Whether your goal is to make your desktop look beautiful or you want an information-rich desktop that provides constant track of your system status, RSS feeds, and other info, Rainmeter is the best tool for the job. Here's how to use Rainmeter to create an attractive, customisable heads-up display on your Windows desktop.Windows customisation app Rainmeter is our favourite desktop customisation tool, and with good reason. It has a ton of different configuration options, informational tools, and settings that let you customise almost every square pixel of your desktop exactly how you like it — plus it looks fantastic. It's powerful and effective once set up, but not very user-friendly. This walkthrough will get you started down the road to desktop-customised bliss without any hair pulling.
The single biggest hurdle in getting started with Rainmeter is its terminology — the app uses a few terms differently from how most of us would normally understand them in the context of software, and it can be very confusing when you're starting out. So to make sure we're starting on the same page (and speaking Rainmeter's language), here's how each level of a Rainmeter setup is categorised:
- Skins contain the individual types of information that go on your screen. Really, when you see "skin", think "widget". You could have an RSS skin, a Now Playing skin, a clock skin, and so on. The term "skin" actually has very little to do with its aesthetics and is more about what each individual widget does.
- Skin Suites determine how your Rainmeter setup looks. They're basically collections of skins (remember, skins are really "widgets") that that match one another. You could mix skins from different suites, but it wouldn't necessarily look very cohesive, so in general you want to stick to a specific suite.
- Themes are essentially saved layouts of skins. Themes define the actual position of your skins on the desktop. After configuring your desktop just the way you like it, you can save it as a theme and reload it later. That way, you could have one minimalist theme that only has a small sidebar with need-to-know information for when you are working, and a more blown-out theme with two sidebars, more widgets, and a taskbar for when you can afford to get distracted.
Rainmeter is extremely simple to install. It's just one simple installer, from which you can do a full install or a portable install, which keeps everything in one folder and allows you to run it off a flash drive. We're going to be using version 2.1 for this demonstration; it's currently in beta but is very stable.
Rainmeter comes with a skin suite called illustro, so we'll use that as our example (it's also the simplest, so it's good for getting acquainted). If you aren't a fan of illustro, head to the Downloading New Skins section below for info on how to expand your Rainmeter skin library.
Adding and Removing Skins
When you first load up Rainmeter, you should see a few skins (again: widgets) on the side of your screen. You can click and drag them around, line them up with one another, and, if they contain links (like the RSS skin), you can click on the info inside.
To remove one of those skins — for example, the "Recycle Bin" skin — just right click on it and hit "Close Skin". To bring it back, right click on any of your open skins, go to illustro > Recycle Bin and click on "Recycle Bin.ini". It will show back up on your desktop.
You'll also notice when you right click on a skin that each has its own "Settings" menu. From there, you can make it draggable (or not draggable), make it snap to the edges of your screen, make it ignore your mouse clicks, and more. Mainly, you'll find it helpful to keep skins draggable or set them to snap to the edges while you're configuring your layout, but you'll likely want to turn dragging off afterwards so you don't accidentally move anything around once you've got everything how you like it.
Some skins work right out of the box: the clock shows the time, the Recycle Bin shows how many items you have in the trash. Others, though, like the RSS skin or the Disk skin, require configuration, since Rainmeter needs to know what disks or RSS feeds you want displayed. Depending on the suite you use, you might edit your skins in different ways. Here are the two popular ways, using the illustro suite and the Enigma suite as examples (you can download the Enigma suite below).
Editing Skins Through Config Files
Users of the illustro suite must edit everything through each skin's configuration files. Take the Disk skin, for example: by default, it shows one or two of your drives, the C: and D: drive. If you have a different drive you want to monitor instead of D: — say, E: — you need to edit the skin, which means editing its configuration file.
To do this, right click on that skin and hit "Edit Skin". It'll open up the .ini configuration file in Notepad (in this case, 2 Disks.ini) and you can edit certain values. The configuration files can be pretty intimidating at first, but they actually aren't terribly hard to understand and edit. In this case, we want to make the Disk skin show information about drive E:, so we can just hit Ctrl+F, find all instances of
D: and change them to
E:. For illustro, this means only changing one instance, though other suites might have more than one (say, one that denotes the drive, and one that denotes what label your skin uses). When you're done, save the config file in Notepad, exit, right click on the Disk skin and click "Refresh Skin". If everything went well, you should see your new drive displayed.
Similarly, if you wanted to change the RSS feed that showed up in the RSS skin, you could right click on it, hit Edit skin, and search for the feed's variable (in this case, the one labelled
feedURL. Paste in the RSS feed you want, refresh the skin, and it should show your feed on the sidebar instead of the default.
Generally, just scanning through the config files for a few minutes will give you a general idea what the editable parts are, and what each one does. I recommend making a backup of the original config file (e.g. just make a copy and add
.bak to the name) the first few times you edit, so if you mess something up, you can always paste the original values back in from the backup.
Editing Skins Through Your Suite's Options
Some suites, like the Enigma suite, contain options windows that let you specify certain options without digging through a configuration file. To access this window, just right click on one of your skins and go to Enigma > Enigma.ini (remember, you'll need to have Enigma installed for this to work). Click on the "options" menu and go to "General", the cog icon at the top of the sidebar. From there you can choose which music player the Music skin uses, which hard drives the Disk skin measures, and more. By clicking on the other icons on the left you can input your Gmail address for the Gmail skin, choose the suite's font colours, and much more. This is a slightly more user friendly way of editing skins, but not all suites contain this editor, so it's important to know how to tweak skins both ways.
Saving and Loading Themes
Let's say you have a few different Rainmeter setups that you like, and you want to alternate between them. For example, I have a work setup that just contains the essential things like an unread email count, the weather, and my disk drives. I have another with much more information, like CPU temperatures, disk usage, and RSS feeds, that I use when I have a little more time to get distracted. Setting these themes up is very simple: just right click on one of your Rainmeter skins, and go to Rainmeter Menu > Themes > Manage Themes. To save your current setup as a theme, just type a name for the theme in the box and hit "Save". You can load one of your other pre-saved themes by clicking on it and hitting "Load".
The image above shows an example "play" theme on the left, completely decked out with RSS feeds, notes, a new launcher across the bottom, and tons of system stats. The theme on the right is a "work" theme that you can switch to when you don't want to be distracted, containing only important things like email and your calendar. Both of these themes use the Enigma suite, and the "play" theme also uses a HUD-style clock in the middle called Arcs, which you can get here.
The illustro suite is a great place to start, but as you check out different setups (like those commonly seen in our Featured Desktop series), you'll undoubtedly want to try other suites and skins. You can find great ones on the Rainmeter Forums, on DeviantART, and on Customize.org, as well as just by searching Google. I'm partial to Enigma, HUD.Vision, and the Windows Phone-style Omnimo myself. Rainmeter also highly recommends Gnometer and ABP.
Note: There's been a recent influx of malware posing as Rainmeter skins, so if you see any skins with comments disabled, don't download them. Only download ones that have comments confirming their viability, and as always, keep your antivirus up and running.
You'll find your installed skins in the "Rainmeter" folder in My Documents. Some skins, like these extra skins for illustro come in ZIP format. Just extract them to your DocumentsBACKSLASHRainmeterBACKSLASHSkinsBACKSLASHillustro folder> Then, right click on one of your skins, go to Rainmeter Menu > Refresh all, and that skin should show up in your "illustro" menu the next time you right click a skin. You can then add it to your desktop just like you did any other skin.
Some skins and skin suites will come as .rmskin files, which are even easier to install. Say we want to download the beautiful Enigma suite. Just download it, double-click on the .rmskin file, and hit the Install button in the window that pops up. It'll now be available when you right click on your Rainmeter skins.
Backing Up Your Rainmeter Settings
Chances are, you'll spend a lot of time adding new skins, making themes, and tweaking your setup to your liking. If you ever need to reinstall Windows or move to a new computer, you can carry all those tweaks with you by backing up all your Rainmeter folders using Rainmeter's built-in backup tool.
To open the backup tool, right click on one of your skins and select Rainmeter Menu > Configs > Manage Skins and click the RainBackup button in the upper right hand corner. Make sure the location of your Rainmeter installation is correct in the first box, pick a location for the backup file in the second box, and then hit Backup. Rainmeter will create an .rmskin file that, after you install Rainmeter on your new system, you can double click to re-load all of your old settings, skins, and tweaks.
Rainmeter can be very confusing at first, but once you get the basics down, you should be able to create a pretty swanky, information-rich desktop with just a bit of tinkering. Of course, the more you dig into the config files, custom skins, and other goodies, you'll probably need a bit more direction, so head to the Rainmeter documentation if you have any questions. And, of course, ask questions and help each other out in the comments below.