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How to alter another program's controls?

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I've never dealt too heavily with Windows internals. To what extent can I alter another program's controls?

I remember a long time ago I used to be able to use Spy++ to get the handle of a control and then use that to play a screen saver on the control on XP. I just tried it on 7 and it doesn't seem to work, but maybe I forgot.

I know this is a very general question, but I want to know if for example, I can change the background color of a control in another application or maybe set a background image. I've always wanted custom background images in things like notepad and the command prompt. Is it possible?

A long time ago I was somewhat familiar with SendMessage.

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Look under a specific control for the list of messages.  Some messages cannot be send between threads.  I have just tested how to set an icon to a button in an other application from a AutoIt script and it is working alright under Win7.

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