t allow me to click this.


  32. June 04, 2012 at 10:10 am, kimi said:

    Its works


  33. September 06, 2012 at 8:02 am, Mikeb said:

    Dos not werk with windows server2008r2 dont wast yor time just stick with vista ulimate or 7 ultimate


  34. January 16, 2013 at 11:25 am, salman said:

    thanx mate,… it works great ;)


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