If you’re looking for a free but powerful solution to automate your Windows wallpaper switching, read on as we show you how to pull fresh wallpaper from your computer, wallpaper web sites, RSS feeds, and custom image searches.
What You’ll Need
While the wallpaper features in Windows have steadily improved over the years, nothing compares to a solid wallpaper app. Today we’re exploring the benefits of John’s Background Switcher (JBS). For this tutorial you’ll only need the following tools:
- A Windows PC.
- A free copy of John’s Background Switcher.
If you already have a folder of wallpaper images, that’s great. If not, don’t worry! You’ll find JBS will pull wallpaper from so many sources you’ll be flush with new and interesting images.
Installing and Configuring the Application
First, run the installer. Once installed, launch the application. You’ll be greeted with the screen see in the screenshot above.
If you’re not interested in customization or where specifically your images come from, configuring JBS is a one-click affair. If you press the Create some default sets button, JBS will automatically generate a list of local and remote sources like so:
While you can hardly go wrong with great image sources like the top 250 images on Flickr or the new content from the highly regarded Vladstudio, it’s a bit cookie cutter for our taste. The whole point of this tutorial, after all, is to enjoy wallpaper customized and tailored to your tastes.
To that end, let’s skip the default sets and start adding our own. JBS supports a wide variety of sources. Click the Add button to see them:
Let’s start off by adding in a Google Image search as a supply source. Click on Add and select Google image search. You’ll be presented with a dialog box like so:
When you’re setting up image search strings, be they for Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, we’d suggest hitting up the actual search engine to see if the terms you’re using yield the results you want. In our case, searching for large images of microchips yielded a lot of bland diagrams and generic digital photos, tacking on “wallpaper” greatly enhanced the results.
If you want to more tightly moderated content—using Google Images is great for volume and variety, but not so great when it comes to the kind of focus you can find from other sources—pulling images from Flickr groups and people can be quite useful. Even if you don’t have a specific Flickr group in mind, just pulling from the top photos that share a simple tag or two can yield interesting results:
One of the greatest, and potentially most under used features in JBS, however, is the ability to pull images from RSS feeds. This opens up a whole world of content that isn’t normally accessible to a wallpaper application. Let’s say, for example, you like a particular artist or category on the web site DeviantArt. You can easily turn their galleries into an RSS feed to fuel your wallpaper addiction. Let’s do that now to demonstrate how easily it can be done.
First, visit DeviantArt and hit up the wallpaper section—technically you could use the RSS feed for any content on DeviantArt, but the wallpaper section already houses tens of thousands of images that are in monitor-friendly sizes. You’ll notice at the bottom of the first gallery page, a small RSS icon like so:
You’ll see that logo all throughout DeviantArt, clicking on it gives you an RSS link that, normally, you’d plug into an RSS reader. In our case the RSS reader is JBS, which will in turn pull images from DeviantArt. Since having all the wallpaper on DeviantArt would be a bit overwhelming, we’re going to drill down to Abstract category and snag the RSS link from there. Simply right-click on the RSS icon and copy the address then head over to JBS. Click on Add then RSS photo feed. Paste the URL into the slot and click Test. JBS will check the RSS feed and report back on whether or not the feed was valid and, if so, how many images are in it.
Any site, be it a full-scale wallpaper archive or a simple Tumblr blog, that has an RSS feed can be turned into a source for wallpapers. Here are some sites with RSS support you might consider for addition to JBS:
Once you have some sources plugged in (be they folders on computer, RSS feeds, or otherwise), it’s time to tell JBS what you want it to do with them and how often:
At the bottom of the main interface you can select frequency, mode, and what to do with multiple monitors. You can swap images every with a frequency ranging from every 10 seconds to every 7 days. Picture mode supports the basics (like scaling and cropping) as well as more advanced layouts like montages and picture piles. Finally, you can specify if you want a unique wallpaper on each monitor, the same on all, or one picture to span the whole desktop.
Configuring the Advanced Features of John’s Background Switcher
While an easy to use interface and ample support for a variety of sources may seem like the obvious reasons JBS is so popular, it’s in the advance configuration settings (accessible from the More button on the main interface) that you can really see why geeks love the application. There are dozens upon dozens of tweaks that let you completely customize your wallpaper experience. While we can’t cover every setting and tweak here, we’re going to highlight a few you may find useful.
Under the General tab you’ll find two useful settings. First, you can set JBS to put information about the picture in the upper right hand corner.
If you’re using one of the Google/Bing/Yahoo! image search tools, especially, it’s quite handy to see where the image is coming from (as you can then go investigate the site if you would like more).
Also in the General tab, the keyboard shortcuts are worth noting for those times you want to change the background without mousing over to the system tray icon.
Under the Picture Sources tab, there’s a useful feature. By default, JBS doesn’t save the images it pulls from the various internet-based sources you’ve added to it. If you would like it to do so, it’s in this sub-menu you can toggle on picture saving and select a folder to dump them in.
If you’re a stickler for clean and easy to read desktop icon text, you’ll love the No Draw Zones feature. It allows you to specify a space on the screen, such as a column on the left hand side of the screen, where no background will be rendered. This creates, in effect, a corral area for your icons which will always have a neutral background for good text contrast.
Between the abundant and easily customized sources and the abundant and easily customized settings, John’s Background Switcher is one of the most versatile Windows wallpaper management applications around. Have a cleaver JBS-centric tip or just a great wallpaper source to share? Sound off in the comments and share the wealth with your fellow readers.
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 05/22/12