When Windows Vista Ultimate was first introduced, one of the big selling features was its DreamScene animated desktop feature, delivered via Vista Ultimate Extras. Back in November, Microsoft's partner in developing DreamScene, StarDock, rolled out the beta version of its DeskScapes 2.0 animated wallpaper utility for all of the rest of the Vista versions (it also works on Vista Ultimate - see comments). Now, the Preview edition of DeskScapes 2.0 is available - free - from the StarDock website.
Giving DeskScapes 2.0 a Try
DeskScapes is a 37MB download, and includes three different animated wallpapers stored in the .DREAM format. With all of the (bad) publicity Microsoft's been getting over supporting wimpy integrated video chipsets such as the Intel 915G, it's interesting to note that the wallpapers provided with the Preview edition are designed to support systems with widely different performance levels. With my new FrankenPC 2008 dual-core test system still awaiting assembly, I'm trying DeskScapes 2.0 on a backup test system running Windows Vista Home Premium on an ancient Athlon XP processor with 1.5GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon 9550 AGP video card with 256MB of RAM - not exactly barn-burning performance. Tthe system gets a Windows Experience Index score of 3.0, and the video card a 4.4 subscore.
Accessing DeskScape Wallpapers
To access the new DeskScape animated wallpapers, right-click on your desktop, select Personalize, click Desktop Background, and select DeskScape Animated Wallpapers from the Picture Location pull-down menu. Choose a background, and click OK to get started.
I tried the Watercolor animated wallpaper first (see a portion of the desktop below). It produces a subtly animated look to the background, while using very little overhead. It's a good match for underpowered systems.
Bouncing Ball Doesn't Bounce Performance
Next, I took the Bouncing Box sample for a spin - literally. Although it spun around on my desktop, it didn't bog down my system either, even as I ran Windows Photo Gallery and performed a series of adjustments to a photo. If you're a fan of 3D "bouncing ball" screen savers, you'll like this background.
Waving Grass Doesn't Pull Over Performance
I'm not much of a fan of the Grassy Field Dreamscape I tried next (see a portion of the desktop below), but as with the others, I didn't see any indication of system slowdowns as I manipulated some photos.
Adjusting Performance Settings
One of the "secrets" of DeskScape's good performance on less-than-stellar hardware is its performance tuning. When you select a DeskScape background, DeskScape analyzes your system and adjusts the performance settings it uses for the background. However, you can also make your own adjustments. To adjust performance, click the Performance link on the menu to open a Performance Settings dialog. You can select from the following settings from Best Quality to Best Performance:
- Top Quality: 100% image sharpness with smoothing
- Regular Quality 1: 100% image sharpness, no smoothing
- Regular Quality 2: 75% image sharpness with smoothing
- Regular Quality 3: 75% image sharpness, no smoothing
- Regular Quality 4: 50% image sharpness with smoothing
- Compatible Quality: 50% image sharpness, no smoothing
DeskScapes also displays its recommendation.
Here's a comparison of three modes using the Bouncing Ball:
Laptop Users: DeskScapes is Looking Out for You
The Performance Settings dialog also controls how DeskScapes works on laptops. By default, animations are automatically paused when your laptop's on battery power, and you'll see a notification to that effect. Clear the checkboxes to disable either option. You can also right-click the desktop and select Pause Deskscapes or Resume Deskscapes with either desktop or laptop systems.
Adjusting Dynamic Wallpaper Settings
After you select a background, click the Dynamic Wallpaper Settings link to configure the wallpaper. For example, you can adjust the size and speed of the Bouncing Cube or the drawing speed of the Watercolor.
Getting More Dreams
Click the Get More! link to open up the Dream Gallery at the WinCustomize website. You can choose from free or Premium (commercial) Dreams. I downloaded the Solar Flare Dream file, which weighs in at 139MB, but most are much smaller (some as small as 8MB). The download page for each Dream lists the frame rate and maximum resolution supported.
DeskScapes is easy to configure and makes using your PC more relaxing and enjoyable without dinging your system's performance. What's not to like? I wish the Ultimate Edition's DreamScene feature worked as well. Grab DeskScapes 2.0 Preview Edition here.