I think I mentioned several times that I’m a designer turned developer. And as such, my preference in both web and interface design have always been:
Ever since WindowsXP appeared, the theming community blossomed. There were apps that could turn even Windows95 into something completely different, but it really took off with WinXP. A simple hack on uxtheme.dll was all that was needed - you could then play for days trying out endless themes and visual styles found on sites like devianArt, NeoWin, WinCustomize, GetSkinned and many others.
In this huge forest, really worthwhile trees were a rare find. In my time, I tried probably 50 or so various themes. I did not like the default Luna theme - too flashy, too big (buttons and bars), too colourful…too many distractions. 95% of the themes seems created for high-school kids obsessed with FPS-like interfaces. This is dominant trend which is not likely to get beaten soon with the only contender being even worse - endless replicas of MacOSX interface.
These, although mostly nice, are totally out of place in the Windows interface. I firmly believe Mac themes belong to Mac interface. Unless someone uses a set of dozen or so applications to replicate the entire Mac interface experience, these themes are even uglier then Luna. [It’s worth mentioning that on Mac, I always use graphite, so you can see where I’m coming from]
Out of all the themes I tried, there are only two that I consider absolute supreme:
They are both done by same author, ThemeNorth and you can see they share the “feel” but yet look different enough to be rightfully called two separate themes. I used both for a very long time and I can’t explain what is drawing me to them. ThemeNorth managed to find that elusive balance of graphical richness and unobtrusiveness.
I recommend them to every WinXP/Win2003 user. Valid download links are available from TN’s home page.
Another very good theme, that my friend Lukija pointed me to is System5 by andymorum. Again, very simple yet visually rich and pleasant to work with.
What are you using?