Just as some people have an ongoing need to redo their houses, we feel the urge to revamp our PC desktops regularly.
Of course, remodeling your house costs a great deal of money — but renovating your desktop needn’t cost much at all, if anything. Here we’ve rounded up some great downloads that are either free or really cheap, but will help you do the job.
This program converts your desktop into a 3D virtual room, where you can place icons, shortcuts, and files not only on the floor but also along the walls. You can even place various objects into piles, or have BumpTop automatically group all your items into piles on its own.
To see everything in a particular pile, you simply double-click the pile to view its contents laid out in a grid; from there you can use what you want, and then collapse the pile again.
You get access to an assortment of widgets, including one nifty item that will upload a picture to Facebook when you throw that picture onto the widget. All of that fun, though, does exact a performance hit: Your PC will run noticeably slower when you use this program.
BumpTop comes in Free and Pro versions. The Pro version, which costs US$29, adds more functions, such as the ability to use your mouse wheel to flip through all of the items in a pile. But you certainly don’t need Pro–the Free program works just fine.
Download BumpTop | Price: Free
“Good fences make good neighbours,” Robert Frost famously wrote–and this program shows that they make good desktops, too.
Fences does exactly what it says: It fences off parts of your desktop and devotes them to certain things, such as applications, Web links, folders, recent items, files and documents, and more. That way, instead of having to search through your disorganized desktop for an item, you just go to the appropriate fenced area and find it immediately there.
You can customize Fences to create your own categories, and you can place any objects inside the fences you want. You can also control the number of fences and where they’re located, as well as customize the fences’ transparency, brightness, and colors. And a very nice feature lets you dismiss or restore all of your icons with a double-click on the desktop.
Unlike with 3D desktops, with Fences your PC won’t suffer slowdown. Given that it’s free, it’s well worth the download.
Download Fences | Price: Free
Real Desktop Light
This freebie thoroughly transforms your desktop into a three-dimensional one. More than that, though, the objects on your desktop become virtual objects that you can rotate, move, and even throw against one another.
They react just as if they were real-world objects; they have weight and physical dimensions, and behave accordingly. For example, when you throw one object against another, the items crash, clink, and slide.
You’ll find a lot of playfulness in this program (the Recycle Bin, for instance, becomes a 3D trash can), but knowledge workers will like the app not just for its whimsy but also for its usefulness. It makes finding what you want on your PC much easier.
Download Real Desktop Light | Price: Free
Do you covet the Mac OS X Dock, the bar of icons that runs along the bottom or side of the desktop and offers access to frequently used programs? If not, you should, because it’s one of Mac OS X’s niftiest features. So nifty, in fact, that the Windows 7 taskbar will have its own Dock-like feature.
No need to wait, though: RocketDock offers similar features. You can place it at the top, bottom, or either side of your screen, and it contains icons that you can click on in order to launch programs. You’ll find My Computer, Recycle Bin, Control Panel, and several others, for starters. You won’t want to leave it at that, though — and you don’t have to, because you can add new programs to the dock simply by dragging and dropping them.
If you don’t like the way the icons and the dock look, you can change that, too, by altering the opacity of the icons or applying different visual styles to the dock. It’s free, so if you want a new-look desktop, it’s a great download.
Download RocketDock | Price: Free
Tidy Start Menu
If you have more than just a few programs and utilities on your XP system, you most likely have a mess on your hands. When you install new programs or utilities, they appear on your Start menu willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason.
Pretty soon, trying to locate programs that you want to run becomes an exercise in frustration.
This simple little free program solves the problem neatly. It lets you put the programs and utilities on your Start menu into separate groups — Office, Utilities, Games, Entertainment, Internet, Programming, Graphics, Security, and Other–so that it’s always easy to find exactly what you need.
The utility is exceedingly simple to use, so you’ll want to give it a try. The creators also offer a for-pay version that lets you add and edit categories as well as remove obsolete shortcuts from the Start menu, among other capabilities. But for most people, the free version will do quite well.
Download Tidy Start Menu | Price: Free
Want to take control of Vista, including many aspects of its appearance? Simply download and install this program, and within a few minutes you’ll be tweaking Vista in ways you never thought possible.
You can turn Aero or the Windows Sidebar on or off, disable balloon tips, switch to the classic view of the Control Panel, make Vista’s power button work like XP’s button does, force Vista to show the menus of Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, and a lot more.
Additionally, with Vista4Experts you can adjust how the OS works, such as by turning User Account Control on or off and disabling Security Center notifications.
If you’re experienced enough, you could do all of that yourself, by digging through Vista’s countless menus and options. But in Vista4Experts you can handle everything from a single, simple menu. Use it, and you’ll soon be a Vista expert without sacrificing time and effort learning to become one.
Download Vista4Experts | Price: Free