Most of us spend a significant part of the day staring at computer screens. And while the Internet offers a myriad of cat videos, food porn and other distractions, your desktop can remain rather bland at best and infuriatingly cluttered at worst.
These applications and plugins will help you design a sleeker, cleaner and downright cool Windows desktop. Whether you’re looking to add stunning landscapes to your screen or seeking to totally pimp out your interface, the tools below will help your desktop stand out from the crowd.
Unless otherwise noted, the following applications and software are compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Vladstudio features some beautiful wallpapers, but their clocks will transform your desktop into a useful and stunning display. In order to use their wallpaper clocks, download one of the provided apps to support the clocks and browse to your heart’s content.
Each of the wallpapers displays date and time, and the designs are gorgeous and whimsical. Kick up your desktop’s cuteness factor a few notches and transform your background into a beautiful library, a fantastical forest or an illustrated world.
A customization app for Windows, Rainmeter presents a variety of looks and options for creating the desktop of your dreams. You can easily set up accessible weather widgets, track and control your music and monitor your system status stats at your fingertips. Also use the app to record notes, upload a Google search bar and much more.
Find tons of popular skins like Enigma (above) on DeviantART, Customize.org and Rainmeter’s own forum. Head over to Lifehacker for a very helpful Rainmeter tutorial.
Keep all of your applications on hand in a handy Mac-like dock. By organizing shortcuts in the dock, you’ll rid your desktop of cluttered icons strewn across the screen, while also creating a sleek and clean interface. Again, the dock’s appearance and functionality are completely customizable, with a variety of skins and icons available for download on RocketDock’s add-on site. Transform the feel and function of your shortcuts and their organization. Note: RocketDock is not yet compatible with Windows 8.
If you don’t feel like creating and re-learning an entirely new desktop, DryIcons may be the best option for you. Download sets of cute, quirky icons to replace the standard ones. Get in the holiday spirit with Christmas-themed icons, or choose a minimalist red theme with cloud or horseshoe icons. To replace a generic folder icon, for example, simply right-click and choose Properties > Customize > Change Icon.
Simpler but just as entertaining is Okozo’s collection of interactive wallpapers. Install the software that hosts the wallpapers and choose from a variety of fun characters and images. Outfit your desktop with Flash animations, like a dog that plays fetch and obeys simple commands, a pair of turtles that lazily crawl across your screen or a school of fish that follows your mouse.
The graphics aren’t as impressive as other applications featured here, but most of the designs are charming. Note: Okozo is not yet available for Windows 8.
Enhance and expand your workspace by assigning applications to different virtual desktops, and organize your open windows to work on multiple projects at once without the mess. Like many of the apps above, Dexpot is extremely customizable; control transitions between desktops and the number of desktops you’d like to work with.
Created by Otaku Software, DeskSpace fashions six virtual desktops across a cube. You can run the program on up to nine monitors and switch easily between them with your mouse and keyboard. Customize each desktop individually for optimum efficiency and organization. For example, build one desktop specifically for Internet purposes, another for gaming and media and a third for work — then switch seamlessly among them.
This software is shareware, meaning it costs $24.95. A free testing option is available for a 14-day period.
8. Rotating Wallpapers
Even the coolest wallpaper can get boring after some time. Instead of manually updating your wallpaper, let an app do all the work for you. Apart from its beautiful wallpaper clocks, Vladstudio boasts a selection of wallpapers on a rotating basis. With the Vladstudio Companion app, decide on a frequency to rotate out random wallpapers on your desktop.
Another good app for keeping your wallpapers fresh is Flickr Wallpaper Rotator, which pulls images from Flickr’s wallpaper pool. The app is also customizable — decide how often the wallpaper should change; it pulls images from certain tags. You can even choose to pull wallpapers posted by specific users.
What apps and software do you use to customize your desktop? Let us know in the comments.