Customise how Windows looks and works with these unmissable desktop customisation tools

Fences
www.stardock.com

Fences

It doesn't take long for the average desktop to become cluttered with shortcuts, folders and files. Fences is designed to bring order to chaos, by turning your desktop into a series of fenced-off areas, into which you organise your desktop icons any way you want.

Once created, fences can be reshaped, moved and resized, and if you want clarity of thought for a moment, just double-click on the desktop to hide everything from view (double-click again to bring the corrals back).

Once it's installed, reboot your PC and the setup wizard will guide you through the process of setting things up. You can back up your existing desktop settings too – so if you don't like what you see, you can return to the familiar cluttered mess in no time at all.

Windows DreamScene Activator
Website

Vista Ultimate supports DreamScene, so you can use animations and video on desktop backgrounds. This tool enables it in all versions of Windows 7 too.

Seven Transformation Pack
Website

If you can handle potential instability, you can get much of the look and feel of Windows 7 in XP and Vista with this collection of tools in a single installer.

Yahoo! Widgets
http://widgets.yahoo.com

If you use XP and are jealous of the Desktop Sidebar – or use Vista or Windows 7 and want something different – try this free sidebar tool from Yahoo!

Kludgets
http://kludgets.com

This is another desktop sidebar tool, but uniquely supports Apple Mac gadgets, as well as those used to extend the functionality of the Opera browser.

Litestep
www.litestep.net

If you want to step out on a limb, take a look at this free tool; it replaces the entire Windows desktop shell with a radically different user interface.

LogonStudio
www.stardock.com

Change the Windows logon screen to any image you like, with this simple-to-use freebie from the makers of ObjectDock.

Stardock ObjectDock
www.stardock.com

Similar to the "dock" Taskbar replacement found on an Apple Mac, this dock is attractive and easy to use. And the good news is you can easily augment (or even completely ditch) the Windows Taskbar in favour of something similar thanks to this fabulous free tool. Download and install the free version, and read on to find out how.

Step 1. First steps

Dock 1

Once the installation is complete, double-click the desktop shortcut and the dock will appear at the bottom of the screen above the Taskbar.

Step 2. Configure dock

Dock 2

Some shortcuts are built-in, but you can drag and drop others from the Taskbar or desktop onto the dock. Click "Configure Dock" to make changes.

Step 3. Hide the Taskbar

Dock 3

Switch to the General tab and tick "Hide the Windows Taskbar" – it'll disappear from view, and your new dock will take its place permanently.

Switcher
www.insentient.net

This handy little tool enables you to view thumbnails of all open windows and programs side-by-side on the desktop, so it's easy to switch between them.

Launchy
www.launchy.net

Launch programs and access files from your desktop with this floating widget – enter a few letters to see programs and files for those search terms.

IcoFX
http://icofx.ro

The best free tool to design icons from scratch or convert existing image files. It supports icons up to 256x256 in size, perfect for Vista and Windows 7.

DeskSave
www.desksave.de

This simple tool creates a backup of the current icon layout on your desktop. If it changes – such as switching screen resolution – it's quick to restore it.

MultiMonitor Taskbar
Website

If you work with a multi-monitor setup, you'll want this free tool, which extends the Windows Taskbar to all of the additional screens you've got set up.

VirtuaWin
http://virtuawin.sourceforge.net

You don't need a second monitor to take advantage of extra desktop space: VirtuaWin enables you to set up, customise, and work on nine virtual desktops.

Right Click Extender
http://snipurl.com/rcextender

Customise and manage the context menu when you right-click with this. It works perfectly in Windows 7, but is semi-compatible with XP and Vista too.

Google Desktop
http://desktop.google.com

Google desktop

Google's Desktop tool has an indexed search engine to provide lightning-fast searches of your hard drive (as well as the web via Google itself). This is combined with a Sidebar application that can be customised with standalone gadgets, in much the same way as Windows 7 and Vista's built-in Sidebar.

If you're using Windows XP you'll get the most from this utility; if you use Vista and Windows 7 you may prefer to stick with what's already provided in the Operating System.

Standalone Stack
www.chrisnsoft.com/standalonestack

Standalone stack
This tool creates a desktop shortcut that – when double-clicked – displays a tiled stack of the items in the folder. You can even pin the shortcut to the Taskbar to use from there, keeping your pristine desktop as uncluttered as possible. Think of it as Jump Lists on steroids.

BioniX Wallpaper
www.bionixwallpaper.com

Bionx wallpaper

Bored with staring at the same wallpaper day in, day out? Desktop Wallpaper Changer enables you to cycle between different background images of your choice, at a time that suits you. The program is packed with options, making it perfect should you tire of looking at the standard Windows desktop.