How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Much Do You Customize Your Operating System?

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Regardless of which operating systems we use there are at least some changes made to personalize each to suit our tastes or needs. This week we would like to know how much you customize your operating system.


Photo by nimariel.

Some of us are content with making minor changes to our operating systems such as changing wallpapers from time to time or switching between the default themes included with our systems. You can easily do other small modifications such as changing some or most of the icons, installing third-party themes, setting up automatic wallpaper downloader-changers, adding third party dock programs (i.e. Object Dock, Rocket Dock), or even a sidebar just to name a few examples.

Perhaps there is a certain combination of changes that you make to each of your systems every time you set up a fresh install. An example would be one or more third party themes, a specific dock program, and special icons that you absolutely love. Maybe you change things so that you have a clean, minimalist look to your system. The possibilities are endless when you think of all the unique changes and combinations thereof available these days.

Then there are people who love to customize every single facet possible on their operating systems…no part goes untouched. These individuals do some truly impressive work to change how their system looks and operates. Such an operating system can become a work of art with all the changes to wallpaper management, icons, themes, gadgets, menu modification, system statistics (i.e. Rainmeter), login screens, system sounds, and more. If you have visited many tech blogs then you have definitely seen some fine examples of these systems.

This week we would like to know how much you customize your operating systems. Do you go with just a few basic changes, hit a middle ground, or go all out once you start changing things? Are there any particular must-have apps that you use to customize your systems? Let us know in the comments!

[polldaddy poll=”4178531″]

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 12/1/10

Comments (41)

  1. KAMiKZ

    I didn’t want to customize until I see your customization picture in this post!! Please, please tell me how you do it. What background is it? And how do you get that beautiful calendar, weather thing..

  2. scott

    i have about ohhhhhhh 15 or so things i do every single time i install. experiment some with new things on a regular basis.

  3. fengshaun

    For me it depends what system I’m working on.

    Openbox: I try to make it look minimalistic and am content with the least amount of clutter. Everything is hidden somehow or another!

    Gnome/KDE: All the whizbang should be seen. Docks, widgets, fancy icons, complex menus, all the fun and fancy! Haiku: well, not much customization is possible yet, so I stick with the defaults for now (except the wallpaper, of course).

    Win7: Not much customization there either. Don’t use it enough to care about it!

  4. Anya

    I don’t go all out like some of the awesome feature desktops on Lifehacker, but I have my share of customizations. I have a dual screen setup, and while the primary screen (left) always has something maximized (browser, homework, anime, games), I use Rainmeter to display the time, calendar and weather on my secondary screen (learned my lesson after wasting an entire day on Devil May Cry 4 when I was supposed to be studying because I didn’t notice how much time had passed…).

    Other things include:
    AutoHotkey Script
    Change Logon Screen background
    DisplayFusion to have 2 different wallpapers for the monitors
    Fences (though it depends on my mood whether to use them or not)

    Used to change all the icons too, but after a few reinstalls/changing computers I became lazy to redo everything.

  5. Isaiah J Roberts

    I’m not a huge custom desktop guy, but I do build my system from scratch… Like, Arch Linux/Gentoo Linux scratch. Which is more about starting with nothing and only choosing the things you want, vs. customizing every square inch of your GUI. Just not a fan of clutter, I prefer all my data to sit in the menubar…

  6. Zach

    I like customizing themes on my computer, to make everything look different. The best things I’ve done is change the start orb and the login screen, because it just makes it look nice and personal…

  7. Hatryst

    Basic windows gadgets. And in the future, i’d love to make my ubuntu look like mac :)

  8. Col

    Every time I change my desktop background on Ubuntu I change the theme to match. I change the colours of a theme, the controls and window borders. I then usually make the plymouth boot splash and login screen match the desktop. I try different combinations of icon sets and fonts and then leave everything alone until I find a new image that I think would make a great wallpaper and start the process all over again.

  9. tim

    I wish I had more time to configure my destop and a more powerful computer.

  10. akash

    stardock fences on every windows os

  11. Stuey

    I remove all Icons from my Windows 7 desktop. I have weather, clock, CPU Monitor, volume level and Everest gadgets on right side of the screen. Then I have the open window set up to cover the left side over to the gadgets. That way while I’m using the computer I can always see the time, weather and cpu levels and temps. I have only 6 programs pinned to the taskbar. I have it set up with Classic Shell Start Menu since I can’t abide the Windows Start Menu. I am an extreme function over form kind of person and I like it simple.

  12. HCamper

    I add mostly things to my “Windows” systems from using “Linux” and adding things to “Linux” from “Windows”.
    I have spent time shortening “PATH” for both “Windows” and “Linux”.
    A short path and correct “PATH” makes things just work faster.

    Simple hint: at cmd or run prompt ECHO %PATH% > C:\path-machine-date.txt
    set > C:\env-machine-date.txt.
    The two steps save current working “PATH” and enviroment.
    Put the two items in a safe place it may save your machine.
    Windows system:
    For Linux steps are “ls -a” find the “bash” rc or echo PATH > /home/usrname/path-machine-date.txt
    The file may save you time next time desktop like “Gnome” rearranges your usr path.

    The “Gvim” editor for cmdline.
    The “Nasm” asm tool.
    “Cmake” for compile of vs2008 vs2010 and GCC projects.
    I add the above programs so I can work same between “Windows and Linux”.
    I have a collection of about 400 meg of Desktop wallpaper that
    goes on both “Windows” and “Linux” systems.

    The “Active State perl and Python” so can create quick solutions for Web and
    system operation.
    I add “Eye Candy” using hacked msstyles so themes from
    “Windows XP” can work on Windows 7 and Vista.
    I add “Compiz” and “KDE Options” for “Eye Candy for “Linux”.
    A system should work for you since computers are just appliances.
    Windows and Linux can Work Together.

  13. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I can not make very many changes to my Ubuntu 10.10 system – they totally screwed up the ability to install NVidia 3D drivers! (Ya! I’m angry.) Therefore, I won’t “modify” my Ubuntu desktop since there’s very little point to even use Ubuntu. I must now downgrade to Ubuntu 9.10 or wait for the Ubuntu “geniuses” to realize the huge mistake they made with regard to 3D NVidia drivers.

    Now, as far as Windows goes, One particular app I like is Rocket Dock. Personally, I don’t use it but the family does. (I think they’ve had their brains washed by Apple somehow.) Still, I have to admit that Rocket Dock does look impressive, is very customize-able and is definitely more pleasing on the eye than the boring old Windows Task Bar is (which doesn’t seem to EVER change much). HEY! MICROSOFT!! WINDOWS TASK BAR IS BORING!!! Can we at least have some tools to change the color and/or opacity (without having to install/use Aero)?

  14. Edmenje

    Customize on an ongoing basis. Windows 7 now needs less than I did with Vista in a few areas.
    I currently use Rainmeter/Gnomemeter as top bar (the Wireless and System configs I customized to my liking), with Desktop Coral to keep maximized windows from covering over it, 7 Stacks shortcuts in Quicklaunch bar as my launcher, Classic Shell to Customize and extend the functionality of Explorer and to replace the start menu which I’ve hated since XP (the classic setting was ugly, but now with Aero transparency and floating menus its beautiful, the standard Win 7 start menu is only a Shift-click away if I need it). Other tweaks you can’t see are the shortcuts for Command Window, Control Panel, Regedit, Revo Uninstall, Task Manager, Lock, Restart and Shutdown added to the Right-click context menu along with removal of all “New” items except for Text Document, Folder and Shortcut. I Also change the login screen to match my wallpaper and use a compatible user account picture for theming consistency.

    You can see my basic Desktop at
    Classic Shell’s start menu shown Here

    In Linux I’ve gone as far as to edit images and *rc files to create variations of Window manager’s styles I definitely go for a pretty minimalist dark-themed look.

  15. nt0xik8ed

    first thing i do is remove all the desktop icons and work everything from the start menu or taskbar. i always manipulate the wallpaper into a dark background. its hard to handle light wallpaper with 2 monitors, i feel like i’m tanning. rainmeter is always installed and i’m constantly playing around with the settings but i try to keep the basics like weather, calendar, system monitoring, etc. i set my trackman mouse to high speed to cover both monitors quick, set the folder options to 1 click, turn off remote access, customize the start menu and power settings. install my fonts and alpha blend cursor.

  16. Asian Angel

    @KAMiKZ – The best avenue to find out what she used to customise her desktop is to contact “nimariel (gwen roolf)” over at Flickr where I found the image. ^_^

  17. Kyle

    When I was younger I would change everything about the OS I was using. Now about thing I change is the wallpaper, and sometimes the default color scheme, to a different, built in color scheme. I just stopped caring about it.

  18. Asian Angel

    @Hatryst – I believe there are two separate theming packages already available that do that if I remember correctly. ^_^ Just not certain how complicated they are to set up… >_>

  19. Allen

    The customization in the picture shown look like Rainmeter to me. I use Rainmeter myself. I’ll never use anything else. It rocks!

  20. Edrei

    I customise my system as much as I can to streamline the way I use my system. For my dual screen, Win 7 gaming rig I use:

    Rainmeter with Omnimo theme
    Uxtheme Patcher with a theme I found on DeviantArt
    Startkiller to hide the Start Orb
    Desktop Coral to reserve an area of my screen that won’t be hidden by maximised windows.
    Pidgin with GTK skin to match the colour theme of my desktop.

    Basically there are no icons on my desktop and everything else is either called up by autohotkey script or Launchy

    My 10″ netbook on the other hand uses Ubuntu with Gnome, but with Gnome-Do to perform the same function as Launchy. To save space on maximised screens, I installed the Maximus app to emulate one of the best features of the Unity interface while still using the full Desktop screen.

    All these aren’t counting the amount of customisations I do Firefox to work in tandem with my customised OS. Things like this make me feel good to be a geek. :)

  21. jose antonio muñoz

    i didn’t used to change anything until recently i read your articles about Rainmeter, since then i installed and i’m trying some little customizations. By the way i’m waiting your next articles about Rainmeter.

  22. Anonymous

    I can’t stand the default visual style, and I replace it with good ones I find on deviantart. I also change walls from, and interfacelift. As far as rainmeter, or desktop gadgets I can’t stand them. I have a laptop and screen space is a must so no sidebar for gadgets, and I run everything maximized so no point in having something on the desktop that I can’t see. I don’t bother with login passwords (anybody that wants your info can get it, unless you use truecrypt of course) so no changing login screens. I remove the icons on my desktop (except recycle bin and temp folder which is used for putting unsorted files in) and I don’t bother customizing icons (too lazy) on the superbar.

  23. adsicks

    I run Linux on a Laptop with an Intel video card, so I always have to tweek for that to work. Then I like to run Compiz-fusion on top of KDE so that take another tweek. I also had some problems with the KDE 4 screen saver and now run X Screen Saver…On top of all of that, I see stuff on YouTube, or a cool screen shot and I have to try it out myself. I think the next big thing for me is migrating to E17…

  24. Nathaniel

    Constantly tweaking and altering my system. Both operation and simple GUI. Using winstep Xtreme currently, so on my dual monitor setup I have a dock on the primary and a ‘start bar’ spanning both with the CPU meter/Network meter/weather/etc. widges docked to that. I have 3 or 4 different desktop image themes that I swap out regularly, and each one contains ~15-30 images that change every 30 minutes, so there’s no background boredom. Clean out the icons on my desktop on a regular basis (I built myself a little utility to automatically sort/delete desktop items based on file extension and am constantly updating the extension lists as well as placement folders, so I never have to manually sort anything. Saves a bunch of time and thought. Just drag the assorted items on the desktop to the only icon constantly on the desktop (which is that utility).

    Gimme a clean, minimalist desktop anytime!

  25. KAMiKZ

    @Asian Angel, Thank you!

  26. scott

    the 15 or so things i mentioned earlier include changing the start button,log on screen and making most my icons with icofx. i have only 4 icons on my desktop so thats really no big deal though. run everything from the start menu except a few app.s that i run from the app.s folder i keep on the desktop. i dont see the need for the “corral/fence” type programs since i just make folders and put everything i need in those. have tried a couple of rocket dock type programs and hate everyone i’ve seen. just way too cluttered for my tastes, only have 5 items total on my taskbar, besides the time haha. i too go with a very minimalist look. have tried various themes but have yet to find one that says “me”. so i just spend the time after each install making my win7 “mine”. want take this opportunity to thank both the how to geek and you asian angel for the advice and tips i get here for tweeking my system.look. (extra extra thanks for turning me on to deviant art!!!!) i also spend an inordinate amount of time changing my opera browser :)

  27. Kate

    I know this is about computer operating systems, but I use my phone a LOT more than I actually use my computers… And I LOVE customizing my phones. I used to own a WinMo phone for a time and I bought it already modded with al kinds of cool stuff. Now I’m back to my favorite–Palm–and I have it boiling away with oodles of Homebrew patches. Some of them are necessary because WebOS was clearly far from finished when it debuted, but some are just fun!

    I once bought a modded WinMo phone, and that was pretty neat, but being a Palm user, I ended up going back to my old Treo, which I couldn’t bear to get rid of.

  28. Sandynhercats

    I have a slew of modifications I do. I 1st go 2 Black and adjust my services a bit. I adjust my taskbar speed 2 high, I usually change some of the Windows theme effects (animation, Etc.) I use Webshots for my theme (granddaughter’s pictures and seasonal) and don’t use a screensaver. I change my cursor and some of my desktop icons. I try to be careful of each program’s drain on my resources.

  29. Kane

    The customization shown is on a Mac… not sure if there’s rainmeter for OSX.

  30. purplegreendave

    I used to go all out until I upgraded from Vista to 7.
    At the time, there weren’t a whole lot of themes out there that kept 7’s new taskbar functionality, so I gave up…
    Might have another go after my exams…

  31. stats

    i love customizing my desktop: (im in highschool so in the top left corner it’s what i have to complete-my school todo list)

  32. Jon

    I use Linux Mint. I pretty much change everything. That’s the advantage and freedom of Linux. No Apple or Windows user can claim the same thing.

  33. Habdab

    I like to change the appearance of my OS (WinXP Pro) At the moment I’m using a combination of SE Desktop Constructor with a large digital clock in the centre, Rainlendar for the Calendar and weather station, Qlock for World times, currency exchange and RSS feed and Stardock fences. I also have Alt Desk installed in case I need more space whilst working. I have set all my Windows shells to open and occupy the centre portion of my desktop leaving my Icons, calendar,weather etc, in full view at all times.

    All I want to do now is to change my desktop Icons to a column of buttons so I can access important folder in one click.
    Any suggestions what software will allow this?

  34. chess

    i use stardock fences. used all the rest and got tired of saving profiles and setting stuff back up each time i moved lap or pc.

  35. 0411

    I don’t like the fact it uses my RAM mamory and CPU so i just amke the changes that my OS allows me to.

  36. Mike

    I customize my systems to the point where most people can’t even figure out what operating system is on the box and many of them have multiple operating systems side by side or one within the other.

  37. Charles

    I used to have tons of changes then i had to reinstall my OS like 3 times in a row and i havent gotten around to it again

  38. Zack

    Just reinstalled XP and Ubuntu and I customized XP. After the games install, I will move onto Ubuntu. I wasn’t planning on customizing XP, but I can’t live with an ugly OS. I just have Rocketdock and Rainmeter with a custom Windows theme. Rocketdock is basically just shortcuts to the games and Chrome – the only things I’ll use on XP. Ubuntu is my main OS with the real apps. XP is just my gaming OS.

    I will customize Ubuntu with AWN and an Emerald theme for the most part.

  39. Jan Svoboda

    I have been customizing Windows appearance until the system doesn’t want to boot :D So, now I have clean reinstalled Windows 7.

  40. Zack

    Oh @all-the-people-wondering-about-the-mac-rainmeter I assume it’s GeekTool (I believe that’s its name). It’s a Rainmeter-like, Conky-like program for Mac.It shows system stats, the clock, and whatever else you may wish it to have.

  41. Elizabeth

    lollll if my fiancee was to answer this question he would say that I need intervention :)
    I am constantly (every other day) changing to a new look on my desktop pc. I use wincustomize,
    rainmeter, winstep, windowblinds, sysmetrix, desktopx, and every possible clock and weather widget to match my themes/colors that I can find and I store it all on my external hard drive just in case my pc decides it’s too tired to work. I have had to restore my pc to its factory state more than the normal
    cuz I am constantly downloading goodies.
    I can only say this,,,,,,whatever makes me/you a happy person without hurting anyone, then
    go for it ! we only live once and if a pretty colorful desktop with all matching colors widgets,
    themes etc. then why not ?? This is “my toy” and a computer is just that ,,,,,,a computer and
    can be replaced 10 times over lollll not to mention how the technology continues to change
    rapidly !
    I treated myself to an all in one pc with touch features, a tv tuner, blue ray player and 2 TB of
    storage lolllllll not to mention the two externals I have (one is 3TB and the other is 1TB and its full)
    in case you ask why ? I also like to download music and share with my friends and family by
    sending music via dropbox :) I occassionally download a movie from via torrents.
    today I watched ticking clock with cuba gooding jr and the strike with jennifer anistan while downloading goodies from wincustomize :) using my new pc and my 46″ tv as the add’l monitor for the movie.
    I thank Howtogeek so much for continuing to post articles that have taught me lots ! I just love hanging
    out with geeks !! what’s tops it all ,,,,,,,is that it’s FREE !!

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