First and foremost welcome to my little tutorial on desktop customization. I decided to write this because sometimes people ask me what I use to customize my desktop. This is for Windows XP, I’m not using Vista on this computer, but most of the programs used here are valid to be used in Vista. Someday I will make one concerning Linux. Now on with the show… So bare in mind this is more XP focused but Vista users should be able to use most of the stuff presented here.
Below you can see one of my desktop screenshots that you can also find in my gallery. I marked the most important regions on the image with numbers and will go into detail explanation of each of them.
For all these systems check DeviantART or WinCustomize or their official websites for more Widgets.
Table of Contents
Other Applications and Resources
- 12. Widgets
- 13. Rainlendar
- 14. Window Blinds
- 15. Windows XP PowerToys
- 16. TuneUp
- 17. StyleXP
- 18. Windows Logons
- 19. Litestep
- 20. Transformation Packs
Number one is my desktop icons. As you can see they are like Mac Icons with text information about size, number of files, etc. This is AveDesk running. Avedesk allows you among other things to create desktop icons (called Pidlshortcut). The program is pretty lightweight, on my system with the configuration you can see in the screenshot it only takes about 1 – 3 MB of my system RAM. It supports all the common Dock Icons, so if you are looking for ways to customize your AveDesk shortcuts you can browse/search DeviantART or Iconfactory for example.
If you want to use the specific icons I’m using in the screenshot, they are called HydroPro – HP and you can find them here.
You can also see a video on Youtube on how to configure Avedesk.
2. Visual Style
Visual styles are the most important part of desktop customization since it’s what have the most impact on visualization and in the system. There are lots of Visual Styles available over the Internet, as always I recommend DeviantART (for XP or here for Vista) as a good spot to find them, WinCustomize or even WinMatrix.
Ok, now to the important part about using Custom Visual Styles on Windows. By default Microsoft doesn’t allow you to use any theme other then the official ones (digitally signed). So you have to modify a file (UxTheme.dll) in order to be able to use them. So what do we do? We use a patcher, there are several that you can use. Foremost see what version of Windows you are using. They are available for all Service Pack Versions, for XP and for Vista. WinMatrix got a nice little guide on how to patch the file for Windows XP:
How To Replace Uxtheme.dll for Windows XP
1. First of all delete uxtheme.dll file from C:\Windows\system32\dllcache and C:\Windows\ServicePackFiles\i386
2. Navigate to C:\Windows\system32 and backup the original uxtheme.dll by renaming it or by copying it on your desktop.
3. Paste the patched or hacked uxtheme.dll (which you downloaded from here) to C:\Windows\system32.
* You should get a pop-up windows titled “Windows File Protection”. Click on OK.
* You should then see a second Windows File Protection pop-up window asking you to insert your SP2 CD. Click on Cancel.
* You’ll then get a third pop-up window asking you if you are sure you want to keep the unrecognised file. Click Yes.
* If you get another pop-us then ignore it and reboot your PC.
Congratulations you are now ready to use third-party visual styles.
After you patched Windows (take attention to the instructions) you are ready to use the Visual Styles. Normally it’s simple as downloading it, extracting it into a folder, search for the .msstyle file and execute it. A Preview of the theme should come up, tune it up and hit ok. You also have the option to add the themes to the Resources folder by default in C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes so that they will always appear in the Appearance Tab of the Windows Display Properties.
If you are wondering what Visual Style I’m using, it’s Royale Vista II by Dobee. You can download it here.
1. Login as a user with Administrative privileges -or- have Administrative credentials ready (check under the keyboard for a slip of paper).
2. Navigate to %systemroot%\System32
3. Right-click uxtheme.dll and click properties.
4. Take ownership of the file and close dialogs.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for themeui.dll and shsvcs.dll
6. Right-click uxtheme.dll and click properties.
7. Give yourself (or group) Full Control permissions and close dialogs.
8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for themeui.dll and shsvcs.dll.
9. Rename uxtheme.dll to uxtheme.old.
10. Rename themeui.dll to themeui.old.
11. Rename shsvcs.dll to shsvcs.old.
12. Copy patched files into %systemroot%\System32
13. Reboot (yes, this is really required)
Wallpapers are without a doubt the most prominent part of the Desktop, they are the most important element defining the customization style. Wallpapers are little showcases of Art and a feast for the eyes. :)
Wallpapers are probably some of the most searched items on the Internet, and because of that you can find several sites linking them. Among my favourites are DeviantArt, Interface Lift and PixelGirl Presents.
The wallpaper in the my desktop screenshot is called Synth, you can find it among others in my 49 Amazing Wallpapers Post.
4. CD Art Display
CD Art Display is an application compatible with a large array of media players displaying, like it’s own name indicates, the CD Cover Art on your desktop. Its idea is based around a similar Mac program called Coversutra. It’s really easy to install and configure. After downloading it you extract it and run it directly from the folder, doesn’t require any installation.
You can find more skins in the official site or on deviantart. Skins are extracted into the Skins directory inside the CD Art Display program folder, if it doesn’t exist, created one… And Rock On! :devil:
5. Weather Widget
Now with the Weather Widget. Weather Widget is a Desklet, and therefore part of AveDesk but I decided to separate it from the first topic.
The reason for this is that like other Desklets, this Weather Desklet, Nice Weather requires another plugin called SysStats. SysStats is very easy to install. Just decompress it and put the resulting folder inside AveDesk folder. You should have now inside AveDesk folder another folder called Docklets with SysStats folder inside. Restart AveDesk and it should be working now. Next step is to look for other Desklets/Docklets. For this go to DockEX website, AveDesk Website or DeviantART.
SysStats Docklets normally are extracted into the configs folder inside \Avedesk\Docklets\SysStats. After installed you add the plugin to your desktop just like a normal AveDesk desklet (see point 1 for further reference).
The use of a Dock Bar on Windows was surely inspired by Mac OSX [Click for Image]. Some years ago was really hard to get a working dock for Windows, today there are several programs available, some with more features then others, but generally all work very well. One of the first docks to appear on Windows was Y’z Dock by M.Yamaguchi, but due to a Cease and Desist Order from Apple, the application development was shut-down. Strangely other similar programs by the time existed, like ObjectDock, and no one from Apple contested it.
The advantage of using a Dock on an operating system is pretty obvious… easy access to your most used Applications, and of course… it looks neat! :D
Like pointed before, there are plenty of applications to choose from: ObjectDock, RKLauncher and RocketDock are my favorites. I would personally recommend using RocketDock or RKLauncher. If you interested in RKLauncher there is a great pack including some Leopard Skins and packed Reflection Icons called RKLauncher iVista [If you are wondering where the damn Download link is… Hint: Click the Image in the Website! ;-) ].
The Icons you see in the image above are called Ballooon icons and were made by me. You can find them here. If you want to search for more Dock Icons, once again I recommend searching DeviantART or Iconfactory.
There are other elements that you can include in your desktop modding. If you look at the screenshot below you can see for example a little shadow under the taskbar or a customized Toolbar. All these modifications can be accomplished using specific applications. Other items you can modify are cursors, sounds, media applications, etc…
7. Y’z Shadow
Y’z Shadow is an application that adds a shadow effect to the windows and taskbar.
* Attaches a drop shadow to the windows.
* Makes it possible to select one type of shadow effect in the active window and a different one in the inactive window.
* The user can choose to have transparent menus. There is also the option of selecting the degree of transparency in the menus.
* Add a drop shadow to the menus.
* Add a drop shadow to the taskbar.
* The width, depth, etc. of the drop shadows can all be set to your liking in the settings dialog.
* It works correctly with either WindowsXP styles or classic style.
* The user can specify application windows that you wish to exclude from having the drop shadow effect.
* The user can choose a setting that will automatically adjust your windows so they do not overlap or interfere with the taskbar.
* Available in different languages (Japanese and English).
I don’t know if Y’z Applications work under Windows Vista so you will have to try it yourself.
8. Y’z ToollBar
Just like Y’z Shadow, Y’z ToolBar is a simple program designed for Windows XP by M.Yamaguchi to customize certain parts of it. Y’z ToolBar allows the user to change the toolbar icons in Explorer and Internet Explorer (I’m afraid after iE 7 this doesn’t work anymore).
* Change the toolbar icons in Explorer and IE.
* It can use 17×17 pixels to 64×64 pixels as the icon image sizes for the toobar themes.
* Use either bmp and png for the icon image files to create the toolbars. Using the png file format allows for alpha blending, the user has the ability to create smooth icon toolbar images with drop shadows and without jaggy edges.
* It does not rewrite any Windows system files.
* Access Y’z ToolBar by right-clicking the toolbar in Explorer or IE and choosing it from the toolbar customizing pop-up menu.
* Makes it possible to hide the Windows flag (throbber)in Explorer or in IE’s toolbar.
* Available in different languages (Japanese and English).
Other thing you can customize and that has a nice visual impact (special it enhances your workf low) is the cursors. This is one of the first things I do when I re-install Windows XP. Default cursors on Windows Vista are far better then then ones on the earlier version of Windows. You can find plenty of cursors on DeviantART. My favourites has to be BlueCurve from Fedora.
Installation is normally very easy, I’m using Bluecurve example:
- Extract the archive to a temporary folder.
- Right click the “Install Bluecurve.inf” file and click on “Install”.
- Choose the cursorset in the control panel mouse applet It appears as “Bluecurve”.
There are applications that let you use marvellous animated Cursors, like CursorFX. The program is available in two versions, a free version a and a paid version called Plus. You can find CursorFX cursors on typical websites like deviantArt or Wincustomize.
Download CursorFX 2
10. System Icons
Icons are little pieces of art that give you quick information to what you want to access. Icons are along with Wallpapers them most easy resource to find in the internet. You can find several websites listing them, among whom I highlight DeviantART and WinCustomize. The problem with replacing System Icons is that you have to do it 1 by 1… Imagine all the work necessary to accomplish that! Almost as long as writing this guide! :lol: You can use Resource Hacker to change icons manually, contained in shell32.dll. There is a little tutorial at WinMatrix, take a look.
To facilitate the task of replacing system icons there are some applications that do the job for us. IconPackager by Stardock is one of them. IconPackager is payed, but there is a trial version available in the official website.
The IconPack I’m using in the screenshots is Buuf.
For more IconPackager Themes the best place is once again DeviantART.
Download IconPackager Trial
11. System Sounds
If you use Windows XP the chances are that you are fed up with the default Windows Sound Scheme. :grin: That’s why you should search for a new one. Some complete themes you install might bring some new sounds, but if you choose to install some standalone sound packs I suggest this XP Vista Pack including the Vista sound scheme, cursors and wallpapers. This website also has some sound schemes you might like.
Other Applications and Resources
There are several other programs or resources you can use to customize your System. I will try to give a brief resume of what is available to you.
Widgets are little applications to facilitate your life, to give you quick information and to improve your workflow. AveDesk (referred in point 1 and 5) is a good example of a widget application. There are several that you can choose from. The use of Widgets in the Desktop was mainstreamed by Konfabulator, currently Yahoo! Widgets.
Download Yahoo! Widgets
There are other Widget Engines then just Yahoo! Widgets (old Konfabulator). You can check out Rainmeter, Kapsules (might be unavailable at the writing of this guide) or Samurize (this one is so complete it would need an entire guide to explain it). Google also has some Widget System for the Desktop, but it’s far more limited then the ones referred before.
Rainlendar is a standalone calendar for your desktop (just like the ones you can use with Yahoo! Widgets, etc…). It’s a very neat application because it allows you to keep ToDo Lists, Events, etc…
14. Window Blinds
WindowBlinds is another application that allows you apply a different theme to your desktop. It’s available for Vista and XP in several versions (one of them Free). It doesn’t require much resources from the OS and it can give your System a Cutting Edge look!
For Themes for WindowBlinds go to the official site or DeviantArt (where did I see this site before? :o ).
Download WindowBlinds Free Edition
15. Windows XP PowerToys
If you don’t know XP PowerToys you… SHOULD! :D PowerToys are little extensions to Windows XP that makes your life easier but not only… They allow you more control over your Desktop and System.
My favourites and the ones I always download when I install XP are:
- Alt-Tab Replacement: With this PowerToy, in addition to seeing the icon of the application window you are switching to, you will also see a preview of the page. This helps particularly when multiple sessions of an application are open.
- Tweak UI: This PowerToy gives you access to system settings that are not exposed in the Windows XP default user interface, including mouse settings, Explorer settings, taskbar settings, and more.
- Image Resizer: This PowerToy enables you to resize one or many image files with a right-click.
- ClearType Tuner: This PowerToy lets you use ClearType technology to make it easier to read text on your screen, and installs in the Control Panel for easy access.
TuneUp is an application that does it all… that’s why you need to pay for it! :devil:
TuneUp makes it possible to Change the look of the windows and buttons, reconfigure the boot screen and makes it possible to change the logon screen. This and all the other system maintenance tasks… There are some Icon Packs made for TuneUP just like for IconPackager. Problem is you need to pay for it. But you can always try the Trial Version.
StyleXP was probably the first application I used to change the appearance of my Desktop back in the days… It’s a paid application but very versatile. It’s only for Windows XP, doesn’t work in Vista.
What is Style XP?
Style XP is not a skinning engine. It uses Microsoft’s built-in visual style engine, but enhances it by providing many useful tools. Style XP can import, select, rotate, and manage themes, visual styles, wallpapers, logons, bootscreens, icons, and explorer bar. Future versions may support sounds, cursors, screensavers, and packages of all the above. How does it work? Instead of lines and gradients, the XP user interface natively supports the use of skinned bitmap controls (a visual style). This is Microsoft’s own innovation. Style XP includes its own visual styles.
StyleXP Website is also a good source for themes, icons, bootscreens and logonscreens. Check it out.
Download StyleXP Trial
18. Windows Logons
Ok, now that we pretty much covered the Desktop customization, we focusing attention to change the Windows Log On Screen. Stardock gives you LogonStudio, both for Vista and XP. LogonStudio is free and you can find plenty of Themes both in Wincustomize or DeviantArt. Changing the Logon is not something I do Often, since by the time I’m tired of Windows XP Logon Screen I have to reinstall it. :D But well, since Vista probably lasts more time installed in your system you might take pick at this program.
Litestep is Shell replacer for Windows, it works on XP and Vista (I think…). Basically it’s a Theme Engine but that replaces explorer so it changes they way you navigate files, etc, etc… It’s lighter then explorer.exe, that’s why some people prefer it. It’s installation is a bit tricky so I recommend using LOSI to install it, if you’re interested.
You can find really great Litestep themes (like the one showed above) on DeviantArt (where else right? :D ).
20. Transformation Packs
Transformation Packs are the ultimate resource for Desktop Customization. They use several resources and change the appearance of your system completely. I have to admit I only used on of them once, but if you are looking for a fast way to make your system look like Mac OSX or have a whole Gant Experience … try it out.
If you want to find more just search for Transformation Pack or Shell… Remember, use at your own risk, I recommend doing at least a restoration prior to installing this packs.
99. Your Imagination
Although you don’t have a white canvas in front of you, customizing the look of your System is pretty much similar to creating Art… at least in order to make it all look right. :) Don’t forget you should create something functional and not only pretty. Try not to waste to many System Resources, always look for the “cheaper” solution if you have more then one choice available.
The imagination is your limit… so put it in practice. Of course you can always search for some inspiration… for that DeviantArt would be a nice place.
100. One Hundred
YAY! One Hundred! :lol:
- Deviant Art Wallpapers
- Fiftyfootshadows Desktops
- Pimp My Desk
- Interface Lift
- Pixelgirl Presents
- Vlad Studio Wallpapers
- Wallpaper Stock
I hope you enjoyed the Guide and some way was useful to you. Took my several hours writing it… so I hope so! Forgive my English, I tried my best, my editor is on vacations… Editor? What Editor? Ye right! :lol: