For XP, I'm partial to Vishal's SevenVG Black RTM
theme with the "normal task bar."
I use the Aero32 color scheme in the theme, and mod it by setting the wallpaper to a nice 'almost black' slate gray color that looks particularly nice on my monitors.
FWIW, I've found the readability of fonts is directly related to how many colors (and gradients ) are being employed in the theme. I try to stick to as few (and complimentary) colors as possible to avoid that color "vibration" thing you sometimes experience with super-saturated themes. I find Tahoma very readable for interface use as long as it has decent contrast with whatever it's displayed on/against.
My basic rule of thumb is: the more beautiful and rich the colors, the harder and more tiring everything is to read and look at over extended periods of time.
There's a lot to be said for all those old classic System 6.0.4 Macintosh gray/mono themes and "paperwhite" displays. They looked great under office fluorescent lighting. And you could stare at them for hours
without feeling ill. I've long suspected one of the reasons Macintosh was able to ultimately claim the desktop publishing app space was because its screens were so much easier to read than that eye-drilling "bright green on black" that the old-guard typesetting crowd was used to working with.
For Windows 7, I just turn off all the Aero bling and go with a toned down version of one of the classic-type themes. Although the default theme that gets installed with Win 7 is also pretty nice, as well as being easy to look at for extended periods of time. Lately, I've found myself just using that after I kill the desktop wallpaper image.
As time goes on I've discovered I'm becoming less and less interested in fiddling with the desktop appearance and fancy launchers like Circle Dock or Rocket Dock. Nowadays, I'm mostly interested in just getting in there, getting stuff done, and then logging off
I've revamped my entire approach so that now I'm much more tightly focused and intense whenever I use a computer. I don't spend anywhere near as much time on my system as I used to. But oddly enough, I think I'm actually accomplishing
much more now that I'm no longer starting at a screen 10+ hours a day. Maybe C. Northcote Parkinson's famous "law"
was right after all?
True, my new approach doesn't save me from those occasional multi-day marathon writing sessions. But it has cut down on the total time I'm on my system.
Must be getting old...