You spend a lot of waking hours at your computer, so why not make it a little prettier (and more productive)? Here are 10 ways to customise every inch of your desktop, no matter what operating system you use.
WARNING: The deeper you go with customisation, the more you risk causing problems with your computer, particularly when changing system files. These tools and apps are well-tested, but you should always back up your system before you start any deep customisation!
10. Collect Some Sweet Wallpapers
Still rocking the default Windows wallpaper? Maybe it's time to switch it up. There are a lot of great wallpaper sites out there, but you can make your wallpaper even more impressive with a few tools. Desktoppr is an awesome way to browse and sync wallpapers with all your computers, and then rotate between them with a good wallpaper switcher. Wallpapers don't have to be a time waster, either — they can be motivational and productive, too. Check our weekly Weekly Wallpaper series for more wallpaper fun.
9. Install A Custom Dock
The default Windows taskbar is actually pretty awesome, especially once you beef it up. But if you prefer the aesthetic and functional nature of a dock, we recommend checking out a customisable dock such as ObjectDock. If you're on Linux, check out Docky instead. If you're on a Mac, you can customise your dock with a tool like DockMod.
8. Change Up Your Icons
Maybe you have one or two apps with ugly icons, or maybe you want to alter them all for a more unified, customised look. No matter what your desires, it's pretty easy to change the icons on your system. Individual apps and folders are extremely easy to change on both Windowsand Mac, though system icons are a bit tougher. Windows users should check out IconPackager, which can do a heck of a lot — but in my experience is a little finicky, so be sure to back up your system first.
7. Tweak Your Favourite Web Sites
They aren't part of your "desktop" per se, but you probably spend a lot of time looking at the same web sites, and those are customisable too. Check out our guide to customising your favourite sites with userscripts and user styles for more, and be sure to check out some of our site-specific guides too — such as this one for Facebook or this one for Gmail. It's amazing how much better (and better-looking) you can make your favourite sites with a few tweaks.
6. Organise Your Desktop Clutter
A lot of these customisations will mean nothing if your desktop is covered in icons. All it takes is a little organisation: with an app like Fences or Desktop Groups. you can not only make things more attractive, but keep everything organised by category, project, or whatever else you want, so you can reach everything more easily.
5. Skin Your Windows
Tired of the boring grey window borders and traditional buttons in the corner? You can spice up your windows with WindowBlinds (Windows) or something like CrystalClear Interface (Mac). Linux users don't have as easy a one-size-fits-all method — as it depends a lot on your desktop environment and window manager — but sites like GNOME-look.org are useful as a way to start looking for good themes.
4. Add And Change Your Favourite Features
This one's a little more function than form (not that we're complaining). Sometimes the best desktop customisation comes in smaller tweaks that help you get things done better — and that's where our favourite system tweakers for Windows, Mac, and Linux come in. With the right tweaker in your arsenal, you can customise your operating system's built-in menus, settings, fonts and made other features.
3. Get Some Neat Desktop Effects
Ever feel like your windows could make a snazzier entrance when you un-minimise them? Ever get jealous of that awesome desktop cube Linux users have? Windows users can get in on the fun, too. Free app Dexpot has a few cool animations to contribute (including the aforementioned cube), but if you really want to take it further, WindowFX is an awesome (but sadly, $US10) app with a heap of animations and customisation built-in. Check out the video above to see it in action.
2. Overhaul Your Skin Entirely
This is definitely one of the more sweeping changes you can make to your system — not to mention one of the riskier ones — but if you really want to alter everything from the ground up, there are a lot of cool system-wide skins out there you might like. Want to give everything a cool transparent look? Check out the Shine skin. Want to make your Windows system look like Mac OS X? The Mavericks Transformation Pack is for you. Search around sites like DeviantART and our Featured Desktop series for inspiration and links to some pretty cool skins.
1. Create A Customised, Informative HUD
If there's one thing we've learned from the awesome desktops you guys send in, it's that a cool heads-up display (HUD) can make your system far more functional and appealing. Windows users should check out our guide to creating an attractive, customised HUD with Rainmeter. Rainmeter is an awesome program with a lot of cool skins and themes out there for you to try out. Mac users might have to do a bit more work, but can create a lot of cool stuff with GeekTool. Linux users should check out Conky, our favourite customisable system monitor, for all your HUDdy needs.