Question

Q: Excel and high contrast theme - non-workable

(edited slightly to make solutions a real list, and added 5 new ones; also posted this question at superuser.com)

Finally bought a new laptop with Windows 8.1, installed my Office 2010 on it, got all excited about the speed and new functionality, but then reality hit hard;

Question: how can I persuade Excel 2010 to show font and background colors again when using a high contrast Windows theme (accessibility option)?  Bonus question: how to do this also for other Office applications (less important, but still an issue)?

I know the high contrast setting can be turned off and Excel will show cell and text colors again, but that is not a resolution for me: I do not have an inverted color scheme (white text on black background) applied for nothing.  As I live as a freelance MS Office specialist designing Excel solutions, I really need to see what colors my sheets use, let alone check if conditional formatting works...  Keeping high contrast on makes designing Excel / Office solutions with any kind of color formatting guesswork to say the least.  Switching off high contrast just to be able to work with Excel will make the whole experience even worse, since Excel only has 3 themes build in, which are all too bright for me (eye strain after 10 minutes, mouse pointer not trackable, squinting to be able to read the ribbon options, etc.) 

Up to 2 weeks ago I worked under Windows XP; while Excel hides colors under a high contrast theme, I worked around that by making my own Windows theme.  I based the theme off of a regular Windows Classic theme ("high contrast #1"), but didn't turn on the accessibility option "high contrast" (these were separate options in Windows XP).  This made the theming effectively high contrast, non-aero without switching on the "we're using a high contrast theme" system flag.  This way Excel did display all user defined colors in cells, while all the Excel chrome (menu, dialogs, etc.) respected my custom theme colors.  All undefined cell colors also defaulted to show white text on black, while still not hard-coding my inverted color theme in them so the sheet remained perfectly useable by others.

But now with Windows 8.1, classic themes are just scrapped by Microsoft.  Gone.  The only non-high-contrast color adjustment that can be done is to change the title bar colors and the taskbar color - all else remains black on glaring white.  The only way to truly customize the color scheme is to use a genuine high contrast theme, but that in turn makes my whole Excel environment useless!  (same goes for Word, but coloring in Word is less important to me).

Is there _anything_ I can do?  What I've come up with so far is:

  1. Downgrading to Windows 7 to use my own custom themes again.  This is not an option - the new laptop I bough came with 8.1 installed and I suspect not all hardware has Windows 7 drivers.  Besides: that would be a major disinvestment and a set-back, since I truly do like the features and speed of Windows 8.1.
  2. Working in a virtual machine under Windows 7 and doing all my Office work there.  Also not an option; this is a hassle since I've integrated all sorts of home-made Office solutions into my daily workflow - I'd effectively have to live my entire life in the virtual machine.  Might as well keep using the old laptop then.
  3. Hack the system into installing third-party Windows themes.  But this opens up a whole other can of worms about system stability and upgradeability and such (tried it, didn't work successfully enough - theme instability & not all Windows apps like Explorer, control panel side panels, ribbon elements, etc. picked up the style, making it a sort of Frankenstein experience with bright white patches here and there with white text on it amidst properly themes dark regions)...
  4. As an expansion on option 2: Windows XP mode might have helped here, but this is discontinued since Windows 8.  It would allow me to (somewhat) seamlessly run Office 2010 in it's own XP virtual machine, so with an old-school modified theme, without influencing the rest of the OS.  Under a non-high contrast theme in a virtual Windows XP environment Excel 2010 does respect the selected theme colors for unformatted cells, and even in (most parts of) it's dialogs (although not in the ribbon).  Combined with the "Grey" Excel color scheme for the chrome this might be the most workable solution.
    I already use VirtualBox, so with that solution I can get as far as sharing the whole D: (data) drive with that virtual machine, mapping it to D: there as well, and then integrate the taskbar, desktop, mouse & keyboard, clipboard, and drag/drop.  But (at least with VirtualBox) this works only so far; starting Excel by double-clicking documents, alt-tabbing, COM interfacing etc. are unsupported, and I get 2 taskbars stacked on top of each other (the Windows 8 one and the XP one)...
  5. Do not use any theme, then run Windows Magnifier at 100% zoom level, but use Magnifier's 'invert colors' option.  Not an option either; while it helps making things readable by creating a light-on-dark "theme", and while color coding is preserved, the new colors are the inverse of what they truly are - i.e. totally not representative of the final result my clients would see.  And it also influences all other open windows applications in the same way.
  6. Use Sandboxie to make a sandbox with a regular Windows theme selected inside it, and re-route all Excel file associations to run in that sandbox.  Would be great if it worked (so do not use Sandboxie for security but for personalization), but switching themes in a sandbox plainly doesn't work.  The selected plain theme only sticks partially, in that the 'unchecked' high-contrast flag isn't honored in the sandbox but regular themes are now open to color customization, which in turn doesn't affect anything - Windows get seriously confused by this :)
  7. Hack the appropriate Excel/Office binaries (mso.dll + excel.exe?) to let Excel honor the 'high-contrast' flag for dialogs and the ribbon, but disregard it for the document.  But this is an academic solution at best - after some/a lot of  Office updates all work has to be re-done so this isn't practical, although I'm seriously intrigued by this idea if only for the experience doing it...
  8. Sheet / select all / background: black, text: white. Optionally also saving this as the default template. This works so far as that it allows me to (temporarily) work with Excel under a regular non-high contrast Windows theme, but this will make printing the document requiring a hair dryer to get fast results, and this is no way to distribute documents to my clients :)

All of this because Excel refuses to show colors under a high contrast theme...



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Hello Carl,

We understand how you feel about the situation. We're sorry for the trouble this has caused

There is no option to display/show cells, fonts or other colors when you've applied High Contrast Windows theme.

We listen to all feedback and consider them for additional feature/future versions of our products. Your feedback helps us know which features are most important to you. However, for a variety of reasons we cannot discuss planned features, their priorities, or the dates that we expect these features to be released.

Let us know if you any other queries related to Office applications and I'll be happy to help you further.

Thank you.

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Hello Daniel,

Thank you for the affirmation - no need to search any further in Excel's options then.  I already guessed there would be no easy resolution from within Excel - there's just no option to override the hiding of display colors.

Still hope someone surprises me with a clever workaround, though!

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A little bump - I added 5 new options I explored, which do not work, but might get others started on another solution.

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I also hit this snag when first starting to use High Contrast. I really like the darker theme formatting everywhere, versus each GUI hopefully having an option to dark theme.

So, after digging, the only work around I really have is HOTKEY. Firstly, in regular theme(s) - go ahead and set your Office to dark theme in options. Any Office tool changes across the board. Then you can use High Contrast everywhere else, and HOTKEY toggle off while in Excel.  Just hit your LEFT shift + LEFT Alt + PrtScr buttons to toggle on/off. (ref - http://www.isunshare.com/windows-10/3-ways-to-turn-on-high-contrast-in-windows-10.html)

If you navigate through many windows at once, it really doesn't suit very well. But, it works for me.

PS - I use Google Chrome, and there are extensions called "dark theme" and alike that will give you a high contrast feel in your browser even without global High Contrast turned on.

Hope that helps

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Thanks for the suggestion!

Problem is, while Office does have the "Dark" theme, it only affects the chrome and not the document itself.  And it's exactly the document I want an alternative dark theme for, since that fills by far the biggest part of the screen.  And I can't hard code my alternative colors into the document, since I need to share them with other people...

Under Windows XP + Office 2003 you could create your own WIndows color scheme with a black "windows background color" and white "text color"; you could thus create a theme looking like a "high-contrast" theme, but without it being flagged as such; Office then respected the colors and applied them to the document as well (white text on a black background).  Ever since Windows 8 however, Microsoft removed the functionality to tweak the regular Windows color scheme to that extent (you can now only set the window title color), so the only option is to use a high contrast theme, but that in turn makes Office disrespect any document coloring, which is quite unhandy when you're either given or developing Office documents that must contain color coding.  It becomes pretty unworkable quite fast when the normal black-on-white color scheme is too glaringly white for you.

I do also have a "toggle high contrast on/off" shortcut pinned on my taskbar for those random apps that do not respect a high contrast theme, but this thus unfortunately isn't a viable workaround when working in Office for hours on end...

And ps. as well: I'm using Firefox, and there's the excellent add-on called "toggleDocumentColors" that does just that!

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I need this also. I will be buying another copy of windows 7. Sadly, windows 10 is not going to work unless you make this happen ASAP. I need my dark theme, but I also need to see the actual document colors in Word, and the cells in Excel. Windows 10 is basically useless for my needs because of this stupid high contrast limitation.

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I have a similar issue with white backgrounds being too bright and needing to use a High-Contrast theme.  This affects more than Office- certain programs force a white background instead of just using default or no colors, so you end up with white-on-white in those instances.

Not sure when it started but left shift/alt and prtscr combo works natively in Windows 10.  At home, I keep the theme on and use this to turn it off, with a shortcut to the theme on my desktop to go back to the high contrast mode with proper settings.

In my work environment, though, it doesn't work so well.  I use a regular Windows theme (not high contrast) and Magnifier  and its keyboard shortcuts.  Win++ will enable, Win+- to reduce zoom to 100%, and ctrl-alt-i to toggle inverted colors (which I leave on most of the time).  Win+Esc will disable the magnifier.  It's not perfect- viewing photos/video looks funny, but if theres something where I need color, etc., I can use ctrl-alt-I to see it as it "should be" and then revert back to black background.

Win7 High Contrast was considered a Basic theme and not Aero, so magnifier couldn't do full screen.  Not sure if it changed in Win8 or Win10 but it's at least an improvement, if not perect.

(For browsing, I normally use Google + Change Colors extension.  If a webpage doesn't work right, I'll use Firefox since it seems to do a bettter job of reconizing and converting from High Contrast appropriately.)

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Hi Daniel, My laptop has been upgraded today from Windows 7 to Windows 10.  I'm really angry that Microsoft has removed the ability to change the background colour that displays on screen for word documents, excel sheets, email messages etc.  I've been changing the colour in control panel since windows 3.1

I am Dyslexic and need to change the colour on my screen without altering the documents themselves (so they appear normally when I print or e-mail them to colleagues.

I'm really angry that Microsoft has taken away the ESSENTIAL feature for dyslexics, migraine sufferers and a range of other medical conditions.  Is there a work around yet? is there one in development?  If not how can I formally raise an complaint to the person who decides how to develop the office package?

Clearly it IS possible to make these changes because the High Contrast mode forces Office programs to change the background... the trouble is I need low contrast...

I've tried editing the registry entry for HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\Colors, and also tried adding the following to my theme. 

[Control Panel\Colors]

Window=206 220 245

None of that works.

Is there a way of breaking into the office 'Colourful' theme to change the colour of documents there?

Please help! this is really making my life difficult.  I'm begging our IT department to downgrade me back to Windows 7

:"-(


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Hi,

To help you with your concern, we suggest sending a feedback to the uservoice. Here's the link to get your started. The developers will hear out your concern regarding the feature for your Office apps.

If you need further assistance, please don't hesitate to reach out to us.

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Hi all,

I have posted an issue referencing this question on uservoice. Feel free to vote for it. Here is the link:

https://office.uservoice.com/forums/285186-general/suggestions/20206351-windows-dark-theme-and-office-colors

Cheers

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Views: 5,109 Last updated: July 20, 2018 Applies to: