Under the skin of Windows

Tailor-make the look and feel of Windows to suit your tastes and PC habits.

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By  Matthew Wade Published  August 11, 2008

Tailor-make the look and feel of Windows to suit your tastes and PC habits.

As any Mac-obsessive will happily assert, the default settings of Microsoft's Windows OS can look pretty darn dull. This is obviously the case with Windows XP and earlier versions, what with their deathly uninspiring windows, super-square buttons, and revolving text screensavers.

However, it also applies to a degree with Windows Vista, as while this is better looking than XP from the off, the platform can easily be pimped for your delight and viewing pleasure.

Here we show you how to polish, primp and preem your rig's software skin so that its aesthetic is absolutely in keeping with your style. You'll find Basic, Intermediate and Advanced options for each pimping category, and we'll explain which tricks work with Vista, XP or both.

So let's start by reinvigorating that dire desktop...

Desktop delights

Escape Microsoft's default wallpapers and get creative

Basic

At the very least, you can jazz up the inane home of your program shortcuts by adding your own favourite image as a background.

The process is simple: right-click on the desktop, choose Properties, click the Desktop tab and then hit Browse to select your photo from any folder on your PC (or CD/removable drive). Vista users should do the same, but choose Personalize instead of Properties, and then ‘Desktop Background'.

Note: Be sure to choose a picture that is high-resolution (or at least larger than 100 kilobytes) if you intend to ‘stretch' this across the whole desktop. (To stretch it, hit the Position button.)

Intermediate

Another option is to choose a shot you like from the raft of free desktop wallpapers online. If you like your artwork to look ‘gamey' and graphically enhanced, head for the wallpapers at Jurko.net (http://wallpapers.jurko.netb).

Just click on the thumbnail of the image you want, then again on the larger version on the next page (this brings up the high-res shot), then right-click to save this onto your PC and follow the Basic step above.

Advanced

Although an app that is arguably the daddy of all desktop dazzlers called DreamRender (www.dreamrender.com) is well worth mentioning here, we were unable to install the .exe file we downloaded from the site (it was corrupt).

However - and luckily - the same fantastic video desktop functionality is available from another source in the form of Stardock's Deskscapes. Available from www.stardock.com/products/deskscapes/, Stardock DeskScapes is a program that allows users to have animated wallpaper on their Windows Vista desktop (any version of Vista too unlike Vista Premium's ‘Extra' Dream Scene.

Deskscapes supports playing video as animated wallpaper, dynamically generated content as animated wallpaper, and more.

Note: DeskScapes is available as a free trial, which includes three free dreams (full-motion videos in the firm's ‘.dream' format - the only format that DeskScapes currently supports.

To run the software, which supports Vista Home Basic, Premium, Business and Enterprise, you'll also need to download a special MPEG-2 Video Decoder from the site.

Try it out first - if you like it, the full version of Dreamscapes costs $19.95.

Vista users: If you're running the Ultimate version of the OS then you already have easy access to great desktop offering in the form of a Vista ‘Ultimate Extra' called ‘Dream Scene', a HD-ready feature that creates a DreamRender-like high-definition animated wallpaper.

First, download the entire Windows Vista Ultimate Extras package from Windows Update (see www. windowsupdate.microsoft.com).

As far as Dream Scene content goes, you then have a ton of options:

• Download some relaxing, largely undersea-focused videos for Dream Scene from http://vistadreamscene.googlepages.com/

• Download more varied Dream Scenes from www.dreamscenevideo.net (click the blog of the picture you like, then hunt out the video download link at the bottom of that entry)

• Search out yet more videos at http://www.vistahd.org/

• Google ‘dream scene videos'

• Use your own content (.mpeg and .wmv format only).

When you have Dreamscene installed, just open Windows Explorer, right-click the video you want to set as your background, and choose ‘Set as Desktop Background'.

Note: To run Vista Ultimate - and in particular to run full-motion wallpapers like these, you'll need a high-spec PC with at least a gigabyte of RAM and a modern and preferably dual-core processor for best results.

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