Giving Windows 7 a makeover

22:06, Jul 11 2010

In the past few days I've looked into different ways to change the appearance and feel of Windows 7.

In terms of aesthetics, I think Windows 7 is a huge step up from Vista, but it still looks a bit... Windows-ey - Safe, blue, friendly and familiar to users of their earlier operating systems.

I felt like a change, and decided on a dark/grey style which I wanted to move into. You can already change some of the color themes and your background, but I wanted to see how far I could take it.

Yeah, I'm a geek.

Along the way I found there are whole communities devoted to customising the look of your desktop.

There are plenty of themes out there to cater to a range of tastes, and most come free of charge. It does take a bit of time and effort, though.

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My finished product looks like this (click to zoom in a new window):

1. The new toolbar at the top

This is a program called Rocketdock - and it's a goodie. This free bit of genius substitutes for, or enhances, your normal windows taskbar and start menu.

It can be re-skinned to give different looks, and shortcuts are dragged and dropped like the Windows taskbar. When not in use, it can be set to hide automatically and can be put at the top or bottom of the screen.

Each of the icons can be customised - in my case, I found an awesome set of black glass icons on DeviantArt and replaced all of mine to match.

There are also options to adjust the animation, size, transparency and position of the dock. Rocketdock works wonders to make your desktop stand out from the crowd.

2. Overall colour and theme change.

It's not exactly simple, but you can customise the shell of Windows explorer to a different style.

The theme I went with is called ThaImpact. It is a grey, futuristic look which I liked, but check the website for a full list of changes with sample images. Some of the changes include:

Completely new taskbar and start menu look, with a larger clock, new progress bars, context menus and animations and more rounded windows and scroll bars for a smooth, futuristic look.

Getting it to work

Replacing your user interface is perhaps the hardest customisation, but here's a rough guide:

* Download a new theme - DeviantArt has some great ones.

* Patch your system so that it accepts custom themes. There is a program which will apply the changes to the necessary files for you called Uxtheme Patcher - that's the one I used.

* Follow the directions included with the theme. Be aware that if they don't come with any, you may have to look into taking ownership of your system files, and allowing admin access to those files, otherwise you won't be able to change anything.

Not all the themes require you to change system files, but any serious changes to the look and feel will require a little bit of tinkering, unfortunately.

* Replace any required files in your Windows/System folder. Remember to keep some backup copies of the original files in case anything goes wrong.

* Restart the computer and apply the theme in the desktop personalisation menu.

3. New mouse pointer set

There are programs designed solely to let you take greater control of your mouse cursors, like Cursor FX.

The free version will let you apply custom mouse themes which are much more advanced than a standard windows set.

You can change the trail style (leave smoke trails, sparkles, lots of others), use mouse pointers which animate when you click, and a number of other cool features - check the website for details.

One of the best parts about it is that you can download and install or change a whole set at once without changing them all piece-by-piece as you do in standard Windows when building a set.

Once again, check DeviantArt for plenty of sets. I went with a black glass/carbon theme.

4. Custom background and gadgets

I made myself a background using Photoshop, but there are plenty of awesome backgrounds available - just look around on Google image search. I recommend using the custom image size search to find images which fit your screen perfectly.

The gadgets on my screen are simple CPU/RAM/wireless monitors, and I gave them a custom glow by modifying the background image in Photoshop. This one's a bit tricky, and to go into how I did would be a whole new chapter.

The gadgets all came from here.

5. Windows taskbar cleanup

The last touches were to set my taskbar to appear smaller by ticking "use small icons" in the taskbar's properties window. I also changed some of the options in the Start Menu's properties box, to give it a clean, minimalist look.

I also removed all the desktop icons like My Computer and the Recycle bin, and the shortcut links in the taskbar, because these are now hidden away at the top in the Rocketdock.

What do you think? Do you get bored of the standard Windows look? Do you customise your desktop? Any good sites or programs you want to share?

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