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Whether you’re a tech guru or you feel as if you’re hardly getting by on your computer, customizing Windows is for everyone. That’s right – even if you don’t feel as though you’re the “tech savvy” type, you should customize Windows. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance it’ll help you navigate your computer better. And thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to figure these customizations out yourself – we’ve covered a significant portion of them right here on MakeUseOf.

Manage & Enhance The Context (Right Click) Menu

If you thought your context menu could never be edited, you’ve been sorely mistaken. You have several options depending on how you’d like to customize it.

Remove Entries

One method is simply removing entries of the context menu Make Windows 7 Faster By Removing Context Menu Entries Make Windows 7 Faster By Removing Context Menu Entries Windows 7’s context menus can become cluttered over time, filled with different options from the various programs you’ve installed. Worse yet, badly behaved context menu entries can add delays before the context menu appears, slowing... Read More . This is often overlooked as a method to speed up Windows. Below are two options we recommend:

1 CCleaner - Edit Windows context menu

Add More Functionality And Customize Programs

Finding the tool you’re looking for seems to always be a problem, no matter what type of computer you use, and with Windows 8 this is even more of an issue. Adding common programs you use and other shortcuts or functions can save time, headaches and increase your efficiency on tasks you find yourself constantly doing.

Your Menu (our review Add Program Shortcuts To Your Desktop Context Menu With Your Menu [Windows] Add Program Shortcuts To Your Desktop Context Menu With Your Menu [Windows] It's not difficult to spend a day downloading free new programs and notice that your entire desktop is suddenly cluttered. I know plenty of people who are very OCD with the appearance of their artsy,... Read More ) is a great program for adding program shortcuts to the context menu, allowing you to access them with a simple right click on the Desktop.

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2 Edit context menu - Your Menu

If you want to do more than just add program shortcuts, I recommend the pro version of Right Click Enhancer (our review Did You Know You Could Customize The Windows Context Menu? Organize It With Right Click Enhancer Did You Know You Could Customize The Windows Context Menu? Organize It With Right Click Enhancer Have you ever wondered if there could be more to the Windows context menu? It has a dedicated key on every keyboard, yet are we really using it to it's full potential? Perhaps it's clogged... Read More ), which allows you to greatly extend the context menu’s functionality.

3 Edit context menu - Right Click Enhancer

If you’re looking for more enhancements there are 7 awesome context menu tools 7 Awesome Tools To Enhance Your Right-Click Menu [Windows] 7 Awesome Tools To Enhance Your Right-Click Menu [Windows] The Windows right-click menu is a feature that we may often take for granted, but it can really make our lives easier. Advanced users probably don’t use it that much, having learned all the necessary... Read More  you should check out.

Windows Taskbar Tricks

You may be aware of some of the tricks you can do with the Windows Taskbar, such as pinning folders to the Windows Explorer pop-up menu, which can be quite handy in cleaning up your desktop How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All Your desktop is a mess. Admit it. Just like a desk with papers all over, a messy computer desktop is far from productive. Plus, it just doesn’t look nice. If you’re having issues finding the... Read More .

4 Pinned Folders - Windows Explorer

Other built-in functions include accessing programs’ additional functions by right clicking their icon, reducing the size of the Taskbar and icons to allow for more screen space, and organizing the icons in the Notification Tray.

5 Taskbar Tricks

This is by far not all the things you can do with the Taskbar. Further useful Taskbar tricks The 4 Neat Tricks You Can Do With The Windows 7 Taskbar The 4 Neat Tricks You Can Do With The Windows 7 Taskbar The Windows 7 taskbar is quite swanky looking, but it also packs a wallop in terms of functionality. Sure, anyone can activate an application by clicking its icon. But do you know what happens when... Read More  include disabling or changing the size of Aero Peek thumbnails, running applications with administrator privileges and the secret behind middle-clicking a Taskbar app icon.

7+ Taskbar Tweaker (our review Get More Out Of The Windows Taskbar with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker Get More Out Of The Windows Taskbar with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker Could the Windows Taskbar be more useful? You can quickly add features and keep things simple with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker. Customize your Taskbar to your needs - without the fluff. Read More ) is the ultimate tool for adjusting the Taskbar exactly how you want it.

Add A Dock Or Replace The Taskbar Completely

6 Rocketdock with Stacks Docklet

Having a dock not only spices up the look and theme of your Windows PC, it adds awesome features, accessibility and can even be a taskbar replacement 3 Multifunctional Docks To Replace Your Windows Taskbar 3 Multifunctional Docks To Replace Your Windows Taskbar Docks take what the taskbar does and make it better: beautiful, effective, and fun to use. Once introduced for the Mac, docks have long been available on Windows. Let me show you the best ones. Read More .

So what are your options when it comes to docks?

7 Winstep Nexus Dock

If you’re interested in a different look altogether, perhaps one that’s not modeled after the Mac OS X dock, you should check out Circle Dock.

8 Circle Dock

Switch Your Wallpaper… Automatically

How long have you had that wallpaper on your desktop? With all the awesome images both on the Internet and your own computer, why are you sticking with the same one day after day?

So how can you change your desktop wallpapers Spice Up Your Desktop With These 3 Excellent Wallpaper Changers [Windows] Spice Up Your Desktop With These 3 Excellent Wallpaper Changers [Windows] A beautiful desktop is a matter of aesthetics. Some people care, others don't. If you are the kind who appreciates clean and organized spaces, then I'm sure your desktop isn't cluttered with icons. While a... Read More ? You can try one of the following apps:

9 desktoppr

Pulse (our review Pulse - A Simple & Open-Source Desktop Wallpaper Switcher [Windows] Pulse - A Simple & Open-Source Desktop Wallpaper Switcher [Windows] Scouring for new desktop wallpapers is usually fun, but it can also be time-consuming and tedious. Pulse is a background rotator that happens to be open-source, and is very simple to use. Available for Windows,... Read More ) and Wally (our review Wally- Awesome Wallpaper Rotator for Windows, Mac & Linux Wally- Awesome Wallpaper Rotator for Windows, Mac & Linux Read More ) are both great open source solutions full of functionality.

What About Finding Awesome Wallpaper?

If you’re stuck on what wallpaper you want to use, first I (again) recommend taking a look at Desktoppr – it has some incredible images. Below are some other great options.

But we at MakeUseOf love variety, and so we have provided multitudes of options for finding awesome wallpaper.

Personalize The Windows Logon & Start Screen

You have put up with that boring logon screen in Windows long enough – here’s how to give it your own spin and style. One of the most basic changes you can make is your profile picture, which Tina shows you how to do in her article of 5 cool ways to customize Windows 7 5 Cool Ways To Customize Your Windows 7 System 5 Cool Ways To Customize Your Windows 7 System Read More .

10 Customize Logon Screen - Profile Picture

 The best ways to customize the Windows Welcome Screen The Best Ways To Customize The Welcome Screen In Windows 7 The Best Ways To Customize The Welcome Screen In Windows 7 Read More :

11 Customize Logon Screen - Logon Screen Tweaker

Alternatively, you can manually edit the Windows Logon Screen message and font How To Change The Windows Logon Screen Message And Font How To Change The Windows Logon Screen Message And Font Previous versions of Windows have allowed various customization options, from desktop backgrounds and startup chimes to altering logon screen messages and text. However with Windows 7, these options have been restricted by Microsoft, leaving many... Read More with a program called Resource Hacker.

Windows 8 has several customizations built in on the Lock Screen How To Find And Use The Wallpaper And Lock Screen Images In Windows 8 How To Find And Use The Wallpaper And Lock Screen Images In Windows 8 The Windows 8 Start and lock screen may not strike you as particularly interesting. That's until you discover the "artwork.". Let me show you how to get your hands on these gems! Read More where you can add your own background, choose an app to display a detailed status, decide which apps can run in the background, and show quick status and notifications.

12 Customize Logon Start Screen - Windows 8

Start Screen Tweaks:

Furthermore, there are 10 Windows 8 Start Screen hacks 10 Windows 8 Start Screen Hacks 10 Windows 8 Start Screen Hacks Windows is moving towards a more locked-down direction with Windows 8 and its Start screen and "Modern" app environment. There's no denying this -- you can't even set a custom Start screen background without installing... Read More such as running modern apps in the Desktop, adding shutdown shortcuts and moving the Start Screen onto the Desktop Make The Windows 8 Start Screen Work For You Make The Windows 8 Start Screen Work For You So much has been written about the Windows 8 Start screen over the past few months that sometimes it seems as though we've heard every viewpoint and seen every tweak. However, it seems that there... Read More .

Lastly, if you absolutely hate the Start Screen you can completely disable the Modern User Interface How To Quickly & Easily Disable The Metro User Interface In Windows 8 How To Quickly & Easily Disable The Metro User Interface In Windows 8 One of the most striking things about Windows 8 – beyond the Metro user interface – is the lack of a traditional Start menu in favour of tiles. However with a desktop view available for... Read More .

Hack That Start Button

It’s no secret – removing the Start Button and the Start Menu in Windows 8 caused a lot of distress among Microsoft’s users. And when Microsoft added the Start Button back in Windows 8.1 Get Your Start Button Back: Windows 8.1 Preview Is Now Available To The Public For Free [Updates] Get Your Start Button Back: Windows 8.1 Preview Is Now Available To The Public For Free [Updates] Windows 8.1, the much-anticipated update to Microsoft's Windows 8 OS, is now available to the public in a Preview version. Windows 8.1 users will enjoy a new and improved search interface, an updated Start screen,... Read More , they still left out the Start Menu. If you’re longing for the Start Menu on your Windows 8 machine, you have a few options:

Non-third-party software solutions:

13 Custom Start Menu - Toolbar

While you’re moping about your missing Start Menu, go ahead and hold down the Windows Key + X.

14 Power User Start Menu

Whoh! That’s new! Well, actually it’s been around since the beginning of Windows 8. This is known as the “power user menu” and although it’s awesome in itself, a third-party program called Win+X Menu Editor (our review 8 Ways To Improve Windows 8 With Win+X Menu Editor 8 Ways To Improve Windows 8 With Win+X Menu Editor Windows 8 contains an almost hidden feature you need to know about! Press Windows Key + X or right-click at the bottom-left corner of your screen to open a menu you can now customize. Read More ) allows you to edit these shortcuts – a pretty nifty tool.

15 add-power-options-to-win-x-menu

Third-party Start Menu options Start Menu, How I Miss Thee: 4 Ways To Make A Start Menu On Windows 8 Start Menu, How I Miss Thee: 4 Ways To Make A Start Menu On Windows 8 Windows 8 brought down the axe on the Start Menu. This is a feature that no one paid special attention to for years but its untimely demise has caused all sorts of despair. Not only... Read More :

16 Classic Shell Start Menu

What’s that? You say you’d rather get rid of the Windows Start Button? Well, don’t worry, you can still do that while having Windows 8.1.

If you’d like to change and customize the Start Button in Windows 7 How To Change & Customize The Windows 7 Start Button Orb How To Change & Customize The Windows 7 Start Button Orb Read More we recommend a program aptly named Windows 7 Start Button Changer.

17 Win 7 Start Button Changer

Change Up Your Mouse Cursor

18 Cursor

A really simple option for customizing your PC is to change the mouse cursor from that plain and boring default one Tired Of Your Mouse Cursor? Replace It With Something Fresh & Beautiful [Windows] Tired Of Your Mouse Cursor? Replace It With Something Fresh & Beautiful [Windows] Let's face it, the mouse cursors included with Windows are getting a bit old. While it’s seen a few tweaks over the years, that white mouse cursor has remained largely the same for over a... Read More . There are two solid programs we recommend for this:

Complete Overhaul: Theme Windows

The final touch to personalizing Windows is a theme.

The non-third-party route:

Excellent Windows customization apps:

Whether your theme is aimed at having a minimalist Desktop 7 Simple Steps To An Awesome Minimalist Desktop 7 Simple Steps To An Awesome Minimalist Desktop Read More (my preference) or adding several “moving parts” to your Desktop, there are plenty of ways to personalize your PC Make Your Computer Truly Personal With These Top Customization Tools Make Your Computer Truly Personal With These Top Customization Tools What does it mean to customize your computer? Does it mean to have the coolest looking desktop? Well, that’s part of it, but not completely. First off, you want your desktop to be functional. Not... Read More .

19 Rainlendar

There are some amazing Windows 8 themes Amazing Windows 8 Themes You Need To See Amazing Windows 8 Themes You Need To See Windows has always had an active community of enthusiasts who customize everything about it, including its desktop theme. Although Microsoft tries to prevent this, Windows 8's desktop can be themed just like Windows 7's. We've... Read More  and also some pretty neat Windows 7 themes Top 5 Windows 7 Themes You Might Want To Try Top 5 Windows 7 Themes You Might Want To Try Read More . Of course, the ones we covered are only a small amount of what’s available on websites like deviantART. Below is one of the many themes I’ve had.

20 Windows Theme Example

In combination with themes, a great addition is to change the way Windows runs based on the time of day Change the Way Windows Runs Depending on the Time of Day Change the Way Windows Runs Depending on the Time of Day Every day, the sun rises, marches through the sky, and then sets. The world changes with it as people wake up, go about their business, and then rest. But your computer just sits there all... Read More using tools like f.lux (our review Use F.lux To Sleep Better After Late-Night Computer Activities Use F.lux To Sleep Better After Late-Night Computer Activities Read More ), as well as many others.

Style In Combination With Functionality

There are some awesome tools you can use in combination with your customizations, that will add both functionality and style to your computer:

21 Launchy
There are so many excellent ways to customize Windows 5 Excellent Ways To Customize Windows You Simply Have To Try 5 Excellent Ways To Customize Windows You Simply Have To Try I love Windows. It’s somewhat hard for me to say this, having grown up with a Mac and having hated every single Windows version up till Win2k, but Microsoft are really getting better at this,... Read More  to make your computer more accessible 7 Steps to Make Computers Accessible for the Elderly 7 Steps to Make Computers Accessible for the Elderly Read More . Whether you’re tech-savvy or have a hard time finding your way around the computer, there’s always the perfect customization option for you.

Are you looking for even more tips and ideas on customizing Windows? Our in-depth Windows Customization guide is sure to answer all your questions.

What are your favorite Windows customizations? Do you have any additional tips and preferences to add? We always look forward to your feedback in the comments.

Image Credits: Jigsaw puzzle Via Shutterstock

  1. LOW-WING Hyacinthe
    October 22, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Found it, thanks ;)

  2. LOW-WING Hyacinthe
    October 21, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Hello everyone! where can i find the icons pack on the part "Add A Dock Or Replace The Taskbar Completely" (just below the title) please?

  3. Casey
    April 9, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Oh, I can agree with the functionality - Windows 8 is a kiddy toy without a start menu.

    But you are still relying on the programmer to not have any bugs or conflicts - even more so with things that intercept and integrate with windows sub-systems.
    And if they fall over in the middle of your 3D image render or video edit, and you have to reboot because it's a windows subsystem taken out as well? I can almost guarantee you'll rip out that "bling program"...

    Even if modern computers are faster, it's still wasted cycles - that's like saying that you have a 1 T hard drive, why worry about cleaning tmp files and 30G of cookies out - that wasted CPU time might not matter normally, but when you do 3D work, video editing, even movie ripping *backing up *, it might matter.

    I've yet to see a taskbar utility that's worth the bother, but that's me.

    By the way - I apologise for my slightly over the top wording - it's just that I HAVE had 3d renders interrupted and lost because a start menu button changer decided to have a hissy-fit... 30 hours of rendering lost so no "after market" changers for me.

    I DO support the right click editors, font removers, etc - things that run, do their job, and exit.. I'm not a complete Luddite :-D

    A few more to suggest - right click on an image and have a thumbnail - XNView Shell Extension; remember Picaview?

    • Aaron C
      April 9, 2014 at 9:30 pm

      Completely agree, Casey! I feel like every user is slightly different. But losing work because of a stupid bug or malfunctioning 3rd-party program is incredibly frustrating to say the least, so I 100% agree with your stance! Sorry for not reading into that more in your initial comment and thanks for clarifying.

      XNView Shell Extension... wow that is an exceptional program right there! Great addition to the list :-D Thanks for sharing that one.

  4. Casey
    April 8, 2014 at 10:33 am

    What a load of rubbish - almost every one of these "bells and whistles" things just adds another program to take up CPU cycles and memory space.
    All doing something to slow down and, in some cases, cause instabilities.

    if you mess with the bling, you're just a tool!

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      Casey,

      First off, computers today have far more processing power and aren't nearly effected in their speed as they were years ago.

      Secondly, these tools aren't just for making your computer LOOK fancy — I agree, I don't like needless process running either — but they add some awesome functionality.

      Take, for example, Classic Shell — I'm far more productive in being able to QUICKLY access programs and folders via its start menu in Windows 8.

      Another example is Launchy — I use it to launch EVERY program, saving me loads of time in trying to find where all the programs are. This especially made a difference when I didn't have a Start Menu yet and continues to make a difference as I can access programs far faster than looking through a list or through loads of icons on my Desktop.

      And I'm not quite sure how Windows Taskbar Tricks are "rubbish" either. You're going to have to back up your argument A LOT more if you're going to make that claim. The whole point in this article is to have the tools you NEED (not all of them) to add greater functionality to your computer. And part of functionality is speed — I kept this in mind with every point and app I listed in my article.

  5. Ed
    April 8, 2014 at 8:31 am

    And if you start digging into AutoHotkey's documentation, you'll find commands that you can assign hotkeys to, which allow you to reboot, shut down, or hibernate Windows without passing through the Start bar, to wit [my annotations in brackets]:

    shutdown, 6 [reboot windows]
    DllCall("PowrProfSetSuspendState", "int", 1, "int", 0, "int", 0) [hibernate]
    shutdown, 12 [shutdown]

    My shortcuts for these are Windows-Shift-B (for reBoot), Windows-Shift-Q, and Windows-Control-Shift-Q. I've had to add at least one modifier key (Control, Shift) because I was accidentally logging off with just a simple Windows-Q keystroke.

  6. GPAL
    April 8, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Would like to be able to customize the Sign-in Screen in Win8 - NOT the lock screen (can disable it), NOT the Start Screen (ditto - use Classicshell). You could customize the old Win7 logon screen.

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Gpal, if I'm not mistaken, the "Sign-in screen" (AKA logon screen) and "lock screen" are the same in Windows 8.

      And to customize it, just follow the steps I laid out in the article :-)

  7. Ed
    April 8, 2014 at 2:19 am

    AutoHotkey (mentioned in the comments) is the uber-geeky way to do Windows your way. Other hotkey programs are either just launchers or autocomplete programs, but AutoHotkey is both. Autocomplete means you can type often-used and long passages with just a few keystrokes. This function is usually available in word processors and text editors, but using the autocomplete feature of AutoHotkey makes the function available system-wide, even when typing emails or filling out boxes.
    By placing your most-often used programs in AutoHotkey, you can clean out the Start menu dropdown list. Mine doesn't show a list of programs anymore, it's just a bare gray box. To complete your takeover of the desktop, hide the Start taskbar completely by Control-Shift-right clicking on a blank area of the Start dropdrown and choosing exit explorer. You get get back the taskbar by opening the task manager (Control-Shift-Escape) and choosing File > New Task and typing explorer.exe.

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 2:25 am

      Excellent tips and how-to, Ed! Thanks!

  8. John O.
    April 7, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Two other START BUTTON
    programs. This one for XP / Vista Windows 7 or Windows 8
    >>
    http://www.startmenux.com/index.html

    and
    START MENU 8
    >>
    http://www.iobit.com/iobitstartmenu8.php

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Thanks for the comment, John! I knew about Iobit's Start Menu, but not Start Menu X. Do you use it? Care to share your own experience and tips?

  9. Bill Gates
    April 7, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    This article would be more useful if author said WHICH VERSION of Windows he is taliking about.

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Articles are actually more useful if you READ them... in which you'd discover these tools can be used with virtually all Windows versions XP to 8.

  10. geekdomofgore
    April 7, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I know it's an older operating system now but could you list some options for windows xp users?

    • Aaron C
      April 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Certainly! I will preface my comment with the fact that computers with XP still on them may not have the resources to handle customizations. This is also a better question for MakeUseOf Answers, so I recommend posting it there too: http://makeuseof.com/answers

      Most of the listed programs are compatible with XP:
      - CCleaner
      - ShellExView
      - RocketDock
      - Winstep Nexus
      - Circle Dock
      - ObjectDock
      - Rainlendar
      - Rainmeter
      - Launchy
      - Fences
      - John’s Background Switcher
      - Wallpaper Master
      - Desktoppr (Because it connects with Dropbox, which supports XP)
      - Cursor FX
      - RealWorld Cursor Editor

      Other XP-compatible programs:
      - FileMenu Tools (Modify context menu)
      - StyleXP
      - WindowBlinds
      - ObjectBar
      - Samurize

      Some further resources:
      - MakeUseOf Answers: How do I customize Windows?
      - Color-code folders

  11. Shawn
    April 6, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Some examples would be...

    -Transparent Explorer Backgrounds (Glass)
    - Completely Glass Taskbar
    - Control of transparency & color
    All I can think of at the moment

    • Aaron C
      April 7, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      Shawn,

      These customizations can be easily modified without any third-party software, simply by right clicking in the Desktop and choosing "Personalize".

      Have you looked at your options there?

    • Shawn
      April 8, 2014 at 2:45 am

      Aaron C. I have been to the Personalize area many times. I don't recall seeing any way to make the explorer background Transparent. Also the Taskbar does have transparency but it remains somewhat opaque even at it's most transparent.

    • Aaron C
      April 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      What version of Windows are you using, Shawn? I don't have any personal experience with complete transparency in Windows — just the built in configurations.

      This might be a better question for MakeUseOf Answers, where it'll be available to the entire MUO community and other authors to pitch in their thoughts.

  12. Shawn
    April 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Anyone have tips for adding Transparency to features in Windows 7. I've never seen a good tutorial or tool.

    • Aaron C
      April 5, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Hey Shawn,

      Can you be specific as to what transparency features you're looking for in Win7?

  13. Jeff
    April 5, 2014 at 11:12 am

    If you like keyboard shortcuts and want to tweak/automate check out http://www.autohotkey.com. Great for boosting efficiency

    • Aaron C
      April 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      This should have been in the article! How have I never heard of AutoHotkey? I'm huge on keyboard shortcuts. Thanks for sharing this Jeff!

  14. Arif034
    April 5, 2014 at 10:15 am

    wow, really nice article... liked it very much :)

  15. Sadiq Mohamed
    April 5, 2014 at 9:12 am

    How extraordinary! Windows has finally caught up with Mac, Linux & Unix! All of this desktop tweakary has been available with the KDE desktop on Linux for about 10 years. And that Rocket Dock thingy looks just like OS-X. Wow!

    • Muhammad Muhtasim Jawad
      January 13, 2015 at 4:49 am

      Did you never use windows in your life? I have been tweaking stuff even on windows 98 -_- Get a life other than trashing OSs. Weird.

  16. Bettle the Bard
    April 5, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Classic Shell makes Windows very productive and efficient.

  17. Ergys
    April 5, 2014 at 5:13 am

    a wonderful article with very useful applications.

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