Customising your Windows desktop can be as simple or as complicated as you like. For most people, the options provided by Windows itself are often sufficient, while others want to push the envelope further. One way in which your desktop can be made to work harder is by using it to display all kinds of useful information – in Vista and Windows 7, there are specific gadgets that perform this function, but they’re limited and a little clunky to implement, while XP users are left completely in the cold.
This is where Rainmeter comes in: this desktop customisation tool works on the assumption that the desktop is yours to do with as you see fit. It offers an alternative platform to the Sidebar used in later versions of Windows, offering a wide variety of customisable “skins” (Rainmeter’s rather confusing term for gadgets) that allow you to pretty much cover the desktop with your choice of information, tools and shortcuts.
These skins can act as simple information portals – giving you access to system information, favoured RSS feeds or the latest email count in your inbox, for example. They can also be developed further to provide interactive functionality, such as skins that record notes or let you tweet direct from your desktop. You can also use skins to serve as a panel containing shortcuts to all your favourite programs, allowing you to banish the taskbar or clean up the desktop.
Skins can be developed by hand – they’re open-source, so widely available – or you can download packages known as “themes”. You’ll be prompted to download additional themes after installation, although a basic “illustro” is provided to give you an idea of what’s available. Rainmeter will launch with a selection of skins pre-loaded, such as date/time, disk information, a Lifehacker RSS feed and a Google search box, enabling you to launch web searches direct from the desktop. There’s also a welcome panel with links to articles helping you familiarise yourself with the program.
Edit skin settings by right-clicking the skin itself – this opens a .ini file in Notepad where you can tweak settings by hand. You can also configure the program from its icon in the Notification area of the Taskbar.
Version 3.0 is here. New features include migrating from an older GDI+ graphics/text rendering system to the newer and more powerful Direct2D system found in Windows 7 and 8. The initial fruit of these labours is to implement vastly improved font rendering in string-based meters, particularly those with smaller font sizes and using anti-aliasing. The feature is currently disabled by default – users must add UseD2D=1 to the [Rainmeter] section of the Rainmeter.ini configuration file to enable it.
Other changes are minor, and subject to change – one new feature adding icons to the context menu were removed after issues with XP were discovered, for example.