The windows desktop as it comes packaged is useful for a range of tasks such as home expenses, internet surfing and audio/visual content. However, as designers & developers we need to get the most out of our computers in the shortest of actions. Follow these tips to desktop customisation bliss.
Windows XP & Vista
Replace your Desktop Shortcuts with a Dock
Mac’s come standard with a dock – a bar placed across the bottom of your desktop containing shortcuts to your applications neatly. They are a useful way of accessing your documents and applications compared to desktop shortcuts. For example, hovering your cursor at the bottom of your monitor when your in an application will bring the dock to focus. These docks can also notify you which applications are currently open, and complete tasks such as web search if required.
There are a range of free docks available for Windows which replicate the Mac dock and allow you to customise further.
ObjectDock can be customised with a wide range of skins available, from the icons you use to whether applications are launched minimised or maximised. You can also drag a file, such as an image onto a program in your dock (Photoshop), and it will open the file within that program.
Although RKLauncher is still at Beta version, it is stable enough to recommend. The initial theme included recreates the Mac Dock completely, even with icons to fit. If you do not like the standard theme, you can find many more at DeviantArt, that can replicate other styles such as Leopard. RKLauncher uses little RAM and will not slow your computer down.
RocketDock is very similar to ObjectDock, and is infact compatible with ObjectDock skins. The application works the same way, creating a dock on the edge of your desktop window. RocketDock also supports Docklets such as Shutdown, Log Off, Restart Shortcuts to save you even more time.
Similar to desktop docks, there are desktop widgets available which allow you to get all information you require direct to your desktop.
Yahoo! Widgets have almost 5000 different widgets for you to download. Admittedly, a range of these are games & entertainment, but there is a great amount of utilities such as Zipper, an animated utility for zipping and unzipping files or PostIt, allowing you to write quick notes you may need to remember.
AveDesk enables desklets, from weather information to calculators on your desktop. You can also use AveDesk to create custom shortcuts on your desktop, customising the text labels that are displayed alongside your icons. For example you could create a shortcut to your e-mail attatchments folder and display how many files are currently within it and need to be cleared up. Custom themes for AveDesk can be found at DeviantArt.
You may not want a large dock full of icons, and having to go through Start > Programs until you find the shortcut your after can be very tedious. The solution? Keystroke launchers allow you to launch applications without a touch of the mouse.
Launchy is a free keystroke launcher, which once opened, will display a list of your applications depending on the letters you type in. You can customise what folders it will look in for executables, and whether to include your browser’s bookmarks or not. As with all the applications we’ve included, you are not trapped to the default skin. You can find a great range of other themes at Launch Skins or deviantart.com.
Enso is another launcher that saves your clicks and time. Once installed it allows you to quickly complete a range of commands such as copy, paste & calculations. You can take a look at it yourself at their homepage.
Extend your toolbar across multiple monitors
Oscar’s MultiMonitor TaskBar
Oscar’s MultiMonitor TaskBar does exactly that, extending your Windows toolbar across to your other monitors. Any applications open on your secondary (or third!) monitor will be shown in its own task bar. There is both a free version and also pro that costs to provide additional features such as resizing windows across monitors.
UltraMon does not offer a free version, but comes with advanced support for wallpapers and screen savers to let them spread over multiple monitors which is helpful. Another cool feature are the shortcuts, such as Ctrl+Right which will move an application from the left monitor across to the right. In the same way, Ctrl+Left will move it back to it’s original place. This is very helpful when you have a range of apps & folders open and need to move things around quickly.
Take control of your print screens
Greenshot is an application which allows you to save screenshots of full windows or regions of the screen with ease. It’s usefulness is self explanatory, as it saves you the time & effort of having to crop screenshots for future use in your graphics editing program.
Give your applications center focus
When your working with many windows open all at once, wouldn’t it be really useful to dim everything else out so you can focus on one. That’s exactly what Jedi Concentrate does. A free application, you can toggle dimming through keyboard shortcuts. Give it a try, it’s seriously a great tool!
Use a custom icon set
Using a custom icon set can really help set your desktop and operating system away from the norm. If you spend most of your time using your computer, surely you would want to make it appealing to look at? Icons are another free way we can do this. Below is a list of a few icon sets designed for Operating Systems.
- Windows Icons v1
- CS3 iKons
Use some inspiring Wallpaper
We’ve blogged about this already, but finding wallpaper that is beautiful & inspiring is a great way to improve your desktop and hopefully spur you on to producing great work! Some places to find great wallpaper are:
- Desktop Nexus
Although Evernote is not strictly a custom application for your desktop, we are including Evernote for its great aid in productivity – working across your desktop to internet browser.
Evernote allows you to save information you find, making it incredibly easy to find again. By highlighting text & images in your browser you can save them to Evernote, tagging them under whatever grouping you like.
They also have an iPhone/iPod Touch app which allows you to save notes, photos or audio which again will be relayed to your desktop & browser versions of Evernote. It’s a great tool for any research, learning or general browsing that you may do.
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