Create Your Own Windows 7 Desktop Theme

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I recently crossed the country to help my parents set up their new computers. The trip was well worth the time: They got to switch from slow, old Windows XP machines to fast, fresh Windows 7 PCs. And in exchange, I got to eat lots of genuine New York pizza. When the weekend upgrade was complete, what single Windows 7 feature do you think they most loved? Not the Libraries, or HomeGroup, or the snazzy new taskbar. Nope, they loved the desktop slideshow.

You might already know that Windows 7 allows you to turn your desktop into a slideshow of your favorite photos. What you might not realize is that you can easily save and share that slideshow so your friends and family with Windows 7 can see those same photos on their desktop--without posting photos online, where you have to worry about privacy issues.

Personalizing Your Desktop

First, let me start with a quick overview of how to personalize your desktop. To change your desktop background, just right-click the desktop and choose Personalize. From here, there are two ways to change the desktop. You can choose one of the themes or click Desktop Background at the bottom of the window.

Choosing a theme makes a number of changes to your desktop--it will load a collection of photos that will appear as a slideshow, changing at set intervals. It might also adjust your window color, system sounds, and even your screen saver.

If you click Desktop Background, you're making a simpler choice--you get to pick one or more photos from somewhere on your computer (if you choose several photos, you can pick how frequently they change)--but everything else, like sounds and window color stay the same.

Download New Themes

So far, so good. As you can see, it's easy to change themes or choose a couple of photos to display on the desktop. But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that it's a snap to download new themes as well.

Out of the box, Windows 7 comes with a small assortment of themes. But Microsoft adds new themes to the Windows Web site all the time. To grab a new theme, scroll (if necessary) to the bottom of the section labeled My Themes, and click "Get more themes online." You'll go to the Windows Web site, where you can browse for additional themes. When I visited, there were over 60 to choose from, with photos from locales around the world, from NASA, some branded by companies like Coke and Ferrari, and more.

If you see a theme you like, just click Download and then choose "Open with Themepack." It'll appear in your collection of themes, and you can switch to it anytime you like. (When you download and use a new theme, it'll replace your current theme, so you might want to save it if you've created something you'd like to use again.) You can also browse's collection of third-party Windows themes.

Make Your Own Theme

But the best news is that you can make your own theme featuring your own photos. It's quite easy: Just open the Personalization window and click Desktop Background. Now, select the photos you want to include in your theme. Keep in mind that you can't include photos from more than one folder at a time, so if you have photos in two or three separate folders, you might want to copy them to a single location and then browse for that folder.

After you select your photos, set the duration of the slideshow. You can have photos change as frequently as every few seconds, but personally, I find that tiresome. I suggest every hour or two. Click Save changes.

You will see a new theme at the top of My Themes. It will be called Unsaved Theme. If you want to keep it, right-click Unsaved Theme and choose either Save Theme or Save Theme for sharing. If you want the theme on your own PC only, then choose Save Theme and it will appear here, in My Themes, with whatever name you specify. If you want to share the theme with others, choose Save Theme for sharing, and then name the file. Save it somewhere you can easily find it--like the desktop. When it's done, you can give that file to other Windows 7 users. All they need to do is double-click the theme file, and it'll be added to their My Themes collection as well.

Of course, keep in mind that the more photos you include in your theme, the larger the file will be. That's not much of a concern if you're only saving the theme for your own PC, but limit the theme to a dozen photos or so if you want to share. I made a theme with 100 photos, for example, and it ended up clocking in at about 23MB--way too big to e-mail.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Day of the Dead Fireworks" by Carlos Giddens Jr., San Antonio, Texas

Carlos says: "I took this picture with a Canon PowerShot SD 450 set to Fireworks mode. I set my camera on a tripod and had to take several pictures before I was able to get the timing right."

This week's runner-up: "Division" by Alyn McConnaha, Topeka, Kansas

Alyn says that he used his Olympus SP-550 UZ to take this shot in Smoky Mountain National Park. In this seemingly abstract photo, the upper half is a leaf-covered bridge; the lower half is a stream; and the halves are divided by the moss-covered wooden railing of the bridge.

To see last month's winners, visit the May Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Create Your Own Windows 7 Desktop Theme " was originally published by PCWorld.

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