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The desktop has been a part of Windows since the dawn of time, but traditionally it’s only ever been used to hold shortcuts. However, having loads of shortcuts is clutter and in the past we’ve shown you how to clean your desktop and use better alternatives to shortcuts How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once and for All How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once and for All Clutter is more detrimental than you realize. A tidy Windows desktop makes things easier to find, is more pleasing to look at, and reduces stress. We show you how to get your desktop in order. Read More . Now, with your tidy desktop, it’s time to look at what you can use it for instead.

Whether you just want to keep it empty and display an awesome wallpaper or if you want to get your tweaking hat on with gadgets galore, we’ve got you covered. The possibilities of your desktop start here.

If you reckon we’ve missed anything out from our list, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section.

1. Display Beautiful Wallpapers

Most of us have widescreen monitors. If you’ve been sticking with the default Windows wallpapers, which seem to get more boring with each version, it’s time to get some spice in your life. Make the most of all those pixels by using your desktop to display some beautiful imagery. You could display a nature scene, an inspirational snap, or just a picture of your favorite celebrity. If you need help deciding, check out our list of wallpapers to inspire you 7 Kinds of Desktop Wallpapers to Inspire Your Work Every Day 7 Kinds of Desktop Wallpapers to Inspire Your Work Every Day The wallpaper on your desktop is not likely to make or break how you perform at work. But every little bit helps, so choose a wallpaper that inspires your work. Read More .

Once you’ve found your wallpaper of choice, right-click it and select Set as Background. You can do this within File Explorer or from your web browser. To adjust your background settings in Windows 10, press Windows key + I and go to Personalization > Background.

Here you can Choose a fit for the image. Alternatively, use the Background dropdown and select Slideshow if you want your wallpaper to automatically change. Browse to the folder where your wallpapers are stored and set the duration using the Change picture every dropdown.

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windows 10 background

While that’s fine and dandy, there isn’t exactly a wealth of features. For a bit more customization, see our guide on outsourcing your wallpaper for a dynamic desktop Outsource Your Wallpaper to Create a Stunning Dynamic Desktop Outsource Your Wallpaper to Create a Stunning Dynamic Desktop Imagine you'd boot Windows to a new stunning wallpaper every day. We show you how to use Reddit and John's Background Switcher to set up a dynamic desktop that updates automatically. Read More . If that’s not exciting enough for you, go one step further and learn how to set a video as your wallpaper How to Use Videos as a Screensaver or Wallpaper How to Use Videos as a Screensaver or Wallpaper Bored by your static wallpaper or screensaver? What if you could be greeted by a living, seemingly breathing, character of your own choice? We show you how to make that happen! Read More .

2. Customize With Rainmeter

If you’re looking for the ultimate desktop experience, look no further than Rainmeter. This free open-source program allows you to completely change the look and functionality of your desktop. You can add widgets like the weather or a calendar, you can have an animated wallpaper, you can create interactive program launchers, and so much more. To see some of the awesome possibilities with Rainmeter, and to download the skins, head over to the active Reddit and DeviantArt communities.

rainmeter guide

Once you’ve got Rainmeter installed, we’ve got you covered with our simple guide to using Rainmeter A Simple Guide to Rainmeter: The Windows Desktop Customization Tool A Simple Guide to Rainmeter: The Windows Desktop Customization Tool Rainmeter is the ultimate tool for customizing your Windows desktop with interactive wallpapers, desktop widgets, and more. Our simple guide will help you create your own personal desktop experience in no time. Read More .

Here you can find out what the different settings do, along with how to get started in customizing a skin. Whether you want something minimalist The Best Rainmeter Skins for a Minimalist Desktop The Best Rainmeter Skins for a Minimalist Desktop Rainmeter is a power tool for customizing Windows with skins and suites. We have compiled the best Rainmeter has to offer for an impressive and minimalist Windows desktop. Read More , flashy or functional, you can do it all. If you want to get super advanced, have a crack at projecting a 3D hologram on your desktop Project a 3D Hologram on Your Desktop Using Rainmeter Project a 3D Hologram on Your Desktop Using Rainmeter Still looking for the perfect wallpaper? Let us show you how to add an impressive and moving 3D hologram to your desktop background. Read More . You’ll be the envy of everyone!

3. Desktop Toolbar

Okay, perhaps you’re still keen to use shortcuts. But don’t put them on the desktop. Instead, try using the desktop toolbar on your Taskbar 7 Useful Toolbars You Can Add To Your Windows Taskbar 7 Useful Toolbars You Can Add To Your Windows Taskbar The Windows desktop can be a super productive work space. Native toolbars can help you make it even more efficient by placing shortcuts and information at your fingertips. Let's have a closer look. Read More .

To enable this, right-click an empty space on your Taskbar and go to Toolbars > Desktop. By default, this toolbar will hold shortcuts to things like Libraries, Network, Control Panel, and anything that’s on your desktop.

Right-click an empty space again and click Lock the taskbar to untick it (if yours is already unticked, there’s no need to click). Hover your mouse to the left of the Desktop text, over the two horizontal lines, then left-click and drag to expand the toolbar. This will allow more of the icons to come into view.

desktop toolbar

Right-click the two horizontal lines and here you can choose to untick Show text, which refers to the shortcut label, and Show title, which refers to the Desktop text. I recommend that you untick both of these because it looks cleaner and means you can fit more icons on your Taskbar in a single view. You can also go to View to switch between Large Icons and Small Icons.

Remember, anything on your desktop will appear in this toolbar. But that doesn’t mean you actually have to see it on your desktop too. Right-click an empty space on your desktop and go to View > Show desktop icons to untick it. If you ever want to see what’s on your desktop again you can perform the same action, or open File Explorer and go to This PC > Desktop.

Remember that you can make better use of a wide desktop by moving to a vertical Taskbar Why You Should Use a Vertical Windows Taskbar Why You Should Use a Vertical Windows Taskbar The Windows Taskbar has always appeared at the bottom of the screen. Depending on your monitor, vertical Taskbar might have several advantages. Let us show you what they are. Read More .

4. Temporary File Storage

Though traditionally the desktop has held shortcuts, you can actually store files directly on it too. This can be really useful for files you want to temporarily store and just need a quick place to pop them. You could also use it for files that you need to access all the time.

desktop new file

When saving a file from anywhere, simply select Desktop as you save location How to Add & Remove Entries from the Windows Right-Click Menu How to Add & Remove Entries from the Windows Right-Click Menu Everyone loves shortcuts. Meanwhile, your context menu is cluttered with entries you never touch. We'll show you how to customize the right-click menu with shortcuts you'll actually want to use. Read More . Alternatively, left-click and drag a file from a folder onto your desktop to move it there. You can also make a file directly on your desktop by right-clicking > New and then selecting your file type.

5. Hold Sticky Notes

If you need a place to jot down your thoughts or to do list, why not your desktop? Although you can’t write directly on your desktop, you can use sticky note apps to achieve it. Windows has an app built in, though admittedly it does have limited functionality.

Do a system search for sticky notes and you’ll find it. Click the + symbol to add another note, to change the sticky note color, or the trash can to delete it. Technically, these sticky notes aren’t stuck to the desktop, however.

sticky notes windows

If you want some more advanced functionality from your stickies, including some that actually do stick to your desktop, check out our overview of Windows sticky note apps Post-It To Your Screen - 6 Sticky Note Apps For Windows Post-It To Your Screen - 6 Sticky Note Apps For Windows Post-its on your desktop or Start Screen can be extremely helpful for remembering small but important amounts of information. Stop cluttering up your desk and go digital with these fantastic sticky note apps. Read More . With these programs you can create hot keys, create alarms, tie in with note programs like Evernote, and more.

Now you can get rid of the physical sticky notes from your desk, clean up your working space, and transfer it all to your desktop for easy organization.

Differentiate Your Desktop

Your desktop should serve the best purpose for you. While some people strive for the minimalist view, others will benefit from fancy widgets or productivity tools. Hopefully these suggestions have sparked some ideas on how you can use your desktop for things other than shortcuts.

If you’re looking to get even more out of your desktop, check out our introduction to virtual desktops in Windows 10 An Introduction to Virtual Desktop & Task View in Windows 10 An Introduction to Virtual Desktop & Task View in Windows 10 Windows 10's new Virtual Desktop and Task View features are quality-of-life enhancements that you shouldn't overlook. Here's why they are useful and how you can start benefiting from them right now. Read More , a feature which allows you to have loads of different desktops within the same session.

What do you use your desktop for? Do you prefer the clean and simple approach or does your desktop serve a particular functional purpose?

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  1. HRChafin
    April 19, 2017 at 4:48 am

    I like to keep a few folders on my desktop, but I group them using a neat little utility called "Fences." This keeps them in areas where I can open them quickly when needed but without the clutter--and a double click outside a fenced area hides everything but my customized desktop.

    Shortcuts? don't need 'em since I installed "Launchy" which opens applications from a pop-up command line. Easy-peasey, and Launchy learns from your keystrokes to make the process even faster as you use it.

    • Sue
      May 5, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      I also love Fences! Whatever projects I'm working on get a "folder portal." Done with the project? I close the portal.

      When I get visitors to my office, I doubleclick my desktop, and everything on the desktop is hidden. When the visitor leaves, a doubleclick brings it all back.

  2. Davin Peterson
    April 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    At work, some of my colleagues have their Windows desktop full of shortcuts or MS Offices files. I like to keep my desktop clean, which has only a few shortcuts on the left side.

  3. Steve
    April 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Shortcuts clutter up your desktop - clean them up - scatter sticky notes all over it instead -- sorry I don't get the (lack of) logic.