This is my most popular post to date, which doesn’t mean much but please use the share links at the bottom if you liked it
Microsoft Windows does offer a host of ways to customize you UI but it falls short for some users because once you want to change something that isn’t meant to be changed you’ll hit a very sturdy brick wall. Here are some ways you can make your Windows into your Windows, FOR FREE. First off let me say I in no way guarantee these customizations will work on your PC but the should. My PC is a 64 bit Windows 7 box - which hopefully means any PC from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will support this.
Change your Wallpaper
Windows has implemented a background slideshow allowing you to select many pictures and have your wallpaper cycle through them. This does not mean choose every picture you own, instead make sure you have a wallpaper folder than contains high resolution images than were hopefully meant to be wallpapers. I cannot say how much it pains me to see someone set an image that is 300X400 as there desktop wallpaper and set the mode to stretch. IT LOOKS BAD. DON’T DO IT! By allowing you to customize your PC Microsoft has also allowed you to make it look absolutely hideous, take care to choose something that looks good.
Tweak your Start menu
What you so here is not terribly important to the overall feel but its still nice to do. Start off by changing the number of recent programs that are displayed on the start menu: Right Click on the start menu and click properties > start menu > Customize here you can see a bunch of options including what links to show on the menu and how many items in the jump lists (Windows 7).
Tweak the Taskbar
Another small change to get the full date in the taskbar as well as a custom message in the time: Right click on the clock > click Adjust date/time > Change date and time > Change calendar settings here you can see all the settings for your clock here are my settings to get the long date format in the taskbar. To get the message simply go to the time tab of this dialog box and add whatever you want into the AM/PM symbol boxes.
For me Rainmeter was the biggest and best step toward customizing my desktop it allows you to monitor almost every aspect of you PC and display it on the desktop in every way imaginable here you can see two of my themes. The first one is a modified version (heavily) of Simple Sentence 2 it shows all my PC info in sentences and displays three RSS feeds. The second one has since been modified. (and looks much better thanks) in this one some of the themes at work are: CornerClock, Ants Marching(meters), Windows 8 bar (taskbar), Simple Sentence (weather), Simple Slideshow (slideshow), Enigma (stocks/RSS), Darklines (CPU temp) most of them have been modified by me to fit in with the others. If you notice the icons on the dock at the bottom they belong to a separate app called Rocketdock which is the next step.
This step is (for me) just to see how far you can go away from the Windows GUI without actually leaving. hiding the Windows Taskbar is difficult to do so I didn’t bother I just supplemented it with RocketDock a handy reliable dock for Windows. It’s fast, lightweight, and customizable the above screenshot shows it blending with Rainmeter quite nicely using the Token Dark icons and them default theme Blank. There are a bunch of free docks around like XWindowsDock. For me none of them compare to the Windows taskbar but they can be used in addition to it as launchers and eye candy.
Get your WMP skinned
I’ve stopped doing this because I actually prefer the default look of Windows Media Player and the skins by comparison tend to be ugly or cluttered (sorry skinners) and I need something that fits with the rest of my "look" not try to create an entirely new one.
This is by far the most useful and nicely done app I have ever had the pleasure of using it is always among the first programs I install on a new computer and it never leaves. Honestly kudos to the developer for making it free. Speedfan does several things well but the thing it does best is Show your core temperatures and regulate the fan speed. In the above picture I have set it to always show a dynamic icon in the notification area. I’ve also changed the icon color to match the white Windows icons. Perfect integration. (the circle isn’t part of the icon it was ‘shopped for effect)
Explorer background images
I recently read an article on Lifehacker (great site full of articles like this) on how to change the background image in explorer what I didn’t know was that the little app that does it allowed you to specify which folders had images and what those images were. Vey slick. Here is an example using my Photoshopped version of a Bioshock poster. Download it at the Windows Club
There are a ton of tiny things you can do to make your PC look however you want it and lots of them are free. This lists contains only free and lightweight apps but if you don’t mind paying for some head over to WindowsBlinds and Stardock.
*note on the wallpapers: I have NO idea where these came from. sorry.
I have long been a PC user and have dabbled in many different areas of computing which has given me an opportunity to use many different programs. So I have picked my favourites for almost every imaginable task. All these programs are run on my dirt cheap laptop with 2 GB RAM and a Windows Experience Index of 3.1 on Windows 7 release candidate.
- Adobe Air: Lightweight Apps – Allows me to run apps such as a Facebook client, Fontpicker, scheduler (Klok).
- Adobe.com: Collaboration/Screen sharing – Upload files to access them anywhere or share your screen with a partner.
- Adobe Media Player: Media/FLV – I originally used a codec on Windows Media Player to play .FLV’s but found it to be too buggy. I’m sure there is a better alternative, but it works
- Adobe Master Collection CS4: Image editing/Video editing/Desktop Publishing – Edit everything. Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat and so much more. The best of the best.
- AutoDesk Maya PLE 8.5: 3D Animation/Modeling – This I have for the sake of learning and I couple it with 3D Studio Max to take care of every 3D need I could have.
- AVG Free 8.5: Virus Protection – The best free antivirus solution available by far. I’m waiting to upgrade to the new version this week.
- Destroy Twitter: Blogging/Networking – Free twitter client for your desktop.
- DivX: Media/DivX – Well this one is obvious DivX is one of the most popular codecs out there you need it.
- DVDShrink: Backup/DVD ripping – A free and very useful DVD ripping application.
- ElectricSheep Screensaver: Fun/Screensaver – The coolest screensaver available it connects to the net to download and evolve new fractal patterns.
- FileZilla: FTP – Free FTP solution quick and easy to use.
- Google Chrome: Browser – A simple and effective browser from Google I use it to test website designs.
- Google Earth: Mapping/Directions/Fun – An interactive globe that is beyond compare. View anything on earth or mars.
- Microsoft Visual Studio 2010: Application development – I grabbed the free beta on this and have used it for C#, C++, VB and HTML.
- Mozilla Firefox: Browser – In my opinion the best browser out there because of its customizability.
- Open Office 3.1: Productivity – A free fully compatible alternative to Microsoft Office.
- Photosynth: Fun/Photo tool – I haven’t really used this much but it basically links photos together to created 3D interactive views of an area…
- Picasa 3: Photo Albums – An excellent photo organizing tool that does so much from face recognition to geotagging to editing.
- PoweISO: Virtual Disk/ISO/Disk Images – Capable of mounting up to 8 virtual drives as well as handling almost every disk image available.
- RadarSync: Updating/Drivers – I almost never use this anymore. keeps your PC up to date by checking for the latest drivers and program updates.
- Smart Project’s ISOBuster: ISO/Disk images - Another extractor but lacking in mounting options
- SpeedFan: Utilities/Fan/Info - A free program that shows your core temp and allows you to adjust many system level functions such as fan speed/voltage.
- Universal Extractor: Extracting - Name says it all extracts almost every archive format from ZIP to RAR.
- Windows 7 Codecs: Media/Codec – Allows Windows Media Player to play almost every media format.
- Windows Live Essentials: Photo/Messaging/Blogging/Video/Email/Phone – Microsoft’s Free app suite that includes a Mail program, Instant Messenger, Blogging software, Video maker, Photo editor. Well rounded and a must have for me.
- uTorrent: Downloads/Torrents - Lightweight and awesome the best torrent app around.
- Zbrush: 3D Models – A 3D program that is best described as painting in 3D.
These are just my picks if I have access to these I am a happy camper. These are all used in conjunction with the default programs such as Media Player, Notepad, Internet Explorer ect. If you have these you can essentially do anything with a PC.
Please comment and leave your suggestions for alternatives or programs I missed.
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Yes go I know there has been a non-stop coverage of the Windows 7 release, reviews, prediction, comparisons, general discussion, idle commentary its actually gotten quite annoying to me at least and I am a supporter of many Microsoft products but it has gotten quite tiresome nonetheless as I have been using the Release Candidate of Microsoft’s Windows 7 for since the day it first came available some months ago. I can only repeat what many other reviewers have said: Windows 7 is a superb OS that finally delivers what Vista promised.
I’ll give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt with Vista there are two explanations that are not mutually exclusive for the failure that was Vista:
- Microsoft needed to make a major update to Windows. Vista was a brand new OS rewritten from the ground up that made many necessary changes to the core of Windows. Unfortunately Microsoft moved too quickly consumers were not prepared to run the new OS even putting aside the flaws in it the OS ended up being clunky – I myself never really had a problem with Vista but I did notice several quirks and from the general reaction of other users it was bug ridden and slow so much so that people wanted to revert to XP.
- I am not sure the exact company but I believe it was Coca-Cola that released New Coke which the public hated causing them to bring back Coke Classic which made them a huge profit. Microsoft may have done something similar and tried to kill two birds with one stone by making some major updates to its OS in the process. I think that they underestimated the problems with Vista and the public dislike for it. With Windows 7 Microsoft has brought back “Coke Classic” so to speak reaffirming the Windows brand in the eyes of consumers.
That said I fully endorse anyone who can afford it to upgrade to Windows 7 as it is truly the best Windows to date, just as it should be. Windows 7 Release Candidate is far more stable than Vista ever was my record uptime is: 34 Days 4 Hours give or take several minutes. Here are the specs for this old Compaq laptop:
OS Name Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate
Version 6.1.7100 Build 7100
Other OS Description Not Available
OS Manufacturer Microsoft Corporation
System Manufacturer Hewlett-Packard
System Model Compaq Presario C700 Notebook PC
System Type X86-based PC
Processor Intel(R) Pentium(R) Dual CPU T2370 @ 1.73GHz, 1733 Mhz, 2 Core(s), 2 Logical Processor(s)
BIOS Version/Date Hewlett-Packard F.33, 29/04/2008
SMBIOS Version 2.4
Installed Physical Memory (RAM) 2.00 GB
Total Physical Memory 1.99 GB
Available Physical Memory 935 MB
Total Virtual Memory 3.98 GB
Available Virtual Memory 2.28 GB
Nothing impressive here but still it ran beautifully for over a month of continuous daily use. My biggest complaint is the price of the upgrade to Ultimate when the evaluation period runs out and I have to pay for it, $300 is a tad much for my meager income.
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