There are quite a number of tools out there for stretching the core functionality of your desktop in new directions. Some of these third-party replacements keep your standard setup and add a unique extension--like a 360-degree wallpaper that you can scroll through with mouse gestures. Fun stuff, huh? Other tools are a bit more comprehensive in their objectives, allowing for a total retrofit of very core of your desktop's operation. In these cases, gone are the typical organizational structures, options, and extensions you can pack into a Windows desktop--it's all brand-new and editable in ways you might have never previously thought were possible.
The best way to really get a feel for what's out there is to see it in action. So we're going to take a look at three unique desktop enhancement tools--one 3D, one shell replacement, and one widget-based service--and see just how they stack up versus the usability of the trusty Windows setup we've all come to know and love (or hate.)
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.
Earlier this week, I took a look at a number of free tools designed to give your Windows 7 desktop a bit of a makeover. One of these, Rainmeter, is a comprehensive application that can substantially alter the look and feel of your desktop beyond anything you could possibly modify with Windows' default settings.
Just how much can you mess around, you ask? If this week's "Download of the Week" is any indication, then the possibilities are near-limitless. For DeviantArt user UltraBE has transformed the plain ol' Windows desktop into a HUD from the popular zombie shooter Left 4 Dead--and this new look isn't just cosmetic. It's a fully-functional statistics engine for your system.
There's nothing wrong with the Windows 7 desktop per se. But for freeware developers, that's no excuse not to tweak, hack, and otherwise modify every possible piece of your screen. And it's not that difficult to add new functionality to your desktop that doesn't otherwise exist in the operating system. The hardest part is finding software that makes a substantive change to what you already have. After all, the last thing you want to do is install a ton of different freeware apps and find your desktop in even worse shape than it was before (if you do, take a quick trip to Revo Uninstaller).
Generalities aside, what exactly can you do with all these desktop add-ons? The choices are near-limitless. I won't spoil all of what's in store, but here are a few tidbits. With the apps featured in this week's freeware roundup, you can re-skin your entire Windows 7 desktop with a brand-new UI, transform normal desktop links into start menu-like item browsers, and build new functionality like middle-click focusing to standard taskbar icons.
It's time to take your desktop to the next level--join me after the jump!