I think the main thing that drove me to go out in search of something new wasn’t so much a desire to change operating systems, but to change the appearance of my desktop. Other than subtle changes and new features, the Windows desktop hasn’t really changed dramatically over the years. The same is not true for Linux, where users have so many cool desktop OS’s to choose from – like Mint, Unity or Gnome.
Creating Your Own Cool Desktop Environment
I could always transition to Linux, but being so embedded into the Windows culture and not having a whole lot of extra time on my hands to learn a new operating system, I decided to strike out in search of apps that could really transform the Windows 7 desktop experience so that it is no longer recognizable.
The first app that you’ll need to install in this Emerge/Enigma/Rainmeter configuration is Emerge Desktop. I spotted some pretty amazing Emerge setups on the web and decided that it would make the best platform to customize my desktop. Once you install Emerge, you’ll always have the option to switch back to Windows Explorer as the Shell if you don’t like Emerge.
When you switch your shell setting over to Emerge and then reboot the computer, you’ll notice that your Windows start menu, taskbar and apps tray looks very different. You’ve got the tray where you can “pin” commonly used apps, but to the right of this you also have what I call a “quick-access” tray, which displays all open apps. No more alt-tab or searching for the window – the app icon is always displayed on this bar if there is a window open for it.
Then you’ve got the start menu, which is almost 100% customizable. The default setup is shown below, but using the configuration settings, you can add or remove apps, folders, shortcuts, scripts and anything else you can think of.
You can do this in the Workspace Configuration section of the settings area. As you can see below, adding and removing apps and formatting it is about as easy as it gets.
Above all, the coolest thing about Emerge is the fact that you can hold down the control key and then drag each part of the toolbar anywhere on the screen where you want to anchor it. Want active apps shown at the top of the screen – just drag them there. Want the start menu on the right side instead of the left? Not a problem!
Integrating Rainmeter & The Enigma Skin
Aside from having the ability to move sections of the toolbar anywhere on the screen, I also wanted the ability to transform the desktop itself into an environment that looks nothing like Windows. Yes, maybe even a little more like a Linux desktop.
After hunting around various forums and blogs for ideas, I decided to give Rainmeter a spin, and utilize the Enigma skin for a cool look. Rainmeter is a desktop customization platform. It allows you to add widgets, themes and other elements to your Windows Desktop that just blows things like Windows 7 gadgets completely out of the water. Here’s Rainmeter installed with the Enigma Skin on my desktop.
Along the right side of the screen (or anywhere else), you can customize RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, various apps and other tools that actually make your desktop useful, rather than just cluttered.
Along the bottom of the desktop, you’ll see a ribbon where you can configure quick launching for your favorite apps. With Emerge installed, this ribbon rests just above the toolbar.
This setup, of course, is just default. You can completely customize either Emerge or the Enigma setup to lay out your desktop however you like. The limit here is only your own creativity – just about anything you want to do is possible.
Enigma is easy to configure – just right click on the left side of the ribbon strip and choose configuration. On the Enigma Configure screen you’ll see every element of the skin that you can customize, like the apps that display on the ribbon, or the username and password for the Twitter RSS feed.
In fact, right clicking and searching through the “Enigma” menu system, you’ll see just how many awesome apps and features are available to add to your desktop.
What I like most about this particular setup is that Enigma is very subdued and uncluttered. Rainmeter offers just unbelievable flexibility, and the Emerge desktop shell gives you the start menu/explorer sort of access that you’re used to as a Windows user. You do need to download Rainmeter before downloading the Enigma skin, but enabling the skin is just a matter of selecting it from inside Rainmeter.
So go ahead and give these three programs a try and see how much it transforms your Windows experience. Do you like the flexibility and the available features? Are there any other skins for Rainmeter that you like better? Share your insight in the comments section below!