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XP Themes Tab Control in any orientation

, 6 Mar 2004
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How to make XP Themes Tab Control work properly in other than top orientation.

XPTabApp Image Using CXPTabCtrl

Using CXPTabCtrl, XP Themes Tab Control, left, bottom and right orientation


The article shows how to solve a problem, which appears on the Windows Tab Control when using Windows XP operating system with XP Themes enabled. Tab control behaves as if it has only one orientation - top. In fact, it has all four orientations, but all four of them (for some reason) have the same appearance.

It is demonstrated how to use the proposed class CXPTabCtrl, Windows tab control extension as a solution to this problem. CXPTabCtrl detects the operating system and tab control orientation:

  • If it is not XP system or XP Themes are not enabled - it uses default Windows tab behavior (it does not do anything extra).
  • If it is XP system and XP Themes are enabled - it draws tab control properly in appropriate direction.

CXPTabCtrl control also works properly if the state of XP Themes enabling is changed during the running of the application. Tab control hot tracking is also supported.


There are a lots of Windows applications developed for earlier Windows versions, which use bottom or other "not-top" oriented Windows tab control. The problem is: if the application is running on an XP system with XP Themes, Windows tab control is not shown properly as it used to be.

XPTabApp Image default SysTabControl32

Problems when using default SysTabControl32 (CTabCtrl) with XP Themes, bottom orientation

One possibility to solve this problem is to change all tab controls in these applications to be top oriented. This would involve change of the look of the applications and painful Windows resource changes and possible code changes.

Another possibility (used for CXPTabCtrl) is to use a thin wrapper around the tab control and to simulate missing orientations. CXPTabCtrl uses available XP Themes "top-tab" look as a template and adapts it for other tab orientations:

  • Bottom orientation:
    1. use top background bitmap,
    2. mirror it vertically,
    3. draw icon and text on mirrored background.

    Build CXPTabCtrl bottom orientation

  • Left orientation:
    1. use top background bitmap,
    2. draw icon and text on the background,
    3. rotate the bitmap for 90°.

    Build CXPTabCtrl left orientation

  • Right orientation:
    1. use top background bitmap,
    2. mirror it vertically,
    3. draw icon and text on the background,
    4. rotate the bitmap for 90°.

    Build CXPTabCtrl right orientation

  • Top orientation (used only for test purposes, could use default from XP Themes Windows XP):
    1. use top background bitmap,
    2. draw icon and text.

    Build CXPTabCtrl top orientation

Notice also that the body of the tab control has to be manipulated, mirrored or rotated, not only the "tab" parts of the tab control (because a "tab body" has texture and shadows).

How to use it

The CXPTabCtrl class is simple to use. To add it to your project, please follow the steps below:

  1. Put its source files (XPTabCtrl.cpp and XPTabCtrl.h) into the proper project folder and add their file names to your Visual Studio project.
  2. Include its header to the appropriate header file - usually dialog class header where class CXPTabCtrl is used. If you plan to use CXPTabCtrl in several places of your application, you can add it only to your StdAfx.h file:
    #include "XPTabCtrl.h"
  3. You should replace CTabCtrl with CXPTabCtrl everywhere in the project where you want new XP Themes tab behavior.
    CXPTabCtrl  m_tabCtrl
  4. If CXPTabCtrl has images, then appropriate bitmap IDB_TABIMAGES (or other with correct tab images) should be included as resource bitmap. It is also necessary to call InitImageList(IDB_TABIMAGES) function, from OnInitDialog or other appropriate initializing place:
    // only necessary to call if tabs have images

Although tab control orientation is usually set in resource editor or in Tab's Create function, CXPTabCtrl orientation can be changed any time while application is running.

Points of Interest

This sample could also be used as an example of how to solve some other problems in Windows programming. Other techniques shown in this sample include:

  1. How to mirror bitmap image vertically fast and simply by using only two Windows calls GetDIBits and SetDIBits. This works in any color resolution.
  2. How to rotate rectangular bitmap image fast and in any color resolution.
  3. How to use inline assembler for lengthy repetitive processing, in this case, rotating bitmap image pixels. If image is of large dimensions (large tab control body), a C style coding could take considerable more time than assembler version.
  4. How to use XP Themes functions in applications, which can run on earlier operating systems.
  5. How to enable XP Themes dialog texture background.
  6. How to make applications XP Themes aware by simply copying XP manifest, resource "24", ID "1" from one application resource to another.
  7. How to use tab ToolTips.

Please note

  • The sample is created and compiled on VC++ 6.0 service pack 5.
  • The sample has been tested on Windows XP (XP Themes enabled or disabled while sample was running).
  • The sample has also been tested on Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0 (CXPTabCtr does not have effect).
  • Other Windows systems could have possible problems (?)
  • The sample has been tested on the following color resolutions: 8 bit, 16 bit, 24 bit and 32 bit colors.
  • The sample has not been tested on multi-line (stacked) tabs, could be problems (?)


Please post your questions, suggestions and bug reports only to the forum below.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralRe: TCN_SELCHANGE no longer handled by parent class Pinmemberisglass29-Apr-04 10:51 
GeneralRe: TCN_SELCHANGE no longer handled by parent class PinmemberMadButch16-May-04 21:42 
GeneralLeft tab being chopped PinmemberJoel Lucsy9-Mar-04 12:10 
Generala bug Pinmemberbenben8-Mar-04 16:54 
GeneralNice work Pinmembersnakeware7-Mar-04 22:05 
GeneralRe: Nice work PinmemberAdi DEDIC7-Mar-04 23:43 
GeneralGood work, but not finished! Pinmembermortal7-Mar-04 21:14 
GeneralProgramming is never finished PinmemberAdi DEDIC8-Mar-04 0:52 
Thanks for suggestions.
The intention of this article was the solution for a particular problem - drawing tabs on XP with XP Themes. The intention was not a generic solution for other tab problems, so this solution is supposed to be included to the other solutions.
There are certain standards for writing XP Themes. If you use themes from producers who followe the standards (XP themes requirements), all parts from the new theme should work fine for all other applications.
In this sample I followed the next: use the Tab theme background, which ever is currently switched on (dimensions taken from system tab control), use current metrics, which ever is on offer (depends on the current theme and the current font) and draw text and icon on the top of the background. If this does not work in certain cases, than it should be properly adapted.
The metrics used for drawing text in the sample is in some way fixed, but should work fine for standard fonts and not too much height changes. Text and icon are just slightly shifted only to look as close as possible to the original XP Theme in the top orientation. If you want to draw tabs for all GUI font heights such as font with sizes 48 points and higher, than metrics should be more flexible.
But again, that was not intention of this article.
GeneralUse of your control Pinmemberng_pearce7-Mar-04 17:05 
GeneralRe: Use of your control PinmemberAdi DEDIC7-Mar-04 23:12 
GeneralBugs PinmemberRazr3337-Mar-04 7:02 
GeneralRe: Bugs PinmemberAdi DEDIC7-Mar-04 23:09 
GeneralLove the diagrams Pinmemberarmentage7-Mar-04 6:49 
GeneralProblem on Win98 PinmemberDominik Reichl7-Mar-04 2:56 
GeneralRe: Problem on Win98 PinmemberAdi DEDIC7-Mar-04 6:34 
GeneralRe: Problem on Win98 PinmemberPaolo Vernazza8-Mar-04 22:56 

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