Customize your Windows Desktop

Widescreen monitors are great for watching movies and organising windows side-by-side

Widescreen monitors are great for watching movies and organizing windows side-by-side, but a lot of time the space goes to waste. This week I've got a great tip that's particularly applicable to laptop and netbook users: Move the Windows taskbar to the side of the screen. Also, do you spend time and effort getting your Windows desktop to look just the way you want it, only to have some annoying program rearrange your icons? Read on for a cool little program that gets your desktop back to the way you want it--plus a quick way to resize your icons.

Move the Taskbar to the Side of the Screen

If you've been a Windows user as long as I have, I promise you'll hate this--at first. But think about it: Web pages, Word documents, and the like run top-to-bottom, so the more vertical space you can give them, the better.

By relocating the taskbar to the left side of the screen (or the right, if you prefer), you're freeing up vertical space for stuff you use every day while making smarter use of wasted horizontal space.

Ready to give it a try? The steps are the same in both Windows Vista and Windows 7:

Right-click an empty area of the taskbar and clear the check mark next to Lock the taskbar. Left-click and hold an empty area of the taskbar, then drag it to the left side of the screen. Once you get close, you'll see it lock in, at which point you can release the mouse button.

That's all there is to it! Vista users may want to extend the width of the taskbar to better see the labels for programs that are running. But Windows 7 can keep the taskbar its naturally narrow self, as that OS doesn't have running-program labels anyway. Indeed, I think the "side taskbar" works better in Windows 7 than in any previous version of the OS. But regardless, if you have a system with a widescreen monitor, give this a try for a couple days and see if you don't really like the change. (If you don't, you can always drag the taskbar back to the bottom.)

Change the Size of Vista's Desktop Icons

Ever wish you could change the size of Vista's desktop icons? For example, recent migrants from Windows XP may prefer its smaller icons to Vista's larger ones. On the flipside, if you're running Vista on a TV or ultra-high-resolution monitor, you may want to make the icons larger still.

The option to change icon size is hiding in plain sight. Before I tell you where to find it, a note of caution: If you have your icons organized a particular way, resizing them will probably mess up that order. Obviously you can re-organize them when you're done; I just wanted to spare you the shock and sadness of seeing your icons suddenly messy.

Here's how to resize them:

Right-click in any open area of the desktop (meaning not on a program icon). In the pop-up menu that appears, mouse over View to see your three icon-size choices. Vista's default is Medium. If you want XP-style icons, choose Classic Icons. For super-big icons, choose Large Icons.

Save Your Desktop Icon Layout

You know the routine: Some game or application changes your screen resolution, and when it changes back again, your carefully crafted icon layout is totally messed up. Not cool, Windows. Not cool.

Fortunately, I've discovered a little gem of a utility: DesktopOK. This nifty bit of freeware lets you save and restore icon layouts. Set your icons the way you like them, save the layout, then just restore it later when the need arises.

And you're not limited to one layout: You can save as many as you want, which is great if you want different layouts for use with, say, your laptop with and without an external monitor.

DesktopOK works with Windows XP and Vista, but I haven't tested it with Windows 7 yet.

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Rick Broida

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