How do I customize the color of the Windows blue screen?

Raymond Chen

In videos on his YouTube channel Dave’s Garage, my longtime former colleague Dave Plummer discusses his home computer projects and has a side gig digging into Windows history. In early 2021, he discussed the history of the Windows blue screen.

A correction to Dave’s video: At 9:23, he says that I was responsible for the Windows 3.1 blue screen. It wasn’t until Windows 95 that I took over responsibility for blue screen messages from the original author. I don’t remember off-hand who the original author was, but I can guess: The 32-bit virtual machine manager was written by basically three people, one of whom had a unique coding style, and it is my recollection that the code that displays blue screen messages was written in that style, so I have a pretty good idea who it was that wrote the original code to display Windows blue screen messages.

Mind you, the code that displays blue screen messages merely displays the message. It doesn’t decide when to display the message, or what the message text should be. That’s the job of other components.

Windows 3.1 had configuration options to let you change the color of the blue screen messages. I dimly recall being told that the critical error message was originally red, but it was changed to blue for readability, as well as to make it less dramatic. My guess is that Windows 3.1 left an escape hatch in case they needed to change the color again.

Those configuration options were not carried forward into Windows NT. The color is hard-coded to blue, or green if you’re running a prerelease build.

But all is not entirely lost. One of Mark Russinovich’s party tricks is changing the color of the blue screen. He does this by doing it the Mark Russinovich way: He installs a driver that patches the hard-coded value in the kernel.

He made this party trick available for download and gave it the very Mark Russinovich name Not My Fault.

Totally not supported by Windows, but if you need to perform a party trick, you can use Mark’s.

Bonus reading:

7 comments

Comments are closed. Login to edit/delete your existing comments

  • Michael Drüing

    Yes, I remember switching my bluescreen to white-text-on-red in Windows 3.1… don’t remember the actual INI setting though. I was really sad to find out that this option didn’t carry over to Windows 95, as that crashed much more often on my system (at least in the early versions) than Windows 3.1 did…..

  • Raúl Guzmán

    So… I actually have an interesting story related to Mark’s NotMyFault utility. I tried it a few months ago on a Windows 11 computer and after the computer restarted from the BSOD (or technically GSOD because that computer was running a Dev Build) the computer kept crashing and going into automatic repair… The issue was fixed after I disabled and reenabled secure boot, though! So I’m guessing Windows 11 doesn’t like having a driver that was just added being ripped away from under its feet.

    • MNGoldenEagle

      Based on Raymond’s description of the utility effectively hotpatching the kernel where the color values are stored, most likely the code was changed enough in Windows 11 that it was no longer modifying the color values but instead changed more critical values in the crash handler, causing the crash handler to crash as well.

  • Yuhong Bao

    So what happened in Windows 95 when you pressed Ctrl+Alt+Del?

    • Evans, Paul (Secure Solutions & Services)

      I really want to say “Task Manager appears”, but there’s a hint of doubt in the back of my mind on that after saying it.

      • Shawn Keene

        You’re right. Although it wasn’t really task manager because task manager didn’t exist.

        It was a little dialogue box that was basically like task manager lite. It showed you what top level processes were running, and let you select one to end the task.

        After a fresh boot the dialogue box was usually empty because it did not show background processes. Not that there were very many background processes on Windows 95 anyway.