Using live desktop wallpaper is a great alternative to bland photos that you never get around to changing. They can help you relax, improve your mood, or even get you hyped ahead of a big event.
Sadly, Windows no longer offers native animated wallpapers; they’ve not been included since Windows Vista. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have one though, you’ll just have to use a third-party tool. Which tool you’ll need depends on which version of Windows you have – check out our guide for more information.
A Word of Warning
Before we proceed, it is important to make sure that you understand exactly what a live wallpaper entails.
Sure, they can provide some pleasing eye-candy, but it comes at a cost. Battery life will suffer, and if you have an older machine you’ll almost certainly find that your computer’s speed will also suffer.
In fact, most live wallpapers will consume between six and nine percent of your processing power, with the average hovering around 7 percent. If you’ve got one of the newest Intel chips it won’t be a problem, but if you’re using a 2009 netbook you might encounter difficulties.
That said, most third-party software comes with a pause button, so problems can be mitigated; but if you find yourself using pause too often, there really is no point in having a live desktop in the first place, you’d be better sticking to exciting screensavers.
1. For the Patriot: Desktop Flag 3D
A country’s flag is probably its most well-known image on the world stage. From the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes to the Nisshiki of Japan and the Auriverde of Brazil, the most famous flags are instantly recognizable.
The Desktop Flag 3D wallpaper lets you choose from 192 different flags, each of which is given a “blowing in the wind” effect. The software also includes the United Nations flag, the Olympic flag, the European flag, the Red Cross flag, and the Jolly Roger Pirate flag, so you’re not limited to just countries.
You can choose from ten different background colors, or you can add you own photo.
2. For the Computer Geek (1): Rainmeter
Rainmeter is already a well-known piece of software in its own right, and is probably the most popular desktop customization program for Windows.
Its list of features is diverse and varied. For example, you can:
- Easily monitor system data, including CPU power, battery levels, Internet connectivity, etc.,
- add personal widgets, such as email accounts, RSS feeds, note-taking tools, and local weather forecasts,
- control your computer’s media, and
- launch apps.
3. For the Peaceful Person: Blue Ocean Aquarium
Nothing says peace and relaxation quite like a tropical aquarium (there’s a reason that all dentists have one!).
The beauty of the Blue Ocean Aquarium wallpaper is the diversity of the color you see on the screen; it’s bright, fun, and full of life. It features more than 25 types of real tropical fish, including Yellow Tang, Rock fish, Sea Horses, Butterfly fish, Fire-Queen Angels, and Sea Crab, as well as coral and anemone.
It also has plenty of settings so you can get it running exactly the way you want. They include a one-click option to hide and un-hide desktop icons, a pause button, and customizable timers.
4. For the Creative Person: Make Your Own Slideshow
Although it’s not strictly a “live” desktop, Windows does offer a great way to keep your desktop looking fresh with its slideshow feature. The premise is simple – just add your favorite photos into a folder, then use that folder as the basis for your desktop images.
To enable the slideshow feature, head to Start > Settings > Personalization > Background and select Slideshow from the dropdown menu. You’ll be prompted to select the folder you want to use (pro tip: you can choose a OneDrive folder), as well as how often you want the image to change.
5. For the Computer Geek (2): Fences
If you’re the type of user who always has a cluttered desktop, this could be the answer to your prayers. Fences is akin to a virtual desk-tidy, letting you ring-fence different types of apps, shortcuts and files so you can easily find them. For example, you could put all your design tools into one fence, or all the files relating to a project you’re currently working on into another.
The fence areas themselves are shaded grey and are scrollable, so you can put an unlimited number of objects into each area. Lastly, it will let you create rules – you can just add a target folder and the files within that folder will automatically be displayed on your desktop.
6: For the Science Lover: Space Wormhole
Do you dream of flying to outer space at the speed of light? Although Windows doesn’t quite have the required power to send you there, you can at least recreate it with this awesome background. You can choose from six different wormhole colors, each of which offers users a slightly different graphical presentation.
Warning: these backgrounds are bright – if you want a more mellow computer-using experience, you should give them a wide berth.
7: For the TV Lover: Sex and the City
Ok, so this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but for lovers of the hit TV series it’s amazing.
Sex in the City was a huge success when it hit our TV screens in 1998. It ran for six seasons, won seven Emmy awards, eight Golden Globes, and spawned two feature-length films. To this day, it retains a huge cult following, with hundreds of fan sites and Internet forums dedicated to the antics of Sarah Jessica Parker and Co.
The live wallpaper has four different slideshows to choose from, though one downside is that none of the images feature group shots of the cast.
8: For the Dreamer: Dreamscene Video
With Dreamscene Video you can float away with the clouds or lie in rolling green pastures, all thanks to their awesome video desktop series.
The package contains more than 20 videos, covering everything from gorgeous sunsets and asteroids to shoals of fish and waterfalls.
The best part: You can add your own videos!
What’s Your Favorite Live Desktop?
Have you found some cool live desktops that aren’t on our list? Perhaps you tried some of the above and loved them? Which was your favorite?
If you didn’t like any of them, you still have other options. Check out our article on setting any animated GIF as your wallpaper, which is a great substitute for live wallpapers. If you prefer a static image, you can find the perfect option for your desktop on these dark wallpaper sites.