Modify Windows XP start menu button and sidebar

Installed XP and you feel fuzzy about the new Start Menu? I don’t know how to change the background colour, but I can tell you how to modify the text that appears in that button, and also the bitmap image which, on the side of the menu, reports the current OS version.

This is an example of what you can achieve:

No need to comment… you can see for yourself how I put a smiley in place of "start", and changed the bitmap reporting "Windows XP Professional" with the more stylish "Codename Whistler Datacenter Server"
New addition: you can now change the image in the Start button as you prefer, see Neo while he takes the red pill from Morpheus’s hand. You can also change the "Click here to begin" Tooltip, which appears after leaving the mouse on the button, to whatever you want, like "Hack the Matrix!"


It isn’t so immediate though, you don’t need to change simply a registry key, but you have to modify the file explorer.exe (don’t worry, no tough HEX editing, you just need a simple tool).

Disclaimer: if you are a first time user, I do *not* suggest you to use this guide, since, even if it is completely safe and error proof (backups rule), you never know where the border between safety and danger lies. Follow your heart. If you feel even the slightest doubt, do *not* go further. In any case, you can’t hold me responsible for any damage YOU do to your system because of YOUR ineXPerienxe

You need to download ResHack from Download/Tools first. It is a plain compressed version, it has no installer, so you need to create first a folder to put it in, then decompress it in there.

Before running ResHack.exe, make a backup copy of explorer.exe (the simplest way is to drag and drop the file from Windows Explorer in the same folder, pressing the Ctrl key, so a file named "Copy of explorer.exe" will be created).

Now, let’s explain something. Modifying explorer.exe under Windows 95/98 could be just an issue of the file being already open, and anyway the possibility to shift to DOS makes it all easier, since explorer.exe is not runnig and you can change it as you please. Windows XP has instead a file protection system which will, on a regular basis, avoid you from arbitrary modifying any system file (just like explorer.exe), so you will need to start in Safe Mode. I suppose at this point that you made a backup copy of explorer.exe and that you uncompressed ResHack in a folder.

To start in Safe Mode, press the F8 key right after the screen becomes blank (after the POST), and wait for the text menu to come up. Choose to start in "Safe Mode", log in as administrator, press yes to the dialogue. You need Task Manager open now: to start it, use the Ctrl-Alt-Del combination (if you previously enabled the classic logon screen, you may need to press the "Task Manager" button after that, as well). From there, in the "Processes" panel, select explorer.exe and terminate the process. Now, in the File menu of Task Manager, choose "New Task (Run…)", and Browse to ResHack.exe (you remember where you uncompressed it, do you).

Inside ResHack, do [File > Open] and choose C:\Windows\explorer.exe. You will see a tree structure like in Windows Explorer.

Browse to String Table\37\1033


Here is where you need to do the dirty job: put whatever you want in place of start in the 578th string resource; for example make that string like "Smart" or whatever you like. If you want to put a big image in the Start button, I suggest you to put no text in here, so leave no space between the "" and press the "Compile" button on the top, the line will be eliminated. The longer the text, the larger the Start Button will be. After you try to click on another resource folder in the left panel, ResHack will ask if you want to recompile the source. Press Yes and go on.


The first (and easier) step is over. If you want to go on, and modify also the bitmap on the side of the Start Menu, these are the steps to follow:

The bitmap resources containing the bitmaps of the beta versions of Windows XP are located in the folders from 158 to 166, choose the one you prefer (I’ll take the Whistler Datacenter Server one)


This is the bitmap I chose, Bitmap\164\1033


In the [Action] menu choose to save the bitmap, for example in C:\, and name it datacenter.bmp


Go in [Action > Replace Bitmap …] and in "Open file with new bitmap" browse to the datacenter.bmp you saved before, then in the right side, browse to the bitmap of your current version (in my case it was #167, XP Professional; it is #166 for Home Edition), and hit Replace.


You can obviously change the bitmap to whatever you want to, but don’t ask me if the bitmap width must be the same, I don’t know (since I never tried); in the best case your Start Menu will be "indented" depending on the bitmap dimensions.

And now let’s see how you can change the Start button image and Tooltip. Note that if you use a plain single-line taskbar (the dafault) you shouldn’t put in here something higher than 30 pixels, the image I used is 50 pixels high, because I setted my taskbar on two lines.

Use exactly the same procedure seen before to replace the image located in the Bitmap Resource 143, the very first one, with one of your choice. Obviously the bigger the image, the bigger the Start button.

Now browse to the string table 34, line 533:

Change the "Click here to begin" text with the string you prefer


Done! Now simply compile the changes, do [File > Save] and reboot normally.

You know the tools and the method, so there are a lot of things you can modify, icons too, even if I’d avoid to play too much with it, because it is time consuming

Enough for now, enjoy.

3 thoughts on “Modify Windows XP start menu button and sidebar”

  1. [Seguono i commenti tratti dal vecchio sito]

    2010-03-21 18:36:09
    Bene, grazie di nuovo 🙂
    Adesso devo solo aspettare di aver voglia di modificare la guida 😀
    2010-03-21 18:19:33

    la bitmap 143 è solo per il tema XP
    per il tema Classic è la 176

    Per quanto riguarda invece modificare l’aspetto del tema, per il classic basta modificare con un editor di testo il file in

    per il tema luna la procedura è un pò complessa e non l’ho ancora sperimentata

    2010-03-21 17:23:34
    Bene grazie per l’aggiornamento, forse intendi 143 per la bitmap 🙂
    Attendo comunque la tua conferma, così aggiorno la pagina
    2010-03-20 17:20:32
    Trovata la chiave per il testo è la 38 in string table e si modifica con la solita procedura…
    mentre quella per l’icona penso sia sempre la 43 in bitmap però questo non l’ho ancora testato…
    In seguito faro sapere…
    2010-03-20 17:03:52
    Mi hai fatto preoccupare per un minuto, non mi risultava che l’SP3 fosse incompatibile con la modifica.
    Anche il tema classico è sicuramente modificabile, ma in quel caso la “risorsa” da ricercare all’interno del file explorer.exe è sicuramente un’altra, deovrai sfogliarti un bel po’ di elementi alla ricerca del simboletto di Windows in modo da poter caricare la tua immagine e/o testo.
    2010-03-20 16:46:28
    Ciao sono sempre io…
    mi correggo la guida funziona!!!Il mio problema era che io avevo il tema windows Classico e non XP, se volessi modificare questo…hai qualche idea su quale sia il file da modificare…
    Grazie ancora Ciao
    2010-03-20 16:15:04
    Ciao complimenti per la guida…
    però non ha dato i risulati sperati il mio XP SP3 ha sempre quell’orrendo stato…
    ho provato anche con questa…
    (la quale semplicemente non aggira il controllo di winzozz)

    ma risultato analogo,alcuna modifica apportata…

    Qualche consiglio…?
    2009-03-19 13:46:52
    Ciao Raffaele
    purtroppo non saprei dirti, mi sono sempre e solo limitato a cambiare i dati in explorer.exe, e non sono andato oltre. Adesso purtroppo ho molto meno tempo per queste cose!
    2009-03-19 12:11:54
    ottimo è quello ke mi serviva…volevo sapere quale file devo andare a modificare per rinominare ciò ke sta quando clicchi su start cioè documenti risorse del computer pannello di controllo ecc… grazie
    2009-02-08 16:19:50
    Non male. Mi sarà utile, grazie XD
    2009-02-05 22:50:08
    Addirittura… grazie 😉
    Marco Pili
    2009-02-05 14:28:35

  2. how can i change the background colour from black to white when i can’t see any text on my screen

  3. Hello Michelle, I’m not sure what you mean… this guide only covers the start menu button on windows XP, and the left vertical bar image of said menu, and doesn’t cover changing the button colour which is done by theme files… which background are you referring to, exactly?

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