How-To: Deck Out Your Desktop with the 12 Best Rainmeter Skins


From Google Desktop to the Windows Sidebar introduced in Vista, there have been several attempts to integrate our online life onto our desktop. But none of them come close to Rainmeter, a totally customizable platform for decking out your desktop with a variety of useful applets that can stand prominently in the foreground or blend into the background.

There's a lot you can do with Rainmeter thanks to a diverse collection of available 'skins' (think of them as widgets), all of which can be individually tailored in look and function. There are skins for keeping tabs on system resources, displaying RSS feeds, sending and receiving Twitter messages, and even recording notes.

Rainmeter isn't at all difficult to use, but there is an initial learning curve as you come to understand just how powerful this unassuming app really is. On the following pages, we'll guide you through the setup process and show you the ins and outs of using Rainmeter. We'll also highlight the 12 best skins out of the hundreds that are available to give you a head start on decking out your desktop like never before.

Hit the jump and let the fun begin!

Rainmeter vs HTMLifying Your Desktop

Long time readers of Maximum PC magazine may recall that several years back we printed a tutorial showing you how to HTMLify your desktop (courtesy of Google Books, you can still read the guide in the July 2003 issue starting on page 56). In it, recently resigned Editor-in-Chief Will Smith showed you how to add HTML elements to your desktop background and even embed a large webpage right smack dab in the center of your display. It was a pretty awesome trick with several upshots, all of which are improved upon with Rainmeter.

Rainmeter essentially streamlines the process of HTMLifying your desktop by allowing you to easily add all kinds of online elements to your display, be they RSS readers, a Twitter feed, Facebook updates, and really just about anything you want. It's a highly flexible platform, too. Code junkies may want to write their own applets, while those who are intimidated by a Command Prompt can still jump in and easily customize any skin without ever feeling lost or overwhelmed.

Sounds Like Samurize

Image Credit:

Rainmeter isn't the only app of its kind, and the biggest alternative is probably Samurize. The two are similar in what they can do, but Rainmeter's generally easier to use, especially with the latest update. Rainmeter also boasts better OS compatibility and fully embraces both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors of Windows, including Redmond's latest, Windows 7.

Comparisons aside, here's a brief rundown of what Rainmeter offers:

  • System Monitor - keep a constant watch on how much heavy lifting your CPU is doing, your network activity, how much drive space is remaining, and more, and all without firing up the obtrusive Task Manager.
  • Stay Connected - view RSS feeds, social networking updates, incoming email, the weather, and other Web-based content without loading up another browser window or tab.
  • App Management - Rainmeter's app management is limitless, bound only by what you want to do. Arrange commonly used apps in a custom dock, or create your own launchers.
  • Fully Customizable - you have full control over every aspect of Rainmeter, including the look, function, and placement. And all of these can be changed on a whim, whether it's adjusting the transparency of a skin, or changing the source of an RSS feed.

Using Rainmeter

Sounds pretty great, right? It is, and you can get started by downloading a copy of Rainmeter from here . Rainmeter installs just like any other app, and with the latest release (version 1.1), it also comes bundled with the popular Enigma suite of skins, as well as a couple of handy tools (RainBrowser and RainThemes) for managing everything.

You'll notice several different elements when you load Rainmeter for the first time, all of which are part of the Enigma suite, and all of which can be customized. There's a taskbar at the bottom with several launchers (iTunes, Picasa, Firefox, Notepad, and Trillian), plus a system monitor pushed over to the right side. All of these can be changed or substituted, which we'll get to in a little bit.

On the right you'll notice a transparent sidebar containing a news feed, the date/time, a notes section, and other odds and ends. And in the middle of the screen is a control panel, which we'll focus on first.

One way to customize the default Enigma skin is by pressing the Configuration button on the control panel (you can also access this by clicking the middle mouse button on the Sidebar). Enigma comes preconfigured with a ton of applets, most of which are self explanatory. Streaming information to your desktop begins by filling out the appropriate fields. To view Twitter feeds, for example, you would click on and fill out the TwitterUsername and TwitterPassword fields. Be warned, however, that Enigma doesn't hide your password, so not only will anyone standing behind you be able to see what you're typing in, but so too can anyone who has access to your PC.

Other settings you'll encounter include Google Calendar, RSS feeds, hard drive information, and other odds and ends. Once you've filled out the appropriate fields, your next step is to make them show up. For this, you'll use the familiar right-click context menu specially designed for Rainmeter. On the sidebar or custom taskbar, right-click and take a peek at the menus. It's a little confusing at first, but once you poke around and get acclimated to the terms, you'll be whizzing through the menus in no time. For now, the one you're looking for is the Configs menu, as this holds all the skins that are installed. Not all skins share the same layout, so be sure to poke around to see what all is offered.

Let's say we want to enable our Twitter feed in the Sidebar. To do so, we would right-click and navigate to Configs>Enigma>Sidebar>>Reader>Twitter-Reader. In there you'll see an entry for TwitterReader.ini. Rainmeter's magic works by reading .ini files (short for initialization), which are text files containing configuration information for Windows. We'll dive into this in a minute, but for now, click/check the box to the left of TwitterReader.ini.

Don't see the applet you just enabled? That's because it doesn't show up on the Sidebar by default, and instead is sitting in the upper left corner of your desktop. Applets float freely on your desktop, so relocating them is as easy and clicking in dragging, but usually not right in the center. In this case, you'll notice two faint lines bordering the Twitter applet, one on the top and one on the bottom. Click on either of these and drag it anywhere on your desktop, including the Sidebar. You can also click on your Twitter feed to load up your Twitter account in your default browser.


There's so much you can do with Rainmeter, it's easy to get overwhelmed, and that's where the RainBrowser helps out immensely. If you open up the Start menu and expand the Rainmeter folder, you'll find a shortcut to the RainBrowser. Or you can right-click the Sidebar or any of Rainmeter's applets and navigate to Configs>Manage Skins.

RainBrowser packs a bunch of useful information into an easy-to-navigate window, and if you're ever in doubt an applet's function, this is the place to look. Listed in the Active tab are all the active applets currently running. When you highlight an entry, the associated .ini file will be listed in the bottom box under Skins and Variants. If you click on this, RainBrowser's main box window will list out the configuration file's vitals, such as a description, instructions on how to use it, who designed it, the version number, and more.

Underneath this section you'll find two different sets of actions you can perform, one for just that applet (called a 'skin'), or global actions for all loaded applets. If you've made changes to an applet's configuration file, you'll need to Refresh Skin before the changes take effect, and you can do that here, among other self-explanatory actions (Unload Skin, for example).

You can also make visual changes to the applet by clicking on Edit Skin. Doing so updates the main window with different settings, allowing you do things like adjust the transparency, configure an applet to fade in, out, or hide when mousing over it, whether or not to make it draggable, and a few other options.

RainBrowser isn't required to manipulate a skin; you can make the same changes by editing the associated .ini file. To edit Enigma's Notes applet, for example, you would locate the .ini file on your hard, which is located at:


Alternately, you can right-click the Sidebar and click Config>Edit Skins' Folder and navigate from there. Once there, double-click the Notes.ini file (or any other configuration file you want to alter) to open it up and edit as desired.

It's important to remember that everything that appears on screen is a skin/applet. This includes the Sidebar itself, which is nothing more than a vertical bar. Other applets that appear on the Sidebar aren't actually attached to it, they just sit on top of it. If you wanted to, you could move the Sidebar around your desktop and leave it unoccupied, or cover your regular desktop icons with.

By playing around with the Transparency and Fade In/Out settings, you can piece together a really slick looking desktop that will be the envy of any who see it.

RSS Feeds

One of the best ways to utilize Rainmeter is by setting up RSS feeds so you're constantly updated on whatever interests you -- be it world events or tech news -- no matter what you're doing. Setting them up, however, can be a little trickly, at least at first.

If you're running the stock Enigma skin-set, click the middle mouse button on the Sidebar to bring up the EnigmaConfigure window. You'll see three entries for RSS feeds, each of which can be customized. Highlight one of them and enter in the RSS URL you're interested in following. For Maximum PC, the URL is . Press Set to save the change.

Next you need to enable the RSS feed to show up in the Sidebar. Simply right-click and navigate to Configs>Enigma>Sidebar>Reader>RSSReader and check ReaderRSS.ini.

There are two things to note here. First, any changes you make to each RSS's URL field won't be reflected until you refresh Enigma. Right-click and select Refresh All, and all of your applets will be updated with any new info. Secondly, if you want to give your RSS feeds a more descriptive title than 'News,' you'll need to poke around the actual .ini file. In this case, you can find them at:


You'll see three folders here, RSS-Reader, RSS-Reader2, and RSS-Reader3. Each one contains an individual .ini file, so to change the title of the first RSS reader, open up the folder and double-click/edit ReaderRSS.ini. It may look a little confusing at first glance, but scroll down about halfway until you see:


The Text entry is the one we're after, as we want a more descriptive title than just 'News.' Change this to something like Maximum PC News, and be sure to enclose the title in quotes. Save your changes, and then refresh Enigma as shown above.

Dissecting a Rainmeter INI File

Okay, so editing an RSS feed's title is pretty easy, but what's all that other junk contained in the .ini files? If you plan on doing a lot of editing, or even making your own skins, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the different terms and file structure. Here's how it breaks down:

Metadata: This section is where a skin's author can include important information about his applet, including the name and version number, but also specific instructions on how to use it.

Measures: Aptly named measures are used to measure system stats such as the time and date, or to pluck information from a website, such as the local weather, among many other tasks. In short, measures tell Rainmeter what it needs to do.

Meters: These describe how Rainmeter outputs a measure, be it with a histogram, an image, a button, and a bunch of other options.

Variables: Variables are keywords that will be repeatedly used in a skin and are sort of like a master list. To use Rainmeter's example (which we'll link below), if you set a variable for the size of a font to use on all meters as FontSize=11, you would then use FontSize=#FontSize# in each meter. This way, you can change the font size in all your meters later on by just changing the master variable (from 11 to 13, for example), rather than editing each meter.

For a more in depth break down of skins and Rainmeter's nomenclature, see both here and here .

Installing Skins

Now that you have a pretty good idea how Rainmeter works, it's time to start experimenting with skins, which is where the real fun begins. You'll find user-created skins all over the Web, but we suggest poking around these sites:

When you find a skin you want to try out, download and unzip the archive. You should find a folder with the name of the skin you just downloaded, and you'll need to place this in:


You'll also find a Skins folder under the Rainmeter directory in your Program Files, but putting them there won't do you any good. After you've transferred your skin to the correct location (and, if applicable, installed any included fonts by copying them over to C:\Windows\Fonts), right-click the Sidebar and click Refresh All. To load applets from your new skin, right-click again and navigate to Configs. You should see the skin(s) you just installed, and you would use them just like you did with Enigma.

Quick Tips

Don't be afraid to play around with different skins by mixing and matching them. There's no need to restrict yourself to a single skin, and in many cases, downloaded skins only offer a handful of applets to play around with, such as a customized clock or system monitor. Skins like Enigma, which contain a whole host of applets, are fairly rare compared to all the skins that are available.

Your choice of wallpaper will also play a big role in how your skin(s) look on your desktop. Combining a skin that makes use of a futuristic sci-fi font or Star Trek them will look pretty silly on a Spongebob background, but will be right at home with a wallpaper depicting space scenes. And if your skin doesn't blend in quite like you hoped, either try a different wallpaper, edit your wallpaper, or play with the transparency settings.

After spending a ton of time mixing, matching, and customizing your desktop with Rainmeter, the last thing you want to do is start the process all over again following a system reboot, which, at minimum, you should be performing once a month (Patch Tuesday). And nor do you have to. When you have your desktop just the way you like it, save it as a theme. Right-click and select Themes>Manage Themes. Enter a name in the blank field and click Save. As you play with other themes and skins, you can always return to your custom setup by selecting the saved theme from Themes>Manage Themes.

12 Kick Ass Skins

There are a lot of awesome third-party skins to play with, just as there are a lot of duds. To get you started, we're going to show you a handful of our favorites and where you can get them. Have a favorite of your own? Be sure to post it in the comments section below!

Simplicity Black

Image Credit: AKH-Arazand

Just as the name implies, this is a basic theme decked out in black. Looks great on a light backgrounds, especially Vista's stock green wallpaper, and will save you a ton of time if you're jonesing for all black text but aren't in the mood to go on an editing-frenzy on another theme. It's not nearly as robust as Enigma or some of the other fully fleshed themes, but does include just about everything you need if you're primarily looking for a system monitor, and it includes applets designed for both the Sidebar and Taskbar. And don't forget you can mix and match skins.

Black Glass

Image Credit: LAvalon

Another fairly simple skin, Black Glass includes all the components to assemble a high-tech looking sidebar, which it owes to its digital-inspired font. Among the included modules you'll find a calendar, clock, HDD monitor, system monitor, and WinAMP applet. There's also a blank box, which you could edit the size and create a blank slate for a custom sidebar or taskbar.


Image Credit: mani0008

Taranbeer provides a variety of system monitors to get you started, but the gem here is the clock, which looks decidedly futuristic. Because of the bright while text, this one looks best on a dark background, and is a great choice to combine with other skins. For an example of how well it meshes with others, check out the Starview theme here .


A must-have for any serious RSS nut, BlueFeed does one thinng and one thing only, and that's serve up RSS feeds in a big way. The blue text on black background is very easy to read, and it comes ready to serve up to anywhere from 10-40 RSS items. Never miss a news story again!


Image Credit: gbernal

A no-frills skin best suited for the office environment, and much friendlier on the forest than those dead-tree tear-away calendars! Comes ready to be configured with an assortment of colors.

Xpert 2

Image Credit: Gabro

One of the relatively few skins to include a ton of applets, you'll find just about everything you're looking for in Xpert 2, even applets for the word of the day and quote of the day. But far from a hokey skin, you'll also find a news reader with 63 RSS feeds, some of the best looking system monitoring applets available, clocks, calendars, and plenty more.

Carbon Fiber Meter

Carbon Fiber Meter only does two things: Display CPU and Memory usuage. We only wish it threw GPU vitals into the mix, because it's ideally suited for car tweakers and overclockers alike, two hobbies which often run parallel.


Can't bring yourself to toss out those Terminator VHS tapes? Then this is the skin for you, but you better hurry, because we don't know how long it will be hosted. The main page for the popular Terminator skin no longer shows up on, but the original download link still works (see below), so grab it while you can. Then plaster your desktop with a handful of applets, including the obligatory system monitor and calendar, but also a pretty extensive control panel. In the screenshot above, we plucked a Terminator wallpaper off of Google images and combined the skin with Rainmeter's bundled Wing Firefox theme, which essentially adds the funky looking clock you see in the middle.

Fade to Black

A great looking skin on white backgrounds, Fade to Black offers a respectable number of applets. Not as varied as Enigma or Xpert 2, but in addition to system monitors, email, RSS feeds, and various other odds and ends, Fade to Black throws a curveball by including a tastefully framed image scroller. Configure it to scroll through vacation pictures to help make it through the work day.

Facebook Notifcations

At this stage in the social networking game, it's a safe bet you're using Facebook, and this skin will allow you to keep tabs on what's going on without checking your account every 15 minutes. Nothing more, nothing less. To configure it, sign into your Facebook account and go to your Notifications page. Under Subscribe to Notifications, click the RSS URL and copy it to your clipboard. Next, open up Facebook.ini from the skin you just downloaded. Under variables, you'll see an entry that reads:


Can you guess what to do? Replace the entry with your notifications RSS feed and don't forget to refresh Rainmeter.

Tic-Tactual Encapsulated

We can't quite put our finger on it, but there's just something about spheres that screams 'high-tech.' That's exactly what Tic-Tactual Encapsulated offers, and while it's a shame there aren't a bunch of applets to play with, you can put the month, date, time, and day of week in separate bubbles. This one works well with just about any sci-fi theme.

Seven Dock

Hands down one of our favorite skins, Seven Dock is not only highly useful, it's also great for squashing those OCD tendencies. How so? Well, if you were so inclined, you could wipe out all the icons on your desktop, hide the taskbar, and simply make do with a cleanly organized dock. It's fully customizable, from the icons to the shortcuts, though getting it to open directly to My Computer is a little tricky. You'll first navigate to the skin's folder, which is called Mega, not Seven Dock. Open up Mega.ini and scroll down to the FreeCommander entry. It should look like this:

Soft13.txt='Disque C'
Soft13=!execute [%ProgramFiles%\Custom\FreeCommander\Freecommander.exe

This is the entry we want to change, both because we like the icon it's already associated with, and because we're not running FreeCommander. To get it to jump into My Computer rather than your C: drive, here's what you'd change it to:

Soft13.txt='My Computer'
Soft13=!execute [%SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /e,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}]

From now own, clicking on the disk icon will open up My Computer. Change the other entries as you see fit, including both the name and location, and replace any of the icons using PNG images sized 265x265 pixels.

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