5 Amazing Windows UI Tweaks

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Chances are, your PC is pretty tame--you have a beach-scene wallpaper, the default Windows 7 Aero theme, and a standard-issue Dell keyboard. But you don't have to settle for the ordinary. It's time to mix things up with a few easy ways to make everybody say "Wow."

Though we can't give you the oh-so-cool Minority Report interface, we can give you a few tips on how to spice up your tech life--with a widget here, a wallpaper there, maybe even a touchscreen or two--and impress your friends with a new look.

Update Your Interface With a DIY Surface

Your computer probably looks like, well, a computer. It has a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse--the basics.

Why not update your interface? Throw in a touchscreen. Heck, throw in a whole touchscreen table!

Microsoft Surface is a computer table--you may have seen it in your local AT&T store--that responds to multitouch gestures and can recognize real-world objects (such as phones) that people place on its surface. Because it can register multiple touches at once, it's also multiuser. Sounds cool, right? It's also expensive--it'll set you back $12,500 (not including $1000 in shipping and installation), and that's only if you're buying it for a business (currently it isn't available for home consumers).

Don't fret, though: You can make your own multitouch table, with an acrylic screen, infrared lights, an old Webcam, a projector, software, and some patience.

The key to making a multitouch panel is infrared light. To build your own Surface-style table, you need an acrylic panel that's lit around the edge with infrared LEDs. When your finger (or another object) touches the panel, it scatters the infrared light, which an infrared camera then reads. The camera is able to detect multiple fingers or objects. Some touch panels are pressure sensitive, too; basically, a pressure-sensitive coating is applied, and when a finger presses down on the panel, it flexes and changes the way the light scatters.

If you have a day or two and about $200 to spare, you can construct your own multitouch table fairly easily, using a guide from Instructables. If you'd rather have a more polished multitouch table (but you're still not willing to start your own company and shell out $12,500), Nortd Labs sells a multitouch starter kit consisting of a screen with embedded infrared illumination, an infrared camera, software, and instructions, all for $1430.

Mod Your Operating System With Rainmeter and Samurize

If you're like 99 percent of PC users, you probably haven't paid much attention to your operating system's visual style (save for changing your wallpaper every now and then). A great way to update your PC's look is to change your theme--you can start with our collection of downloadable themes.

But what if you want something a little less generic?

You can change the way Windows looks, but you'll need a few add-ons to do it. Rainmeter, a free "customizable resource meter," allows you to dress up your desktop with "skins," which are essentially fully customizable widgets. This open-source platform has a full instruction manual that details how to manipulate skins via code. Rainmeter comes in a 32-bit version and a 64-bit version.

Even better, though, hundreds of premade Rainmeter themes are just ripe for the plucking. Also, Rainmeter comes with the popular--and sexy--Enigma theme by Kaelri as a default.

If Rainmeter doesn't push your buttons, Samurize is another open-source desktop monitoring and customization tool. Samurize features a WYSIWYG editor, so no programming is necessary for you to create your own themes. And, of course, you'll find a large Samurize theme community on the Net, as well.

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