Downloads to Dress Up Your PC
Don't like having to look at the same desktop day after day? We can't blame you; we feel the same way. Just as some people have an ongoing need to redo their houses, we feel the urge to revamp our PC desktops regularly.
Of course, remodeling your house costs a great deal of money--but renovating your desktop needn't cost much at all, if anything. Here we've rounded up ten great downloads that can give your PC a whole new look. Give them a try, and you won't mind looking at your desktop.
(If you're eager to start downloading a bunch of these programs, see our "Downloads to Dress Up Your PC" collection.)
This program converts your desktop into a 3D virtual room, where you can place icons, shortcuts, and files not only on the floor but also along the walls. You can even place various objects into piles, or have BumpTop automatically group all your items into piles on its own. To see everything in a particular pile, you simply double-click the pile to view its contents laid out in a grid; from there you can use what you want, and then collapse the pile again.
You can also create picture frames that can cycle through pictures on your hard drive, or that can instead show pictures obtained via RSS feeds. BumpTop gives you a few starter picture frames, but creating more of your own is easy enough.
With this program you also have the ability to fling objects and watch them bounce, as well as to search for desktop objects. Additionally, you get access to an assortment of widgets, including one nifty item that will upload a picture to Facebook when you throw that picture onto the widget.
All of that fun, though, does exact a performance hit: Your PC will run noticeably slower when you use this program. Nevertheless, it's quite entertaining, and useful for anyone tired of their old desktop. BumpTop comes in Free and Pro versions. The Pro version, which costs $29, adds more functions, such as the ability to use your mouse wheel to flip through all of the items in a pile. But you certainly don't need Pro--the Free program works just fine.
Download BumpTop | Price: Free
"Good fences make good neighbors," Robert Frost famously wrote--and this program shows that they make good desktops, too. Fences does exactly what it says: It fences off parts of your desktop and devotes them to certain things, such as applications, Web links, folders, recent items, files and documents, and more. That way, instead of having to search through your disorganized desktop for an item, you just go to the appropriate fenced area and find it immediately there.
You can customize Fences to create your own categories, and you can place any objects inside the fences you want. You can also control the number of fences and where they're located, as well as customize the fences' transparency, brightness, and colors. And a very nice feature lets you dismiss or restore all of your icons with a double-click on the desktop.
Unlike with 3D desktops, with Fences your PC won't suffer slowdown. Though Fences is not quite as nifty-looking as 3D desktops are, it makes organizing your desktop easy, without any detrimental effect on performance. Given that it's free, it's well worth the download.
Download Fences | Price: Free
MagicTweak is a great program for adjusting how Windows looks and works in countless ways. Begin with the Start menu: With this tool you'll be able to hide many items from the Start menu, including everything from My Computer to Recent Documents. You can even hide the Control Panel, if you'd like; you can also force the Control Panel to use its "classic" look, and disable drag and drop on it. You can determine how Windows Explorer appears and acts, too.
Though this utility gives you many options for customizing Windows' appearance, that's only the beginning. Even more powerful is this program's ability to alter how components of Windows work. Among other options, you'll find tweaks for security and for your network connections.
Download MagicTweak | Price: $40
Microangelo Toolset 6
One of the quickest ways to dress up your desktop is to change your icons--or better yet, create new ones of your own. You don't have to be a Michelangelo to do it: Through this program you can make icons easily, even if you don't have a shred of artistic ability. You'll be able to design icons in any color format and any size, including icons appropriate for Vista and for XP.
Those with little artistic talent will want to start off by importing a graphic into the program. Just find one you like (such as by searching with Google Images) and then import the graphic--the program automatically converts it into an icon. Afterward, with the program's simple-to-use tools, you can clean it up so that it's suitable for an icon. If do you have artistic skills, all the better: Paint tools, drawing tools, and specific icon-creation tools are all at your disposal. You'll be creating or editing icons in no time.
Beyond the icon-creation tools, Microangelo also lets you manage your icons, browse through your icons, and even make animated icons.
Download Microangelo Toolset 6 | Price: $50
Real Desktop Light
This freebie doesn't merely dress up your desktop--it thoroughly transforms your desktop into a three-dimensional one. More than that, though, the objects on your desktop become virtual objects that you can rotate, move, and even throw against one another. They react just as if they were real-world objects; they have weight and physical dimensions, and behave accordingly. For example, when you throw one object against another, the items crash, clink, and slide.
You'll find a lot of playfulness in this program (the Recycle Bin, for instance, becomes a 3D trash can). But you'll like the app not just for its whimsy but also for its usefulness. It makes finding what you want on your PC much easier.
Download Real Desktop Light | Price: Free
More Downloads to Dress Up Your PC
Do you covet the Mac OS X Dock, the bar of icons that runs along the bottom or side of the desktop and offers access to frequently used programs? If not, you should, because it's one of Mac OS X's niftiest features. So nifty, in fact, that the Windows 7 taskbar will have its own Dock-like feature.
No need to wait, though: RocketDock offers similar features. You can place it at the top, bottom, or either side of your screen, and it contains icons that you can click on in order to launch programs. You'll find My Computer, Recycle Bin, Control Panel, and several others, for starters. You won't want to leave it at that, though--and you don't have to, because you can add new programs to the dock simply by dragging and dropping them. If you don't like the way the icons and the dock look, you can change that, too, by altering the opacity of the icons or applying different visual styles to the dock. It's free, so if you want a new-look desktop, it's a great download.
Download RocketDock | Price: Free
Tidy Start Menu
If you have more than just a few programs and utilities on your XP system, you most likely have a mess on your hands. When you install new programs or utilities, they appear on your Start menu willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason. Pretty soon, trying to locate programs that you want to run becomes an exercise in frustration.
This simple little free program solves the problem neatly. It lets you put the programs and utilities on your Start menu into separate groups--Office, Utilities, Games, Entertainment, Internet, Programming, Graphics, Security, and Other--so that it's always easy to find exactly what you need. The utility is exceedingly simple to use, so you'll want to give it a try. The creators also offer a for-pay version that lets you add and edit categories as well as remove obsolete shortcuts from the Start menu, among other capabilities. But for most people, the free version will do quite well.
Download Tidy Start Menu | Price: Free
Fond of the transparent windows of Windows Vista and the upcoming Windows 7, but unwilling to move to either operating system? No problem. TweakWindow will give you the best of both worlds: You get to keep Windows XP and enjoy transparent windows too. And not only can this program make window borders transparent, as Vista and Windows 7 do, but it can also make each entire window transparent. On top of that, you can control exactly how transparent the windows are, starting with no transparency and moving all the way up to absolute invisibility. Better still, you can customize the transparency of individual program windows, making some more transparent than others.
Another option is to turn some windows into "ghost" windows that are transparent and allow you to click through them to windows beneath. You can also minimize an entire window into a floating toolbar with the program's "rollup" feature. And you can even make the Windows taskbar transparent.
Download TweakWindow | Price: $21
Want to take control of Vista, including many aspects of its appearance? Simply download and install this program, and within a few minutes you'll be tweaking Vista in ways you never thought possible. You can turn Aero or the Windows Sidebar on or off, disable balloon tips, switch to the classic view of the Control Panel, make Vista's power button work like XP's button does, force Vista to show the menus of Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, and a lot more.
Additionally, with Vista4Experts you can adjust how the OS works, such as by turning User Account Control on or off and disabling Security Center notifications.
If you're experienced enough, you could do all of that yourself, by digging through Vista's countless menus and options. But in Vista4Experts you can handle everything from a single, simple menu. Use it, and you'll soon be a Vista expert without sacrificing time and effort learning to become one.
Download Vista4Experts | Price: Free
Yahoo Widget Engine
If you're a fan of widgets, neat little applets that live on your desktop or sidebar, you'll most likely be a fan of Yahoo Widget Engine. This freebie from Yahoo lets you choose from hundreds of great mini-applications that do just about anything you can imagine--and probably plenty of things you can't. When you download it, you get the engine itself plus a starter pack of widgets that includes a clock, a battery monitor, a stock tracker, an e-mail checker, a weather widget, and others. You can position the widgets on the side of your screen or anywhere on your desktop.
Yahoo's site has plenty of other free widgets, including RSS readers, games, an iTunes remote controller, and even a tuner for listening to Sirius satellite radio on your PC (but you'll need a subscription for that). You can even find a widget based on the TV show Lost, in which you can enter the numbers "4 8 15 16 23 42" every 108 minutes, just as the characters did down in the hatch.
Download Yahoo Widget Engine | Price: Free