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Explore new desktop backgrounds and themes in Windows 7

Greg Shultz explores the Desktop Backgrounds and Themes features available in Microsoft Windows 7.

No matter how serious a Microsoft Windows user you consider yourself to be, you've got to admit that you've played around with wallpapering your desktop. In fact, it's probably a safe bet to say that ever since Windows 95 came out and provided us with the ability to easily change and create desktop wallpaper, we've all been enamored with this feature. Chances are also good that when Microsoft Plus! came out for Windows 95 and provided us with the Desktop Themes feature, most of us were happily entertained by the fact that not only could we change the desktop wallpaper but now we could coordinate our entire user interface according to our favorite categorical themes.

Now, even though the Desktop Themes feature was very cool in the beginning, many of us moved on to more serious endeavors, leaving a simple wallpaper in place, a favorite screen saver, and maybe even a few cool sound effects. However, occasionally that old excitement comes back, and we find ourselves toying with the Desktop Themes feature, which has been available in every version of the operating system since Windows 95. Obviously, Microsoft hasn't moved past the entertainment value of customizing the user interface of their operating system.

When I received the Beta version of Windows 7, I was reminded of the coolness of desktop wallpaper when my daughter came into my office soon after I had completed the installation and immediately recognized that the fish on the desktop wallpaper was a Beta fish, a fact that had up to that point eluded me. It was a very subtle, almost subliminal, message, as well as a cool image.

Ever since that moment, I've had an occasional reoccurrence of that entertaining feeling while working with Windows 7 and have explored the available wallpapers, the Desktop Themes feature, and especially the Desktop Background slide show feature. This interest has recently been rekindled by several posts on Microsoft's The Windows Blog site that revolve around this topic.

In this edition of the Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll explore these Desktop Backgrounds and Themes related posts.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

Designing the default theme

In his December 6 post, "How We Designed the Default Background in Windows 7," Brandon LeBlanc introduced a video from Microsoft's Channel 9 site that presented an interview with Denise Trabona, a Senior User Experience Lead on the Windows Design and Research Team, in which she talks about the process of designing the default theme for Windows 7, which is intended to create a sense of light and energy. Along the way, she presents the evolution of the images that eventually became the default desktop background and the default logon screen background for Windows 7.

It's a bit of a long video, but it is very interesting to get an inside perspective and to learn about how much time and energy goes into creating just the right visual image. In addition, you'll have the opportunity to learn about some of the visual Easter eggs hidden in Windows 7. For example, did you know that in the desktop background for the Beta version of the operating system, the Beta fish had 7 bubbles floating above it?

More about the backgrounds

In an earlier video from Microsoft's Channel 9 site, A Look Behind the Backgrounds of Windows 7, Denise Trabona talked about some of the other background images used in Windows 7. As she shows the various images, she provides a behind-the-scenes discussion of the nature and architectural photography, the illustrations, as well as the now-infamous Beta fish.

January 2010 calendar in a Windows 7 theme

In his December 31 post, "Celebrate the Arrival of 2010 with a New Windows 7 Theme!" Brandon LeBlanc introduces 35 desktop wallpaper images, each of which includes a January 2010 calendar from Smashing Magazine, an online publication focused on Web designers and developers and the design community. These images represent a wide variety of styles and are from various worldwide contributors.

Tim Heuer, a program manager for the Microsoft Silverlight Team, took those 35 desktop wallpaper images and created a Windows 7 theme that you can download and install in Windows 7. If, after you install the theme, you configure the Desktop Background slide show feature, you'll have a very cool rotating calendar on your desktop.

Keep in mind that while these images are for January 2010, Smashing Magazine puts together a set of desktop wallpaper for each month with calendars on it. Hopefully Tim will continue creating the monthly themes!

Configure a Desktop Background slide show

Configuring a Desktop Background slide show is easy once you know the steps. Here's how:

  1. Right-click on the Desktop and select the Personalize command.
  2. In the Personalization window, locate and click Desktop Background.
  3. When you see the Choose Your Desktop Background window, shown in Figure A, use the Picture Location dropdown or the Browse button to locate the images you want to use.
  4. Click the Select All button to use all the images shown or select individual images using the check boxes for those images.
  5. You can leave the Picture Position set to Fill or click the drop-down menu to choose one of the other options.
  6. Use the Change Picture Every drop-down menu to select the time interval that you want to use for switching the images.
  7. Select the Shuffle check box if you want to have Windows randomly choose which image to display.
  8. To complete the operation, click the Save Changes button and then close the Personalization window.

You'll now have an image slide show running as your desktop background.

Figure A

Choose your desktop background.

What's your take?

Do you still occasionally play with Desktop Backgrounds and Themes? Have you investigated the Desktop Backgrounds and Themes features in Windows 7? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

TechRepublic's Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report newsletter, delivered every Friday, offers tips, news, and scuttlebutt on Vista and Windows 7, including a look at new features in the latest version of the Windows OS. Automatically sign up today!

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

43 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

if anyone cares to link to good sources for them. Just thought I'd ask.

coderancher
coderancher

I heard the Japanese edition of Windows 7 includes an official mascot and corresponding theme and wallpapers. It looks like a cute anime character, not just some smiley face or paper clip thingy. How come they get to have all the cool mascots?

aspoor
aspoor

I am getting a weird message in Windows 7 that says I have to use the default "Basic," Windows 7 theme because a program I am using cannot properly display the current theme set. How can I find out which program is causing this error? How can I fix it?

RichA
RichA

Please, recurrence -- not reoccurrence

FlaminCarritt
FlaminCarritt

Would really want some interactive type of desktops i.e. you see in CSI how their desktops have this wicked animation running - most of the items only really aren't worth it. come MS make us feel better about using your product!

tweakerxp
tweakerxp

I use Webshots Pro version. Microsofts stuff just doesn't cut it for me.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

I still like a solid color background - desktop icons always seem to hide from my eye in wallpaper pictures. I do increase the horizontal icon spacing (55 in XP, 60 in Vista & Win7) and ensure ClearType is on and tuned, but that's about it.

PoppaTab
PoppaTab

I customized the background right off in the testing of the OS. I have an 8 or 9 picture slide show because I like the feature. I don't go into a great deal of switching things around like text and sounds, but it is fun to muck with it while snowed in. :)

jack247
jack247

I've been using custom wallpaper for as long as I can remember. They only needed to be of a certain size and in BMP format placed in the Windows folder to be listed with the offerings from MS. With Win7 they've changed to JPG format. Being in audio, I started building my own Sound Schemes years ago when someone from TR described how to use the pinball game sounds that came with Windows and associate them with any function in the 'Sounds' directory. I been creating my own event sounds in wav format ever since. Has anyone else noticed that there are no sounds in Win7 called 'Windows Select' even though the select event is in the sound selector but doesn't work? I have a great sound that I've been using for the select function for years but no sound fires for the select function of Win7. I hope they're not doing away with that sound association.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I was glad to see a wallpaper changer built into W7. It saved me loading a PowerToy I used in previous versions. My favorite source of wallpapers is National Geographic's Photo of the Day site: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day About the only other tweak I make is to turn off most of the Aero stuff. No sliding menus, no shadows, no transparency, no other eye candy. I used to load the Classic theme but decided to bite the bullet with Vista.

tony
tony

Is there a Calendar tweak which puts it on front of the screen at bootup ? This will not be of use to folk who have little to do but agreat asset to those who are a little bit busy. It's a bit late to check the Calendar at 11.30am to find that you had a meeting at 9.45am. Tony Rogers

dogknees
dogknees

Have they re-instated all the options for fonts and colours? Just like it was in Win 95? Until they do, I'll consider it broken. They had a feature and they took it away. This cannot be an "upgrade" as they've reduced some funtionality. Until they restore ALL the options, it's BS.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I'm not one that generally cares about backgrounds but these are pretty cool.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I am not a big themes guy, but I have found myself taking a few moments to set up a background slide show in Windows 7. Have you set up a background or theme? What images did you use? Your kids? Favorite locations? Space images?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Geez, it took us forever to get rid of Clippy and that Search dog. Now you want them back??? AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

aspoor, the error message you are getting there sounds strikingly similar to the one you get when an application that does not use accellerated 3d graphics tries to run within a window (as opposed to full screen). It will usually be accompanied with a notation that Aero will be turned off as a result of the applications graphics usage. I wouldn't be surprised if this held true in vice-versa as well. I.E. If the theme you want to use necessitates that Aero be enabled, and you have some running application that does not support OpenGL, you will receive a message as the one you described. Should not be too hard to run down the offending application with this in mind.

FlaminCarritt
FlaminCarritt

Tnx, really, have you used or do YOU know of any reliable really nice eye candy animated desktop apps. I KNOW they our there i was wondering if anyone knew or used a specific one ;-]

Too-Tired Techie
Too-Tired Techie

I read about this some time back - the studios have entire teams designing what you see on computer screens in movies and on TV. The normal stuff you see on your screen would be much too boring and hard to see. Some of them do use Stardock to skin programs giving an entirely new look. Also, in movies where you see some 'Downloading Now...' graphic where the character has only 15 seconds to get the file before the building blows up - the normal download graphic in Windows wouldn't be visible or exciting enough, so the production team designs one that is larger and in camera friendly colors like black and orange, etc. It's an entire industry for film and TV.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Are those animations you're watching on CSI actual programs, or are they just custom-written animations, good for only the 20 or 30 seconds they're seen on the air?

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

The Webshots calendar has been replaced by the provided calendar gadget, less obtrusive but available. I have mixed Webshots' photos with my own from around Europe and North America. The Webshots "screen saver" is a joy when relaxing after working hard to solve a problem.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I agree that previous versions of Windows lacked a good wallpaper changer, but the version in W7 seems to do the job acceptably. I've never trusted Webshots. In their early days subscribing resulted in a bunch of unwanted 'wares, and they've never regained my confidence.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Personalization Windows Color or, for XP Properties Appearance Advanced ?

paladin2
paladin2

I've had 7 for longer than it's been for sale and as usual Windows is behind the 8 ball to Stardock and even my TuneUp Utilities has better and more customizations for Win 7 than you'll find looking in the program itself. But for MS I suppose not too bad. But again second (or third) best.

ddawson5
ddawson5

Has anyone figured out a way to show the titles of the desktop backgrounds? Webshots has this but Win 7 doesn't. Some of the scenes are awesome and it would be nice to know where the picture was taken.

WayneAndersen
WayneAndersen

I will occasionaly change my desktop background using a image downloaded from Astronomy Picture Of the Day.

alblack
alblack

I am not a themes guy either, but I did enjoy Vista's video desktop feature. Why no video desktop feature in Windows 7?

coderancher
coderancher

I just want the cool one that the Japanese get with their copy of Windows 7.

FlaminCarritt
FlaminCarritt

Well nope - i have searched and most are pay to use - clearly i don't want to pay - if there was such a thing as a dumb question then man would never have opened his dumb mouth - nope, dunno bout how they are done but some are quite wicked - tried a few matrix animated desktops ... messed with the system too much. search search search some more or learn to program i suppose

Les Cuthbert
Les Cuthbert

Hi I have used for many years a great calendar program called WallCal, www.zepsoft.com It is an overlay to the desktop, whichever picture you choose, and enables you to triple click on a date to add notes that are then imprinted into the desktop... It will capture any new pictures and put the calendar on them, and you can place the calendar anywhere on your desktop.You can have 1 week showing or many. Completely customizable and has worked through 98,XP, Vista and now 7 with few problems.

dogknees
dogknees

The Advanced settings. Are they back? I went looking in Vista and couldn't find the advanced settings. The only way I could find to alter things was to use third-party skinning software. Is it back with all the options for colours of titlebars and the rest in Win7? When using Aero Glass of course. I'd expect they would add transparency settings for all the objects given the new capabilities of the OS. If it's all there, that would almost be enough to make me go and buy it.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

yeah, what he said. Bring back the typical Borg behavior we are so accustom to. I agree though that Stardock has set the pace for Windows customization. Even so far as to say that they got Windows users into the same arena as the users of other operating systems. I for one, hope to see them retain their lead position in that area, though I do have to admit that features such as these are more likely to be used by me when they are incorporated into the OS.

mbwmn
mbwmn

i had horrible experiences w/ WinVistaUltimate's desktop movies crashing. reminded me of the Win98 add-on that did the same...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've never seen CSI, so I don't know what animations we're talking about. Are these animations showing on screens as a part of the show, or are you discussing animations available on the web advertising / streaming the show? If they're animations that are actually part of the show itself, I'd bet they're custom for the show and won't stand alone as independent programs.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Well, that is why I phrased my first post as a questions. I wasn't sure if those were what you were after.

dogknees
dogknees

But it is important to me. I've missed this since it went away with XP. I like to customize things to suit my preferences. Not some choice of 4 boxes none of which really fits, but exactly to my liking. Sadly(for me), I'm not the sort of person who lets these things go easily. Every time I get bugged by a color or the size of a menu, or whatever, it annoys me that I can no longer do anything about it. I'm also frustrated by the idea of an "upgrade" that removes functions. How can the developers know what I use and hence what must be improved for it to be a true upgrade for me and ever other user out there. When I first looked a Vista, this was one of the first things I looked for. I hoped they would bring back a full set of customization options for Aero, but no, if anything it's further away. Now it seems Win7 won't help either. Sigh!

dogknees
dogknees

I'm talking about those options working in Aero Glass. I know I can use the old theme, but I'm not interested in that. I'm after the same level of customisation for the new themes/looks. It was there in '95 and then it died in XP. I simply want it back.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've found them standard in every version. I don't have a Vista system to look at, but try the same steps I listed for W7. Note that in V and W7, you must specify a 'Classic Theme' or the settings won't have any effect. If you turn Aero on, the settings are overridden by the selected non-Classic theme. The only thing driving your OS decision is the ability to manipulate the eye candy?