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Table Of Contents

§1–Introduction

§2–Themes

§3–Rainmeter

§4–Media Players

§5–More Apps

§6–Best-Of: Instant Customization

§7–Wrapping Up

1. Introduction

1.1 An Introduction To Desktop Customization

You can create a Windows desktop environment that not only accommodates your needs, but also looks stunningly beautiful. Everyone likes different things when it comes to their desktop experience. Some people use computers just for fun, others to work and many even use computers for the creation of music, videos and other forms of self-expression. Whatever your situation may be, having a computer that matches your aesthetic preferences will enhance the quality of time you spend in front of the monitor.

1.2 Why Should I Customize My Desktop?

If you’re anything like me, when you start to use a new computer the first thing you’ll do is to make it “yours”. Essentially, you adapt the computer to fit your needs in a faster manner. For instance, you might Download Google Chrome, install your favorite antivirus software and uninstall the things that you don’t deem necessary. Only then do you get to work.

It doesn’t have to end there. Many go above and beyond to make their devices feel really “theirs”. Rooting your Android device, jailbreaking your iPhone or iTouch, and using custom themes on your phone is fun – and just the beginning. The ubiquity of mobile devices has really pulled the strings and started a mini revolution in this regard.

That’s fun, but the grand majority of people still use desktop and laptop devices in order to get their work done. Sure, mobile devices are becoming increasingly productive tools, but at this point in time the desktop is still king.

But just because your computer is mostly for work doesn’t mean you can’t also make it yours. You can use tools that will customize nearly every aspect of the visual aspect of your Windows experience. These tools are user friendly and are easy to operate – even by absolute beginners.

And I know where to find them.

1.3 How This Guide Is Written

This guide is best read straight through. I tried to arrange things logically, and you’re not going to want to miss out on any particular tool. That said, if you’re interested in one specific section of the guide, by all means go ahead and read that section specifically – you’re probably already set in all the other aspects of your desktop customization experience.

If you simply want an easy way to get a slick new theme and don’t want to bother too much with any choices, go to Section 6, which contains an easy list of the most popular themes from various websites, along with some other applications that ease the process.

1.4 Interested In Customization?

If you are interested in some more tutorials and articles on customization, there is a wealth of programs and tutorials out there that you can use. Saying that, here’s an easy list containing some tutorials on using some of the programs discussed in this guide below, along with some other applications that I won’t get to:

2. Themes

2.1 An Introduction To Desktop Themes

No matter whether you’re using Windows 7, Windows 8 or even Windows XP, making your desktop look stunning is not only very possible – it’s easy.

We need to look no further than our very own taskbar in order to find the first traces of customization possibilities, and it only gets bigger from there. For example, on Windows 7 and Windows 8, right-clicking the taskbar will bring up this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization Img 1
Clicking on properties will land us here:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 2
As you can see, we already have several options to change the appearance of our task bar. Ranging from the position of the taskbar itself, to whether it hides automatically, to using small icons, and even to letting it exist without text. This is an utterly simple way of demonstrating how much just a few clicks can do to adjust Windows to your personal style.

But we can do much, much more.

2.2 Where Can I Get Themes For My Computer?

There are a lot of official, and unofficial, sources where obtaining themes is simple. Microsoft has their very own themes site, and we will also go through a few of the unofficial sources later.

2.3 How Do I Use Themes Properly?

We’re going to get started using the official resources available to us. To begin, right-click your desktop to see this familiar menu:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 3
As you might imagine, we want to click on “Personalize”, which will bring us here:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 4
This gives us a great overview of our immediately available options and gives us a hint about what we’re going to do next. By default, Windows 7 comes with an array of themes installed. All it takes is clicking on a theme to change your Windows desktop experience with custom sounds, wallpapers and screensavers. Basically going from this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 5
To this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 6
It takes all but a couple of clicks using this official method. Now this is all well and good, but what if you don’t like any of the pre-installed themes? No problem! All we have to do is click on “Get more themes online” in the screen we were just in, and we will be taken to the official Windows themes website. It should look something like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 7
Let’s say that after some exploration, I went into the Art section and I found a theme that I liked. All I have to do is click on “Download”, as shown below:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 8
From there all we have to click on the downloaded file and Windows will take care of the rest. The theme will be installed automatically, and we will be greeted by the “theme and the personalization” screen:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 9
Pretty neat, huh? This, combined with the other tweaks I previously mentioned, is as far as Windows’ default options will take us.

Of course, we’re not stopping here. We’re just getting started.

Next, I’m going to show you one of the unofficial themes – and I’m going to also show you how we can install it as if it were any other program. First off, head to http://deviantart.com and type in “Windows 7 themes”.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 10
It goes without saying that you can change this “Windows 7” search to “Windows 8” or whatever other Windows edition you’re using. For now, searching for “Windows 7 themes”, your results will look like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 11
By default Deviant Art will sort the result by most popular of all time. We could change that with a simple click on the sort menu, but for now we’re going to select one of the popular themes called “Elune“. After clicking on the theme itself, we will get the theme page with a log of the theme’s history as well as author comments and installation instructions:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 12
These instructions (as with most instructions that come with themes) involve installing a program called Universal Theme Patcher, then moving a few files around. It’s a relatively painless process, but luckily for Elune there’s an even simpler way to install it.

To elaborate – Elune comes as part of the theming software called Custopack Tools. So we’re going to go there and download the software:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 13
And install it as any other program. After doing so, we’ll be greeted by the following screen:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 14
We’re going to click on “Download CustoPacks”, which will take us to the following website where we can click on the Elune theme:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 15
This will prompt you to download the theme, which installs pretty seamlessly with the help of CustoPack Tools. After the theme file is finished executing, we’re going to go back to CustoPack Tools and click on “CustomPacks ready to be installed” – this will bring us here:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 16
As you have guessed, all we have to do now is click. The theme will be installed for us, with no further action necessary. After a few moments your entire Windows interface will take on a new form. The changes are noticeable immediately ­– your desktop should look something like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 17
As you can see, there are many changes in the whole visual feel of the desktop. These changes are subtle but numerous, and they make everything feel much more modern, new – and yet, familiar. It doesn’t stray too far away from the more important Windows 7 elements like transparency and cohesiveness, but it does look unique. It should be mentioned that this particular theme also changes the way your login screen looks, though this can be edited with CustoPack Tools.

2.4 Should I Use A Third Party Theme Installer?

My personal recommendation is that you install the themes manually whenever possible. However, using a dedicated installer can save you time and effort if you’re not in the mood to go through the manual process.

2.5 How Do I Revert To The Original Theme?

Going back to basics is extremely simple. However, there are a few differences that you should know about depending on the process you choose at the time you installed the theme in the first place. If you used an official Windows theme, just go back to “Personalization” by right-clicking on your desktop and change the theme like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 18
This will bring things back to normal in a snap. If you used any software while installing your custom theme, the process is the same, but it’s also recommended that you uninstall the software used at the time of installation.

2.6 Is There More?

There’s always more to know about themes. MakeUseOf covers more than what we’ve just said about the default Win7 themes Your Easy Guide to Windows 7 Themes Your Easy Guide to Windows 7 Themes Read More , but you may want more still. If you want a best-of list, see Deviant Art’s great selection of Windows 7 themes, along with plenty of other sites, such as the Subreddit /r/customization. You should easily be able to find something you like.

3. Rainmeter

3.1 What Is Rainmeter?

What do you use your desktop for? You probably have a background image you love, and a few icons, but have you ever thought about adding something…else? Like a clock, or the weather? What about your upcoming calendar appointments?

Rainmeter is a wildly popular program that uses your desktop as a veritable canvas – a canvas for everything from custom icons, widgets and visual controls for media players. It’s easy to use, offers a lot of value and is supported by a large community. All you have to do to get Rainmeter is go to the official website and download the latest stable release.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 19
Rainmeter installs like any other program, so it’ll be a snap.

3.2 Getting Started With Rainmeter

Right after you install Rainmeter, you will see something like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 20
This screen already has a few instructions on how you can get started. The basics of Rainmeter are extremely simple. Right-clicking on this screen will bring up the following menu:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 21
You’re going to want to click on “Unload skin”, which will get rid of this particular skin. I recommend that you mess around with this menu, since it’s very simple to get a grip on it and you’ll get a quick overview of what Rainmeter is about. In any event, right-clicking on the Rainmeter icon in the tray will bring up this menu:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 22
In Rainmeter the icons, widgets and everything else are called “Skins”. Clicking on the Skins part of this menu will bring up the skins you have installed in your system. In my case it looks like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 23
Installing Skins is as simple as finding them and opening them. But where could we find Skins?

3.3 Where Can I Get Custom Skins?

This should seem familiar: let’s go back to http://deviantart.com and search for “Rainmeter”. You’ll see something like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 24
After clicking on one of the search results, we can just click on “Download” like so:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 25
After the file downloads, we’ll double click on it and see this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 26
We’ll just click install, which will make the window go away. That’s ok! It’s what we are looking for. We just need to right-click on the Rainmeter tray icon, then click on Manage. We’ll want to find the folder with the name of the skin we just installed and expand it. We’ll have a look at the multiple components that the skin contains. For the sake of this example, we’re going to double click on the Eker_lina System file:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 27
After double clicking on the file, the widget will appear before our eyes on our desktop:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 28
Voila! Also, you can drag and drop your widgets as if they were regular icons. This capability can also be disabled, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

3.4 What If I Want To Modify Something?

With Rainmeter, it’s expected that you’ll want to modify the components within the skins to fit your specific tastes and needs, so doing so is simple. Just position your mouse on top of the widget in question, then click on “Manage skin”. In this example I’ll go ahead and modify the position of my widget. I just need to modify the value in the Coordinates field and up it from 0 to 500 which will put it near the center:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 29
Simple enough. You can also modify other values such as the ability to save the position of your widget, make it draggable and/or click through a well as many others.

3.5 How Can I Connect Rainmeter To Other Applications?

Some applications, such as music players, can be connected to Rainmeter components. The instructions for connecting these components vary, but it normally involves clicking on the “Edit” button explained above, then modifying a part of the text file that comes up.

3.6 I Want To Get More In-Depth.

This has been a rather shallow look over Rainmeter. As mentioned, Rainmeter doesn’t end there, and there are a lot of things that you can do beyond the scope of what we’ve mentioned. There are plenty of other resources for in-depth Rainmeter customization Geeking Out Your Windows Desktop The Non-Geeky Way With Rainmeter Geeking Out Your Windows Desktop The Non-Geeky Way With Rainmeter This "less geeky version of GeekTool" for Windows allows its users to add and display a variety of modules on the desktop such as a clock, the date, CPU load, RSS feeds, and more. Read More out there, of course, but I’ll cover some of it right here. A good place to start, if you want to start designing your own Rainmeter files, is this official Rainmeter tutorial.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 1
These default tutorials contain a lot of what you need to know to get into it, and even as the site says itself, all you need is Rainmeter, and a text editor. From there, it’s just a matter of experimenting.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 2

3.7 I Want an Alternative

There’s always an alternative, and for Rainmeter one of the best known out there is Samurize. There are already plenty of guides for Samurize out there, too. If you want to delve into Samurize, try it out, and compare the two. Personally, I prefer Rainmeter, but it’s up to you: both applications make it simple to put information directly onto your desktop.

4. Media Players

4.1 How To Customize Your Favorite Media Player

Using Rainmeter as I just showed you above will go to incredible lengths in order to get your computer to look and feel like you want it to. Another critical part in this effort will be to customize your go-to media player. I’m going to go ahead and address the most popular ones, but if I don’t include your favorite player in this list chances are that it’s customizable to some extent and you just need to look up skins for it.

4.1.1 iTunes

Apple’s flagship media player is amongst the most popular players in the world, for PC and Mac alike. Apple is certainly stubborn about their products: they want their users to have a consistent experience across the board. These facts make it a bit hard to customize iTunes, but it’s not impossible. You can do a couple of things to adjust your iTunes player to fit your personal style.

To get started, we’re going to open up iTunes and click on the upper left corner and click on Preferences.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 30
This menu has a lot of options, but we’re going to click on “advanced”. We’ll see that there’s a few options like having the Mini Player on top of all other windows or minimize iTunes to the icon tray so as to avoid closing it easily.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 31
Unfortunately this is pretty much as far as iTunes will let us go in the customization department. You can also activate the mini player by clicking on the top left corner, as shown above.

4.1.2 Foobar2000

Foobar2000 is a very popular media player amongst audiophiles. The quality of sound that this music player offers, coupled with extensive options, makes it an absolute dream for your customization project.

Vanilla Foobar looks pretty dull, and a lot of people dismiss the entire program because of that. You’re not going to make that mistake however: Foobar can be absolutely gorgeous if you take the time to customize it.

MakeUseOf provides a lot of information on Foobar2000 Play Music Like An Audiophile With Foobar2000 [Windows] Play Music Like An Audiophile With Foobar2000 [Windows] Foobar2000 is the desktop music player of choice for audiophiles, tinkerers and anyone looking for a lightweight, efficient program. We have it listed on our page of the best Windows software for a reason, although... Read More , on how to start to how to make it fit you. The multiple options allow for a lot of customization, and once you start getting skins it can look how you want it to.

A great site to get Foobar skins from is Customize. The installation instructions for these skins are simple, and they usually include everything you need in one same zip file. For the sake of this example, I installed a theme called “musikarte”, which has a mini player and large version integrated right in. It took just a few moments to install it and I think it looks great:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 32
Foobar has a plethora of skins available, so surely something will catch your eye!

4.1.3 VLC Media Player

Much like Foobar, VLC has a passionate community of users who like to make their media layers truly “theirs”. All it takes is going the official VLC website for skins to get a glimpse of what I mean:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 33
VLC offers not only one of the most extensive skins libraries – it also offers themes that are among the easiest to install. All it takes to install a skin in VLC is download the file to the skins folder in your installation folder. Then open up VLC, and go to Interface > Choose Skin. Select the skin you want to put on your VLC player:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 34
If you have an older version of VLC, you may have to go to Preferences > Interface and browse for the skin file in the skins section.

VLC can do pretty much anything, if you play with it long enough. You can use VLC to play YouTube videos and playlists Watch Entire YouTube Playlists In VLC, Here's How Watch Entire YouTube Playlists In VLC, Here's How Do you love YouTube playlists, but wish you could watch them outside your browser? You can use VLC for the job, thanks to a simple extension. Here’s how. Read More , and there are many other VLC tips and tricks 6 Cool VLC Tips & Tricks You Might Not Know About 6 Cool VLC Tips & Tricks You Might Not Know About VideoLan's VLC media player is a real box of tricks and is just as effective on a Windows operating system as it is on Mac or Linux. Those of you who are already using VLC... Read More you can use. Along with the vast customization options, VLC is always a great option.

4.1.4 Winamp

You may be a bit surprised to see Winamp in this list of modern, customizable media players. However, Winamp remains one of the most popular music players in the market – even if AOL recently abandoned, then sold the project. This fact likely has to do with the ease of use that the player offers as well as the seemingly endless customizations it offers. MakeUseOf has a guide to show you around Winamp Winamp - A Solid Media Player That Excels in Managing Your Music Collection [Windows] Winamp - A Solid Media Player That Excels in Managing Your Music Collection [Windows] Winamp is a Methuselah among the third party Windows media players. First released in 1997 and originally developed by Nullsoft, it has become a subsidiary of AOL in the meantime. However, it hasn't lost any... Read More when you first download it.

Using a new skin in Winamp is a breeze. All you have to do is go to the official Winamp site for skins and you’ll have instant access to all of their skins.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 35
From there, just download the skins that caught your attention, double click on it and you’ll be prompted with this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 36
Click yes and you’ll get your skins installed and accessible immediately:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 37
This takes about two minutes to accomplish, and you’ll have hundreds of options available for use! If you like customizing your media player, Winamp is still where it’s at.

5. More Apps

There are many, many more apps out there that make it easy to customize your desktop’s look and feel. Let’s go over a few.

5.1 What Is RocketDock?

RocketDock is a tiny application that launches your programs, and is similar to the dock that comes with Mac OS X. There are even OSX skins available for the program, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The most important thing to consider here is the fact that you may not even need RocketDock to begin with!

The reason I say this is because Rainmeter (which I’ve covered extensively throughout this guide) has a lot of functionality overlap with RocketDock. That said, RocketDock does offer a more extensive range of tools that could complement your setup. It’ll be up to you to decide what you need.

Getting RocketDock is as simple as going to their site and clicking the download tab. You’ll be taken to the download page where you can find an array of the latest versions of RocketDock. My recommendation is to click on the download button, which will download the latest stable release:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 38
It installs as any other program. Open the program when finished installing to get started and you’re good to go!

5.1.1 Getting Started With RocketDock

Immediately after installing and opening RocketDock you will see the default dock, which looks something like this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 39
It has a few items already included for you and including more is simple. All you have to do is right-click on the dock itself and you’ll see this menu:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 40
As you can see, there are several options for you to add. You can add everything from a blank icon to the recycle bin as well as any file or path (which is good for programs) within your system. You also have options to lock items, hide the dock when not in use automatically and several other handy options.

5.1.2 Advanced Customization

Right out of the box RocketDock offers a very healthy selection of skins available for immediate use. All we have to do is click on “Dock preferences” and select the theme from the list as such:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 41
This is great if you’re happy with the themes already provided, but what if you want to install a different theme that you saw on the Internet? Just like VLC, installing new themes for RocketDock is very simple. Download the file, the put it in the dedicated skins folder within the installation folder (normally found at C:/Program Files/RocketDock). After doing this, you can select it from the menu. Using this method I got an OSX theme from the official skins site for RocketDock:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 42
And the result was this:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 43
It looks pretty good already, and I could change the icons using the exact same method. There are thousands of possible combinations and options available with RocketDock, so definitely make sure to check it out if you think this kind of setup is attractive.

If you still wish to customize it further, MakeUseOf has a tutorial on how to get the Stacks Docklet RocketDock + Stacks Docklet: Not Just A Dock, But A Complete Desktop Organization Solution [Windows] RocketDock + Stacks Docklet: Not Just A Dock, But A Complete Desktop Organization Solution [Windows] RocketDock has been one of the best choices for a Mac-like dock in Windows for years. That's why it's on our Best Of Windows Software page. In fact, you've probably heard of it. But there's... Read More , so you can have a folder on the taskbar that opens upwards and you can select from there.

5.1.3 RocketDock Alternatives

If you don’t wish to use RocketDock for whatever reason, there is a paid alternative called ObjectDock. It has the same abilities as RocketDock, though it is a bit newer and is also customizable. MakeUseOf goes into the settings and advanced settings of ObjectDock ObjectDock: Quickly Customize Your Desktop And Increase Its Functionality [Windows] ObjectDock: Quickly Customize Your Desktop And Increase Its Functionality [Windows] By now, you may have already heard of ObjectDock – It’s no stranger to those of us keen on Windows customization. It has actually been around for quite some time, so you might even consider... Read More .

5.2 Fences

Fences, a program created by Stardock, is an application that allows you to create small fences on the desktop Turn Your Windows Desktop From Cluttered To Useful For Free With Fences Turn Your Windows Desktop From Cluttered To Useful For Free With Fences I'd like to start this post with a small request: Hit Win+D for me. I'll wait here. Go ahead, do it. Okay, done? What did you see? Was it a hot mess of cluttered icons... Read More , which can help you sort the clutter on your desktop. Try it out using the 30-day trial, if you’re curious.

5.2.1 Getting Started

When you download the free version of Fences, and navigate through signing up and finally open the actual app, you should be greeted with this screen:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 3
The actual fences themselves are not much more than folders that let you see the contents a bit more openly, but the look and feel can turn a lot of clutter into a comparatively neat desktop.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 4
Once downloaded, you can create a Fence by dragging across the desktop, like you would to select several programs.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 5
From there, the Fence will be created, and you’ll be given the option to name the Fence, and then drop in any items you want.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 6
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 7
If your desktop is a clutter of icons, this can help.

5.2.2 More Customization

That isn’t the end of it, of course. Fences offers a lot more options so you can personalize it just a little bit more.

A helpful feature it includes is the Desktop quick-hide, which allows you to double-click on the desktop to hide all folders – perfect if you want a little less clutter for a while.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 8
Another very helpful feature is the ability to create desktop ‘pages’. Operating a lot like a touch device, you can switch in between these ‘pages’ and place Fences elsewhere, in case you want to segregate them.

Lastly, if you dislike the colour of the default Fences, you can always change it so it looks they way you want.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 9
Fences allows you to customize each individual Fence, so each one is distinct from the others. It looks very nice, and gives some more style to the desktop, rather than meaningless clutter.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 10

6. Best-Of: Instant Customization

6.1 Best-Of List

While you may want to go for a system that really fits you, I understand that sometimes you just want it to look a bit better than the default themes and skins that Windows 7 has to offer. So here is an Arbitrary List of everything you NEED if you want a custom-to-order computer, and make sure it runs in tip-top shape:

  1. Universal Theme Patcher: Without this, nothing happens. There are other applications that can help you, sure, but I think this is extremely easy, and as long as you know how to open a folder and drag files into said folder, you’ll be good too. The Step-by-Step guide below can help you with that.
  2. Start Orb Changer: Once you change your theme, you might want to change your Start Button How To Change & Customize The Windows 7 Start Button Orb How To Change & Customize The Windows 7 Start Button Orb Read More . Once you have the .bmp file where you need it, the Orb Changer can let you navigate to it (remember to run as admin) and then select it, changing it to however you want it. MakeUseOf, along with the Step-by-Step guide below, can help you figure it out.
  3. Rainmeter: This is the widget king. The extent to which you can modify this is astounding, and there is no end to the tutorials and guides that can help you make Rainmeter fit Geeking Out Your Windows Desktop The Non-Geeky Way With Rainmeter Geeking Out Your Windows Desktop The Non-Geeky Way With Rainmeter This "less geeky version of GeekTool" for Windows allows its users to add and display a variety of modules on the desktop such as a clock, the date, CPU load, RSS feeds, and more. Read More .
  4. Fences: Fences is beyond helpful in organizing clutter and making your desktop a bit more pretty. You can change the colours of the fences how you wish, label them, and drop in all the files that we know are cluttering your desktop. Section 5.2 can tell you how to use it.
  5. YouTube Center: If you browse YouTube frequently, and despise slow loading times, get this. It allows you to turn off the DASH playback that causes such long loads, so you can actually watch a 1080p video without too much buffering.
  6. VLC Player: There’s always going to be a debate on what’s the best media player, and for here I’ve decided that VLC will take the pedestal. Along with the vast customization options, it offers a wealth of other abilities, from playing some videos to actually streaming YouTube videos and playlists Watch Entire YouTube Playlists In VLC, Here's How Watch Entire YouTube Playlists In VLC, Here's How Do you love YouTube playlists, but wish you could watch them outside your browser? You can use VLC for the job, thanks to a simple extension. Here’s how. Read More within the VLC application.
  7. Flux: It’s very unhealthy to stare at a screen at night. The blues in the light simulate sunlight, and it means that getting to sleep can be a lot harder. Flux solves this problem, by reducing the blue hues as day turns to night Use F.lux To Sleep Better After Late-Night Computer Activities Use F.lux To Sleep Better After Late-Night Computer Activities If you look carefully, most of LCD monitors have a button to automatically change the attributes of the screen to adjust for the types of media which is being viewed. Read More . It takes a while to get used to it, but you’ll sleep better, and it reduces strain on the eyes.
  8. Classic Shell: Many who switched to Windows 8 instantly disliked it for a lot of reasons, but especially the death of the start menu. This problem is (partially) solved with the 8.1 update, but this application should let you get back that beloved windows button – and its menu.
  9. DisplayFusion: There are those of us out there who use two monitors at once, and are failed by the way Windows handles this. No stretching background, no continuous taskbar. So let me save you and tell you about DisplayFusion. It has a plethora of abilities, allowing for that stretched background, for a continuous taskbar. If you go with the Pro version, it even lets you manage the login screen and some other options to smooth out the experience. I recommend it for anyone with a multi-monitor display. If you want some alternatives, here’s a helpful collection of some other multi-screen options 3 Useful Programs That Help Manage Multiple Monitors 3 Useful Programs That Help Manage Multiple Monitors Read More .

With this collection of applications, you can turn your slow, default desktop into a customized and solid-looking contraption that runs well and doesn’t bother you too much.

6.2 Suggested Themes

Wondering which themes to start with? Here are a few of my favorites:

Placebo for Windows 7: A darker theme, it changes the normal Aero bar to a darker solid look, contrasting against a white filler for the menus. The minimize, fill, and close are buttons slightly highlighted.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 11
Mac OS for Windows 7: On the other end of the spectrum, you can give Windows the smooth look of OSX, without having to sacrifice any power (or build a hackintosh). The theme itself is part of a much larger pack, which really goes overboard in providing the full OSX experience. Click on the link to find out how, but I warn you: it’s a lot of files.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 12
Planisphere for Windows 7: One of my favourites, it really remakes the Windows 7 look, opting for a full on black look with a beautiful red trim. It’s a great theme, and I would definitely suggest it if you don’t know what to choose.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 13
If you still want a more comprehensive list of great 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 , Google is your best friend.

6.3 Quick and Easy

I get that oftentimes, you don’t want to have to go through reading an entire tutorial just to get somewhere relatively simple. Some people prefer just to have a slightly different look, and don’t want to spend too much time on it. So here’s a small collection of quick changes you can make to change up your desktop; a playlist, if you will.

  1. Fences for organization. Quick and relatively easy to install.
  2. Windows Themes straight from the official site. Very easy to download, no real effort required.
  3. CursorFX, another program brought to you by Stardock, allows you to change the cursor itself, within a nice little UI that is simple to navigate.

Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 22
And you can always download more cursors too!

Lastly, MakeUseOf goes over how to customize your login 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 , so you never have to stare at that bright blue picture in the morning.

6.4 Step by Step

Maybe you aren’t terribly tech-savvy, but still want a nicer desktop. This section is tailored primarily to guide you through each and every single thing you have to do to have a theme installed. From there, there is always a wealth of guides to help you install even more. Let’s begin!

Install Universal Theme Patcher and run as administrator, either opening x64 or x86 if you run a 64-bit or 32-bit system, respectively. You can check by either holding the Windows button and Pause-Break key simultaneously, or by right clicking on Computer in the file manager. Either way, you’ll end up at this screen, where you can find your system type.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 14
Once you open the correct program (running as an administrator), patch each of the files available, then restart when it prompts you.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 15
What this does it removes some limits that prevent Windows from using third party themes. Now, you can use them as you please!

The next step is to find a theme. For this, we are going to download Planisphere, the theme I mentioned earlier. Go to the site and download it from the top right corner.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 16
Once the folder is downloaded, move it to your desktop and open it up. Inside you should find several folders. For this guide, we are going to focus on the Start button and theme itself.

For the Start Button, we need to download a program called the Start Orb Changer. It’s very simple. Once downloaded, run as administrator, and you’ll be greeted with the interface
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 17
As you can see, I already have the start button installed. What you are going to want to do is click on Change, and navigate to the Planisphere folder (should be on your desktop). From there, go into the Start Button folder, the BMPS folder, then you’ll be faced with the option to choose from the four .bmp image files. Click on one of them, and you should be greeted with a success notification!
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 18
You should now have the fancy new start button. But so far, that’s the only thing you have. Not to worry, though, since now we’ll learn how to install the theme! Navigate to the theme folder within planisphere. You should be greeted with several .theme files, and a single folder called Planisphere.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 19
You should now make another file manager window, and navigate to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes. I suggest putting that straight into the address bar of the manager. From there, drag both the Planisphere folder and the Planisphere .theme file into the other window that has that new address in it.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 20
As you can see, I have the .theme file and Planisphere folder both ready. Now, double click on the .theme folder, and wait.
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization B IMG 21
Ta-da! You can see, if your taskbar is at the bottom of the taskbar, that the new theme has loaded. While the forwards and backwards buttons may still need updating, it should still look pretty good. If you really want to update these, there are always tutorials out there to make use of, and great communities such as the Subreddit /r/customization that will happily answer your questions.

7. Wrapping Up

7.1 Making It All Come Together

Given how different everyone’s tastes are, my recommendation will be to explore all the different outlets I’ve mentioned in order to see what you like. Find something that suits your specific tastes and needs.

In my case, I was delighted with a simple setup with just a few Rainmeter components and my Foobar2000 installation customized with the theme I previously mentioned. Please, take a look:
Your Complete Guide To Windows Customization Windows Customization IMG 44
I think the balance between style and functionality is perfect for me, but like I said, it all depends on the kind of setup you’re looking for.

7.2 Best Practices

If you follow the approach that I’m suggesting – basically trying a lot of things until you find something that works for you, you will inevitably grow a bit of an overhead in your computer. Rainmeter occupies very little resources, same goes for RocketDock. That said, keeping your Skins folders uncluttered is a great idea: you’ll avoid confusion if you change the layout.

It’s also recommended that you only download and install themes and skins from reputable websites (the official ones are great) and check continuously for new updates on both your skins and your software.

7.3 More Resources

There are many of additional resources you can check out in order to customize your Windows desktop experience even further.

Probably one of the best websites anywhere in the world for this kind of project is the Rainmeter Subreddit, which includes an enormous amount of screenshots of people’s desktop setups using Rainmeter. I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to use some of the components used in there for your own desktop. The great news is that the posters usually include all the used components for Rainmeter and even the wallpapers!

Also, even though I mentioned this site previously, I strongly encourage you to use DeviantArt in order to get new components and find new setups that you can use as inspiration. The community of this site is very passionate about making their computers their own, so surely you’ll find something that catches your attention. Have fun!

Guide Published: January 2014

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  1. Andrew
    May 22, 2015 at 12:33 pm

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