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Themes from the Inside Out

This section is pretty geeky stuff, but it may help you understand how themes operate. Feel free to skip down to the next heading if this sort of thing isn’t fun for you.

The modern file formats in Office applications (2007 and higher) are based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML). XML is a markup language, like HTML, but it’s more database-friendly because you can define your own tags. Some of these XML tags within an Office document define the theme settings for the document.

Each Office document file is actually a compressed archive (a zip file) with a different extension that causes Windows to identify the file as an Office application file and not a zip file. You can make a copy of a document file and then rename the copy to use a .zip extension. Then you can double-click to open the zip file as if it were a folder and browse its component parts.

Follow these steps to check out the theme settings in a Word document:

  1. Create a new Word document. Type a few line of text in it, and save it in the default Word format (.docx).
  2. In Windows Explorer (or File Explorer, depending on your Windows version), rename the file so that it has a .zip extension instead of .docx.
  3. Double-click the file. Windows opens it like it would open any other compressed ZIP archive. In the archive are several folders, including _rels, cutomXml, docProps, and word.
  4. Double-click the word folder. Within it are two folders: _rels and theme.
  5. Double-click the theme folder. Within it is a theme1.xml file.
  6. Double-click the theme1.xml file. It open in whatever program is the default for XML files (probably IE).
  7. 7. Scroll through the file to see the theme settings. They probably won’t make a lot of sense to you--just a bunch of HTML-like tags and numeric codes. Figure 1 shows an example.
  8. Close the browser window.
  9. Either delete the file or rename it back to having a .docx extension so you can use it in Word.

Figure 1: The stored themes from a Word document in XML format.

Now, if you are feeling extra curious, try the above steps on a theme file:

  1. Browse to Program Files\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 15. Here’s where the built-in themes in Office applications are stored. You may recognize names that you’ve seen within the applications, such as Facet, Ion, and Slice.
  2. Copy one of the theme files (Ctrl+C and then Ctrl+V) and rename the copy, changing the extension to .zip, the same as you did in the previous steps.
  3. Double-click the zip file to browse it, and then inside it, navigate to theme/theme/theme1.xml.
  4. Double-click theme1.xml and scroll through it to see the settings. It’ s the same basic stuff you saw in Figure 1, which was embedded in a Word document, but this time it’s a free agent.
  5. Close the browser window and delete the copy you made.
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