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.

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