What Causes “Unsaved Theme” to Show Up in Themes Listing in Windows 7 and Windows Vista?

A desktop theme contains various settings such as cursors, icons, wallpaper, screensaver and other UI settings. It’s obvious that when one of those theme parameters is changed, Windows saves the customized setting in a separate theme file named Custom.theme, which is displayed in the Personalization window as "Unsaved Theme".

"Unsaved Theme" Reappears Automatically After Deleting?

If the "Unsaved Theme" is reappearing automatically even after deleting it (which wipes out Custom.theme), it could be a shell enhancement software running in the system and making changes to certain theme parameters (REF: Theme File Format). To know which setting is exactly being modified under the hood, you could do so using a text file compare utility like Compare It!.

1. Start Compare It!

2. Browse to the following location:

%LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Themes

3. Select the first .theme file, the theme you were previously using.





4. Select the second .theme file Custom.theme

And here comes the comparison… every change highlighted in green color.


(Fig 5, the SizeAll mouse cursor setting changed by an unknown program.)

Depending upon which theme parameter was changed and the resulting value data, you might have a clue about the program which changed the setting. If not, you may use Process Monitor to investigate this further.

About the author

Ramesh Srinivasan founded Winhelponline.com back in 2005. He is passionate about Microsoft technologies and has a vast experience in the ITeS industry — delivering support for Microsoft's consumer products. He has been a Microsoft MVP [2003 to 2012] who contributes to various Windows support forums.

5 thoughts on “What Causes “Unsaved Theme” to Show Up in Themes Listing in Windows 7 and Windows Vista?

  1. My experience: I changed my desktop background wallpaper and then deleted my old wallpaper image file. That may seem harmless, but I had two other custom themes that were still pointing to the now-deleted wallpaper image. That somehow caused an “Unsaved Theme” to appear, and was undeletable. So I manually edited the Wallpaper filename in all my other *.theme files. That fixed my “Unsaved Theme” problem.

  2. I fixed this problem though I didn’t exactly catch the moment so I don’t have an exact fix.

    I was deleting the custom.theme file and opening personalization window. I did this in different orders a few times(opened personalization window, delete file, delete theme close it reopen it or just delete the file then open it etc.) At some point, the personalization window didn’t fully initialize(it was empty completely). I forced close it. Upon entering personalization again, the custom.theme was replaced by a third party theme located in my \Windows\Resources\Themes folder. It appears, this third party theme was trying to come back. :) Now I have this third party theme listed too but I can choose my own themes without any problem.

  3. Doesn’t work at all. Identifying the source of the unwanted “Unsaved Theme” file (Custom.theme) is more than just comparing two theme files. In short, it doesn’t help.

  4. Thanks Ramesh.

    I’d like to comment that for comparison, it is better to introduce a free piece of software instead of the commercial Compare It! For instance WinMerge and WinDiff are both free.

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