Customizing Windows XP

By: James Hayes

The purpose of this article is to show you how you can combine small utility programs in order to customize and improve your Windows XP environment. You can use small utility programs to radically change the appearance and functionality of your Windows XP, and sometimes even impress friends and colleagues!

One of the most important categories of utility programs that are, I might add, often overlooked in customization guides are programs that customize the look and feel of icons. You might want to check out programs such as IconPackager, Iconphile and Icontweaker that include collections of icons. If you wish to create your own window Icons, you can use MicroAngelo Creation or IconWorkshop, both excellent programs.

Changing the appearance of icons is only the first step in customizing windows XP. The next step is to add special effects such as transition and glow effects. IconX is probably the best solution in this field. It can significantly improve the appearance of your Windows Desktop, without meddling with Windows' internal icon management process. IconX will add a series of impressive visual effects in how icons are displayed, including mouse over effects (e.g. steadily increase the icon's size when the mouse stays over it), shadow effects and significant improvements in the appearance of icon labels. A similar program to IconX is UberIcon, which is has the advantage of being a freeware program. It is solely based on the use of plug-ins to provide display effects and it also offers Zoom and Bounce effects. Compared to IconX, UberIcon uses less system resources, although the overall use experience might indicate a somewhat less professional piece of software.

As far as mouse cursors are concerned, Windows support theming and skinning by default, thought the Control Panel applet. If, however, you are in need of more advanced features, you can check out CursorXP. It can lift all restrictions in cursor sizes, add impressive animation and at the same time give a smooth look to your cursor.

The traditional approach of launching Windows applications, which is to navigate through menus and submenus, does not really work as planned. It's fine for a system with a limited number of programs installed, but if you've been using your PC for a while, I bet you're starting to find it increasingly harder to locate and navigate to the program you want, now that you've got more than 50 submenus and menu items at the start - all programs menu! Windows Vista and the next version of office have taken steps to improve this feature. Until then, however, you might want to try programs such as ObjectDock, MobyDock and RocketDock. These programs are called "dock bars&" and they can also host widgets or docklets, which can display system information, news from the web or perform other functions. Another dock bar that is somewhat different that the ones previously mentioned is WorkShelf, which shares some common attributes with Linux window managers. Finally, if you want to escape the "square" look of your taskbar, the Orbit dock manager might just be what you're looking for, as it offers a completely round icon based menu on your screen.

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