It's fairly simple actually. It just takes the right software and a bit of time. Some of the software that members here often use are listed in this guide.
XPize - XPize Link
XPize is a program that will replace the original images and icons in XP with nicer looking ones. There are a couple of extra features bundled with it as well (TaskSwitchXP, new screensaver) that make it even more appealing. Best of all, it's made by XPero here at MSFN!
AveDesk & SysStats - AveDesk Link - SysStats Link
This is one of my personal favorites. It's a program that creates "desklets" on your desktop. These desklets can have any functionality, ranging from a simple shortcut, to displaying the weather forecast, to RSS feeds.
Samurize - Samurize Link
Samurize is another desktop enhancement program that makes it very easy to display your system information on the desktop (see right image above). There are many many premade configurations available at the Samurize website and elsewhere on the internet, so you can simply download the configuration file and run it.
Konfabulator - Konfabulator Link
I haven't played much with Konfabulator, but it offers a similar feature set to AveDesk. The advantage to Konfabulator is that there are hundreds upon hundreds of pre-made widgets available to download. The popularity of Konfabulator has increased recently since it used to be a paid-for software and is now freeware.
I'm going to make this section general, since there are several options to choose from.
Docks are meant to emulate the OSX dock. They provide a neat place to store your shortcuts, as well as possibly displaying system information (with SysStats for example). Each has their benefits, and as for which is the best - that's up to you.
Longhorn Sidebar - Sidebar Link
Some people have managed to make the Sidebar from Windows Vista run on Windows XP. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post a direct link (for legal reasons), but Google should be able to point you in the right direction.
WindowBlinds - WindowBlinds Link
WindowBlinds is a skinning engine for Windows. It runs on Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP, allowing you to have the same look on your Windows 2000 computer as your Windows XP computer. There are some features that WindowBlinds provides over the standard Windows skinning engine (animated caption buttons, extra sounds, etc), but it does use a bit more resources than the default skinning engine. It's lots of fun, but I'd only recommend this if you have a more powerful computer (i.e. less than 3 years old). If you want to find lots of good skins for WindowBlinds, check out WinCustomize
UXTheme.dll Hack - UXTheme Patcher Link
This patcher will patch the uxtheme.dll file (the file responsible for your Windows theming engine) to allow you to use non-Microsoft signed themes. The best part of this is that it doesn't use any extra resources unlike StyleXP, and it's completely free! The patcher works on Windows XP, Windows 2003, and has partial support for Windows XP x64.
CursorXP - CursorXP Link
CursorXP is a program that will skin your mouse cursor and provide a little bit of a flashy appearance. A screenshot doesn't really do it justice, since most of the cool parts are in the animations.
IconPackager - IconPackager Link
IconPackager is a program that allows you to easily change the default icons on your system. You can find pre-made icon packages at WinCustomize, or build your own from icons that you find on your system or on the internet.
LClock - LClock Link
LClock is a very simple program that makes the Windows' clock look like a Windows Longhorn Clock. LClock also comes with a simple but configurable popup calendar that opens when the systray clock is clicked.
Y'z Shadow - Y'z Shadow Link
Add a shadow to all your windows and menus!!! You can also make your menus transparent. Simple, lightweight, and easy to configure.
Y'z Toolbar - Y'z Toolbar
Customise your toolbar exactly to your liking! Hundreds of themes are available to download, and make your Windows look that much nicer! For more toolbar skins, check out DeviantArt.
DeviantArt - DeviantArt Link
This site is pure gold. If you want to find wallpapers, icons, themes - just about anything - this is the place to look. 'Nuff said.
That's about it for the "mild" customizations. By mild I mean that the above programs won't change the functionality of your system. You can go one step further and use alternate shells to take your desktop to a completely different level. Some of the favorites include:
- Aston Shell
- BB4Win - (BlackBox for Windows)
Don't use these unless you know what you're doing. My personal favorite is BB4Win, but that's just because I use BlackBox in Linux.
If anyone has any suggestions or additions, let me know and I'll add them to the guide.
- @DarkWader, I used your desktop as an example. I hope you don't mind. If you do, let me know and I'll remove the image.
- If there are any concerns about the legality of some of the material here, I am more than willing to discuss the matter, or remove links/content as necessary.
- @Mods/Admins - Sorry about the source of the UXTheme patcher. It's the best one I've found on the net, so I figured that I'd share it.
- Don't complain to me if this becomes an obsessive hobby like it has for some of us (*poke* 'Dagonet *poke*)
1) 2005-11-20 - *slaps self for initially forgetting XPize*
2) 2005-11-24 - Added LClock, Y'z Shadow, and Y'z Toolbar
This post has been edited by Zxian: 20 May 2007 - 01:24 PM