capsule review

Customize Your Desktop With Open-Source Utility Rainmeter

At a Glance

Microsoft's user interface designers face a tough challenge when deciding what Windows would look like. There's just one look and feel, but it must cater to the needs of occasional users, kids, elderly people, and power users who spend sixty hours a week in front of their computer. Windows 7 came out great, but it's not perfect for everyone. With Rainmeter 2.2 (free), you can craft your very own desktop environment that feels just right.

Rainmeter screenshot
Rainmeter ships with the simple Illustro skin which you can easily customize.
Rainmeter is a system resource monitor. Its job is to present the information you want to see in the format that works for you: Think of it as a customizable dashboard. You can use Rainmeter to monitor CPU and memory load, the current time, the weather, your Facebook or Twitter feeds, your Gmail, and more.

Rainmeter calls these various bits of information "measures." Your current CPU load is a measure, and so is the current time. Measures are displayed using meters. You could use a bar meter to represent the current CPU load, and a string meter to show the current time (or a quote of the day, or any other textual information). The end result often looks like a semi-transparent overlay of data on your wallpaper, filled with stylish graphs, circles and numbers, much like something out of a good sci-fi movie.

Fortunately, you don't have to get so technical to use Rainmeter. There is an active community of fans and developers who constantly create and share new skins for Rainmeter. A single skin could be as simple as a desktop clock just showing the current date and time. These are often combined into suites, each containing several skins that share a uniform look and feel and can be toggled on and off (so you can use the clock part of the suite, but not its Twitter part).

The Rainmeter website recommends getting started with one of three comprehensive skin suites, each containing many different skins. There is also a Rainmeter group on art website Deviantart, a hub for designers to share their creations, with a "Skin of The Month" competition.

Skins are very easy to install, but you should use discretion when downloading them. A skin is not just a passive resource file: It can contain executable components, and so could potentially be malicious. Stick with recommended sources of skins, such as the Deviantart group. You could also read more about malicious Rainmeter skins on the forums at Rainmeter.net.

What if you see a skin that is almost perfect for you, except for the choice of font or color, or the fact that it displays the time in a format you don't like? Worry not: You can just download the skin and edit its configuration (INI) file to change these parameters. Beware: Once you realize how customizable skins are, it is easy to become addicted to changing and tweaking them endlessly. This could take hours, and result in a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind desktop. You've been warned.

--Erez Zukerman

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.