How do I use RSS to create a dynamic Windows 7 desktop wallpaper slideshow?

Use your favorite photo RSS feeds to create an ever-changing Microsoft Windows 7 desktop background slideshow.

If there is one thing I have learned in my years of producing tips for the Microsoft Windows operating system, it is that people love to personalize their desktops. Whether it is individuals and their personal computers at home or users in an enterprise and their IT-administered workstations, people want to have a personal experience.

One of the features that makes Windows 7 more interesting than Windows Vista is the former's enhanced capacity for personalization using the Aero interface. And one feature that you might find interesting is the built-in ability to use an RSS feed to supply images for your background slideshow. However, despite what you may find in the results of a Google search on the topic, the process is just a little more complicated than adding a few lines of code to a text file.

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Feeds and files

The first hurdle to overcome is the fact that images for this process must be in an enclosure. (Thanks istartedsomething.) This limits your choices somewhat, but I will explain one useful work around for this.

Another hurdle is that there is no built-in interface for adding an RSS-based slideshow theme, so we will have to do a little copying and editing of what Windows considers to be write-protected files.

Create the file first

Figure A shows the Personalization screen for Windows 7 Ultimate on my test machine. The current chosen theme is the basic Windows 7 Aero theme.

Figure A

This is the basic Windows 7 theme.
The first thing we need to do is get a theme file to work on. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the Windows\Resources\Themes folder (Figure B).

Figure B

Find the theme.
I'm using the aero.theme file as the base file to edit, but you cannot edit it in its current folder because it is part of the Windows system and is write-protected. Therefore, I created a folder in the Documents folder called Themes (Figure C) and saved a copy of the aero.theme file there.

Figure C

Copy aero.theme to a folder where it can be edited.

Now, right-click the copied aero.theme file and open it with Notepad. (Note: you may have to choose it from a list.) The aero.theme file is just a text file, so it is easily edited. Scroll down to the end of the text and add these lines:

Breaking down this text: Interval in ms, in this case three minutes, Shuffle set to 1 means that the images will rotate, RssFeed is the feed that will supply your images (Figure D).

Figure D

Add this text.

Seems simple enough, but there are some quirks regarding feeds that you have to consider.

Gather the feeds

In general, you need a feed of images inside an enclosure. What that means in practice is that you want feeds from Flickr, PhotoBucket, and other image collection sites. However, I found using feeds in this manner to be hit-and-miss, so I took a clue from Jamie Thomson and used Frameit from Windows Live to create my feed.

The beauty of this method is that, through Frameit, you can add any RSS feed to your frame and that will put it in the proper enclosure for your slideshow. Just click on the Custom link (Figure E) and add whatever RSS feed you'd like.

Figure E

Choose your feeds.

Once you get your feeds, give your frame a name and click the Set Up a Frame link. You will then be given a link that you can add to your edited aero.theme file. You can also use the remark delimiter in the file to turn on and off feeds, depending on what you want to see. For example:

; RssFeed=

When you are satisfied with your feed, you can save the file. At this point, I would change the name of the aero.theme file to something like RSS.theme just to make things a little clearer.


Double-click your new theme, and it will take over your previous theme and give you two options regarding the downloading of attachments. Choose to download attachments locally (Figure F). I tried the Do Not Download Attachments option and it did not work for these purposes.

Figure F

Chose to download attachments.

At first you will likely still see the basic Windows 7 background, but after a few minutes your RSS fed images should start to appear as the background.

However, I would go one step further to complete the process. When you look at the Personalization page, you will see a theme in the My Themes section with the title Windows 7 — that is your newly created RSS feed-based theme.

The default for the background images is to fill the screen, which may distort the images provided by your feeds. To adjust this setting, click the Desktop Background link to get to the Settings page shown in Figure G. Change the Picture Position to Center, and the images will be presented in their natural resolution.

Figure G

Choosing the Center position puts the image in its natural resolution.
Save the changes. However, notice that when you get back to the Personalization screen a new Unsaved Theme has been added to the choices. This is your opportunity to save your theme one last time with a new name. Right-click the Unsaved Theme and save it with a new name. Now you can delete the extra Windows 7 theme and be left with only one new theme (Figure H).

Figure H

One new RSS theme is on the way.

Bottom line

Adding an RSS feed-based slideshow theme can really personalize your Windows 7 experience. And it also adds dozens of variations that are bound only by your imagination. If you decide to give this feature a try and find a really good source of images, we'd love to hear about it in the discussion forum. I, for one, would like to have an eclectic source of images. In fact, I'll add them to the feed and keep it public so that anyone and everyone can use it.

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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to,, and TechRepublic.

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