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Dear Microsoft: Windows 10's dark theme is a mess

Microsoft has pushed dark mode onto many of its first-party applications and aspects of the user interface. But Windows 10 looks poor when compared to the wonderful new dark mode available on macOS Mojave. I'm here to shed some light on what's going wrong with Microsoft's dark mode.

Fifty Shades of Darkness

Windows 10's biggest issue when it comes to its dark mode isn't what is dark, it's what isn't dark and when dark elements don't match up. Some context menus are white while others are black. Some apps use transparency behind text while other elements don't. Clicking around Windows 10 shows a number of design ideas being used. Some of these work in isolation such as using dark grey or pure black but using a mixture of them throughout the operating system look sloppy.

There are also large parts of the operating system that lack dark modes entirely. The Task Manager, Control Panel, some context menus, and the File Explorer are all blindingly white. File Explorer has a dark mode on the way but that alone could justify an article breaking down inconsistencies and issues.

Microsoft needs to iron out these inconsistencies and extend dark mode throughout the entire operating system. I realize that this can't be done overnight, but another operating system managed to bring in a far-reaching and attractive dark mode recently.

Grass is darker on the other side

Windows 10's dark mode has had issues for years. The reason that its inconsistency is getting so much attention now is because Apple's latest update to macOS looks gorgeous. Apple did what Microsoft has failed to do, make a consistent and attractive dark theme that extends throughout the OS. The dichotomy between the two operating system's dark modes makes it even more apparent that Microsoft has fallen behind.

While I've tried to give leeway to Microsoft in the past, it's reached a point that is unacceptable when it comes to dark mode. Yes, they have made significant improvements over the last few years. The dark mode that shipped with Windows 10 originally was much worse than the latest version. But Apple has shown that you can make this change swiftly while also covering a wide range of menus, settings, UI elements, and applications.

See more

Microsoft MVP Rafael Rivara has an excellent thread breaking down some issues related to dark theme. I reiterate his sentiments. The reality is that Microsoft hasn't shipped a completed dark mode to Windows 10. I'll add further that this is made worse by the fact that Microsoft's largest competitor has shipped a dark mode that is so beautiful it feels like I'm playing with a tech demo, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Overall thoughts

Windows 10's dark mode has been filled with inconsistencies and white elements for years, but the recent rollout of Mojave's dark mode makes Windows 10's faults much more visible. Apple has shown that an operating system can implement a system-wide dark mode beautifully and effectively on their first try.

Microsoft needs to catch up when it comes to dark mode, because when it's implemented correctly in Windows 10 it looks great. While some elements will likely get proper dark modes when they are overhauled into a more modern design, Microsoft needs to fix their issues with darkness now, and then work on a complete overhaul over time.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

59 Comments
  • Windows explorer with dark theme is so ugly
  • So don't use it.
  • Time for being a Microsoft fanboy has passed. Only losers support Microsoft no matter what they do nowadays, and you seem to be one of them.
  • piss off and use apple then
  • I think the overall point here is that not doing this the right way does peeve people off and makes them move to Apple. I did...no not over dark mode, other reasons... and guess what, now I've come to love my Mac more than I ever loved my Surface. (Ok, maybe that's a small stretch, I looooooooved my Pro 3 until Windows 10 came out) But now I see all the inconsistencies that MS fails to address regularly. I mean seriously the integration between my Apple stuff is rock solid and I'm using relatively old tech. A used 6s, a new (but arguably old hardware) MacBook Air, An Aple TV I got free for using DirectvNow, and an Apple watch series 3 I got refurbished. Little things that MS promised but never delivered are great here. Example, working on laptop and phone calls can route right to the laptop, listening to music on the Apple TV and being able to see what's playing on my watch. These are the kinds of things that MS said they would do and never reliably could. I'm sorry, but MS just keeps missing the mark
  • I moved from iPhone/iMac to Pixel 2/Windows 10 and love it. To each his own.
  • MS could have had the same great ecosystem and integration, but Nadella happened.
  • No it wouldn't.
  • The issue is not with its looks, There is simply nobody who would leave Windows 10 because of its dark mode. And there is simply nobody who would choose Apple for its dark theme. The issue is simply in what this is the symptom of. The reason why the dark mode looks like this can be found in the segmentation, chaotic management and inconsistent maintenance of software components throughout Microsoft. that is the real issue. The dark mode is just something that makes it clear for anyone who simply opens up two separate things in the OS within a second.
  • Amen to that.
  • Don't you think it's time to stop this bend-over attitude?
  • The most offensive part in Windows 10's "dark" mode isn't even the fact that it's not finished. It's the fact that it's not even real dark, but rather ugly rat grey. Take the Windows Store for example. When it launched with a dark theme it looked great with black backgrounds and the content highlighted. The focus was on the content, nothing else. The black background allowed for that.
    Then they ruined it by turning it ugly grey and making everything look outdated and mushy, with the content blending into the background. Same goes for file explorer, for example. The first version with black backgrounds looked way better. Apple's Dark Mode looks horrible across the board. It's consistent throughout the OS, sure, but it also looks consistently horrible.
  • I must be strange than because to me, dark theme looks great. Only complaint I have is with compressed files in Explorer, the blue text is unreadable
  • I don't blame you. Microsoft has set the standards low to the point where even poop has become acceptable.
  • What on earth has MS become to get fans used to half baked crap?
  • One must consider the fact that people who are here on this site are mostly Microsoft fans.
    They still quip "Windows 8 was great...people are afraid of change" because they accept whatever crap Microsoft pushes down the tubes, and because they are desensitized to crap, can't see what a horrible thing they are forced to use and then question others who can actually see what's going on. You should look at what the general public is saying then. Public questioned Windows 8 on the desktop and the whole thing failed, and rightly so. If you ask the majority, they would also suggest File Explorer's dark theme looks weird and inconsistent. But there is always the likes of this dude who find nothing wrong with it.
  • Well seeing as Control Panel probably won't be around for much longer then it really doesn't need a complete Dark Theme anyway.
  • Why not? What have i missed?
  • Simply because Microsoft are pushing people to use Settings for most things with the Control Panel counterparts being depreciated with each release.
  • So this release brings like 0.23% of the control panel items to the settings app?
  • Lol. I hear ya. The old control panel must die.
  • I just wish Settings app allowed multiple instances, it's annoying when wanting to do something it reuse the open instance and move you to the new settings page. I like to keep an eye on downloading updates but often get moved somewhere else in Settings app.
  • unnecessary complaining imo. people who use windows 10 and pay attention to things like this know its not 100% good.
  • Apple spend 90% of their time making thing look nice where as MS have really been trying to push Windows 10 a lot. Windows 10 is light years away from where it was on release where as OSX (what ever its called, apple don't do names well anymore) has hardly changed since it's release. OSX especially sucks and always will on file structure, cloud organisation, permissions on networks and screen organisation. Dark mode will get there eventually.
  • Yes Dark Mode will get there eventually. Hopefully before current users retire. Would you not think that not changing too much increases productivity on it's own rather than learning a new GUI at each update. Perhaps it has not changed because it's great. I'm not an Apple user and love my Surfacebook but still this bit by bit update to Windows 10 and still not being complete is really annoying.
  • Apple's file system is years ahead of the old NTFS, but it takes time to read such things. It's easier to be a fanboy and simply comment without knowledge isn't it?
  • > Apple's file system is years ahead of the old NTFS Which of the Apple filesystems? HFS+ is not "years ahead" and there are a lot of cases where you *could not* use APFS, some of which are totally non-obvious to the end-user, like "if your apple SSD gave up a ghost and you bought 3rd party one, you could not restore your APFS TimeMachine backup" (sic!). There are many more cases when you are forced into HFS+... APFS is newer, granted that, but it is not without its teething problem. You run out of disk space, you removed the file, you emptied the trash and... the space is not there -- you need to wait for the TimeMachine backup or to drop into command line and removed a snapshot or five which take up space. And no, I am not talking about old horse local TimeMachine backups, which you, actually, can turn off -- the snapshot configuration is not optional, end of the story, period. Maybe you can elaborate on the specific FS features, you found so attractive on the Apple side, which are missing from NTFS?
  • Microsoft is one of the biggest companies in the world, I can't believe that they couldn't finish the damn thing. I mean, it's not just that the Windows 10's dark theme looks ugly compared to Apple's one, but even with Linux I can have a much greater dark theme. Also, I hate the fully dark color, it would be much better if they used a dark gray or some sort. Right now, it just hurt my eyes.
  • Microsoft has the worst UI design team since they launched windows 8. Even their Light Mode UI is a mess. There are lots of people to hire on the internet but I don't know why the cannot do that. they should have design team/department like apple. UI/design is the most important n customers eyes. Thats why many people love apple products.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmWATvUwXrg
  • Totally right. Good design is like having good facial looks and body without that no body is even going to give a chance to you to prove yourself no matter how much acting talent you have.
  • W8 is the best tablet ui ever created. It's why iOS is the best now. They copied
  • They do not hire competent staff because those people need to be paid a lot more probably than the ones the have now, and that's a nono for cost obsessed Nadella
  • There is great value in Apple's small-iteration mindset, which leads to ever more refined but conventional products. (When Apple does "innovate", it's kind of BS. Remember Force Touch? The notch? Proprietary connectors? Charging the Apple Pen at the bottom of your iPad, nib out?) But small iterative changes just aren't good enough for Microsoft. And consumer-oriented aesthetics are simply not that important to them. Enterprise functionality is, and that requires more than refinement. And yet I still think Windows 10 looks great. I have zero desire to move to another OS, and that's mostly due to functionality. Only on Windows 10 can I get a Surface Pro experience.
  • FYI, the pen can be charged with any lightning cable. Doesn't have to be charged from the bottom of the iPad
  • How? Isn't that male to male?
  • I love it
  • Windows 10 is a mess as the menu interface isn't consistent.
    As shown in the screenshot at top, Microsoft has not made any changes to the Control Panel except to remove some things from Control Panel which are in the Settings app.
  • The control panel is being deprecated to be fair.
  • Yeah, since 3 years and counting.
  • Working in UI/UX myself, this is NOT something I would ever give my customers and users. This is only going to cause frustration, confusion, and inconsistency. Microsoft, this is something you need to fix ASAP to keep the Windows aesthetic worthwhile.
  • I care less about the fact that it is unfinished than I do that it is simply butt-ugly. Much of Windows 10's "dark" theme is way too black with excessive contrast and ugly white on black text. Apple's OTOH is a lovely tone-on-tone implementation with varying shades of grey and judicious use of color. Very easy on the eyes. I just don't understand the design aesthetic employed at Microsoft. Even if they "finish" it, I could never use it with its present design. I mean, who actually thinks this stuff looks good? The gals in Cupertino most be laughing their bottoms off.
  • While dark mode isn’t a mission critical feature or anything, I’m not surprised people are annoyed with it. After all, this is the UI we’re going to be staring at for hours a day. It seems to me people are addressing different points: one group of people is saying that dark mode was implemented poorly and looks bad, while another group is saying dark mode isn’t important. Both can be true. IMO, whether or not the feature is important, I think it’s a shame that dark mode looks/functions so poorly.
  • With all the time people spend on Browsers, that is were they need a true Dark Mode option. Too many white page backgrounds on the internet that blast blinding rays of light to damage your eyes. I have to turn the brightness/contrast way down and then other programs suffer.
  • Chrome and Firefox both have dark mode extensions
  • Dark mode isn't perfect. But I prefer windows with dark mode than without. It is easier on the eyes.
    I wish every app that was available had dark mode. But more are coming on line, too, office since office 2013, etc. I'm glad file explorer in insider version has dark mode also.
  • This macOS dark theme looks like a copy of the Ubuntu default theme, with that brownish kind of grey. And I am sorry, but those rounded corners look so outdated now. No matter what I still prefer the Windows 10 dark mode, although that pure black for the background is too... black.
  • Seems Microsoft is missing out on all the professional designers and programmers. Maybe they should read comments at windows central and hire all the really smarter than smart guys on here. Everyone is an expert it seems when it comes to talk.
  • I hardly think people will choose between Apple's moribund OS and the dynamic, powerful, application-rich Windows 10 because of such a trivial matter as the quality of the dark mode. What drivel this article is, painting this as a crucial failing for Windows vastly richer ecosystem.
  • I think more concerning than dark mode is the report that the new Surface Pro and laptop won't come with USB-C
  • Microsoft should stop listening to neckbeards and settle on a single clear direction for its windows shell design. ditch the legacy stuff. bring metro/modern full on. going back and forth with modern ui and legacy ui just because some basement dweller wanted S@#$ to be familiar, is taking windows, as an os nowhere. im so sick and tired of windows users wanting something new but in the same time want them to remain the same. y'all killed windows phone because some of you wanted a full on pc in your pocket, instead of an extension to your pc in the form of a phone. y'all wanted the old start menu back when ms made the start screen, y'all wanted the legacy desktop and explorer shell when we can have the modern uwp ui. like most things, new ui needs time and a few iterations to change and improve, but most of you C$#@buckets cried like a 8itch and asked for old stuff back, now you have the black explorer that looks like it was put together with some cheap black paint and joined using duct tape. congratulations.
  • This is the result of Ms experimenting on public builds, the result of their cost reduction that led to massive lack of good designers and a total mess in those teams...poor leadership
  • Don't know what this talk about Control Panel and File Explorer not having dark modes is. I have it - 1803 17134.285. The biggest problem with dark mode, for me, is that it over-rides apps that already have a dark mode, such as Visual Studio. It turns EVERYTHING into green on black - i.e. I lose the in-built colour-coding - so the paradox is I have to switch Win10 to light mode in order to use the VS dark mode! I brought this up AGES ago in Feedback Hub - still not fixed. The other obvious problem (though this is potentially in the browser extensions, rather than Win10) is that sometimes video/pictures get blacked out in dark mode, so I have to switch to light mode to see them. I don't care how it LOOKS compared to anything else - I just want it to WORK. i.e. no needing to switch back to light mode for anything.
  • Are you sure you're not talking about inverting colors? I use that a lot, and it's handy when you're staring at retina-burning spreadsheets and Stata do-files all day, but it's not the same as dark mode.
  • Truthfully I don't really mind how dark mode looks. I think it overall looks fine across most platforms (Windows/Mac/Android/etc.) What I don't like about it (also across all platforms) is that it isn't an automatic setting. I want the device to automatically use light mode during the day, and automatically switch to dark theme during night time hours. I think that would be visually ideal. Why No one implements this... I have no idea...
  • The complete overhaul will come with Andromeda, I mean to say Windows Core OS.
  • I disagree. 1) Windows has lots of legacy components that were never intended to be themeable. The compromises in this article were known from the outset.
    2) The only apps I truly care about dark theme in are: 1) all UWP apps 2) the new UI 3) File Explorer windows. All of those are done well.
    3) Unlike macOS, Windows 10 gives you an honest to God AMOLED black, as opposed to dark gray. I understand the concerns of folks who like stylistic completeness, but thanks to legacy support needs, Windows has never been about that. If that's what you care about, Windows is not the OS for you. FTR, no Linux distro manages to pull it off either. macOS may nail it, but try playing the latest Steam AAAA games and see how far you get with that. There are tradeoffs with everything, and this is one of them.
  • Dark theme in Outlook.com is terrible too. Amateur.
  • "But Apple has shown that you can make this change swiftly while also covering a wide range of menus, settings, UI elements, and applications" Not really a fair comparison. Microsoft designs windows with backward compatibility in mind so that you can run programs from ancient times. They also support an insanely wide range of hardware compared to Apple so its not possible for them to be as "swift"
  • Everybody always loves to bash windows, till their $3000 Macbook logic board dies then they have to pay the same price for a part that a whole computer costs. Maybe they didn't make a silly theme right, but at least if I have a problem with hardware, I can simply replace a part on my PC. Apple users are the dumbest "electronics" geeks, sometimes I think people buy their products just to say they have it, but most people I see with iPhone always have a busted screen, a broken headphone port... Oh wait, they don't have those anymore. Something broken, and they have to wait 2 years till their contract is up for a now 2000 dollar phone (yall forgot those extra fees for leasing the iPhone X huh) when you could have gotten one of the many cheaper and same spec Taiwanese/Chinese phones that are God damn rocking Apple, and yall forgot your expensive elitist Mac whatever is made in these same companies for the same price, huh.