If you are like me, the Aero themes under the Personalize menu in Windows 7 and Windows 10‘s minimalist design language are just not enough to give your PC a unique look. You want more than a new wallpaper, some icons, and simple color changes.
There are utilities out there, both free and commercial, that will give you a custom desktop far beyond anything you can get from the Windows theme presets. You can go with the out of the box look, or customize things on your own with a little fiddling.
Let’s start with Rainmeter, an open source, free utility focused primarily on information display on your desktop. It can be especially useful if you have a multi-monitor setup. My Rainmeter layout covers two 24-inch monitors; the skins are on the left and right edges of the displays, with the apps in the middle.
The information is displayed on “skins,” which are similar to the old desktop widgets that came with Vista, but these are configured with text files with parameters you can open and modify. The file contains settings like what to display and what graphics to use, as most if not all skins come with custom graphics.
Skins come either as an individual skin or as a packaged set. I’ve found that you find individual skins on the Rainmeter forums, where people will post their single creation, while Deviant Art’s Rainmeter section has packages and complete sets, and some of the most creative and artistic skins, too, given the nature of DA. Just look at this JARVIS skin, which is but one of many.
The main appeal of Rainmeter is it puts a lot of information right on your desktop that you might otherwise have to check manually from within different applications. Skins cover three main categories: system information and monitoring, app launchers and displaying Web content. RSS feeds, Gmail updates, Facebook notifications and stock tickers are just a few Rainmeter information displays that would otherwise require you to manually look up in a browser.
Rainmeter uses Perfmon.dll, Windows’ performance monitoring library, to get info about your system. It’s the same library that provides info to the Performance Monitor (perfmon.msc). It also supports third-party DLLs like iTunes and Speedfan (which monitors system temperature and fan speeds). Someone just recently released a Spotify plugin so Spotify skins can stream music now too.
Rainmeter comes with a very basic set of skins but there are many more to be had. Rainmeter.net, the home base for the project where you can get the latest builds, has an active forum where people post their own creations. Usually they are a single skin but some people make more extensive, larger packages.
Customize.org is another place to find individual skins as well as sets, but the most happening place is DeviantArt’s Rainmeter section. New skin sets come along all the time, and given DA’s talented user base, they are usually incredible. A most impressive skin is Personal Windows Desktop.