Deck Out Your Desktop With Rainmeter

Some people are blissfully content with the default Windows desktop interface. And then there are people like me — I absolutely needs to customize the living heck out of everything I use. While various parts of Windows are quite customizable, the desktop itself is a monolith that doesn’t want to be customized. Switching wallpapers and moving around your icons is all you’ve been able to do so far…

Rainmeter is an application that aims to give your desktop a complete overhaul replete with eye candy. Does it do its job and do it well? Let’s find out!

What’s Rainmeter?

With the description above being quite vague, you’re probably what exactly Rainmeter is. What better place to find more information than their website?

Rainmeter displays customizable skins, like memory and battery power, RSS feeds and weather forecasts, right on your desktop. Many skins are even functional: they can record your notes and to-do lists, launch your favorite applications, and control your media player – all in a clean, unobtrusive interface that you can rearrange and customize to your liking. Rainmeter is at once an application and a toolkit. You are only limited by your imagination and creativity.

Installation

Rainmeter can be downloaded from the homepage of the Rainmeter website and is available for Windows XP, Vista and 7. If you’re feeling particularly adventerous, a version is even available for the Windows 8 developer preview.

Make sure you're choosing the correct bit architecture

Like most installations, it merely takes a couple of minutes and is fairly idiot proof. Just make sure you choose the correct system type ie., 32/64 bit while installing.

First Impressions and Getting Started

Once you run Rainmeter, you’ll see eight tiny skins. Yes, the widgets are called the skins here and a group of skins is called a Theme or a Skin Suite. It’s all topsy turvy, I know, but for the sake of sanity, let’s move on.

Each skin can be dragged and dropped anywhere on your desktop and are infinitely customizable. Rainmeter is about using the perfect skin suite/theme for your desktop. And don’t worry — the Rainmeter community seems to be quite active and constantly churns out excellent themes. We’ll take a look at a few later on.

Illustro - The default Rainmeter theme

The default skin suite, Illustro, is what I’d categorize as merely okay, in my book. Illustro is made of eight predefined skins which display the system information, disk usage, network and a bunch of others information for the compulsive amongst us. The interface is transparent and looks futuristic, if you’re into it.

They act as a good starting point by satisfying your basic requirements but I imagine you’ll be trundling off looking for more very soon.

Customizing a Skin

What’s the point of checking a non-existant email address or seeing the weather information of some Nordic freezer? Let’s start by customizing the skins. You can edit the skins by right clicking on it and clicking on ‘Edit Skin’.

You’ll be pretty surprised to see a text file opening up with lines of code in it. Don’t worry! The file has lots of comments detailing the role of each line and editing them is a cinch.

For a computer literate person, this should be fairly easy -- this is just a text file

For example, the default time setting is a 24 hour clock. I wanted to change it in to a 12 hour clock. It took no longer than 10 seconds to find what I wanted to change in the code — it’s really that easy.

Don’t believe me? All I had to do was to replace Format=”%H:%M:%S” in to %I:%M %p and I was good to go. More format codes editing options are available in the Rainmeter manual, if you’re interested.

You can also set properties like a skin’s position and transparency, amongst others, by right clicking on the skin. The customization is pretty self explanatory. If you have more than one skin suite installed, you can switch between them while the software is running. If you are using Yahoo Widgets or something of that sort, you’ll not find a lot of difference in customization between the two.

Exploring Alternate Rainmeter Themes

The skin suites/themes you’re using with Rainmeter will basically define your experience since they vary vastly — in scope, visuals and functionality. They’re also quite modular so you’re free to mix and match skins, as needed.

You can find a lot of zazzy skins on the Internet. DeviantArt and Customize.org are great places to start looking.

Let’s take a look at two of the best looking Rainmeter skin suites/themes.

Omnimo

The first one on my list is Omnimo which is heavily influenced by the Windows 8 Metro concept.

Omnimo, in its Metro inspired glory

Once you load Omnimo, you’ll see a welcome screen which asks for you to configure a few basic things like using Fahrenheit or Celsius to display the temperature, displaying desktop top icons behind the theme and choosing your language.

Each of th different themes have their pros and cons. Experimentation is key!

Omnimo gives you the option of choosing one among the three prefered inbuilt themes. Choose the best one that suits your requirements. Once you make up your mind, make sure you set the proper resolution so that your desktop doesn’t look cluttered and overlapping.

Each of the themes lets you customize your desktop with Panels and TextItems. As I mentioned, the design of these themes is based on the UI layout of windows 8.

Omnimo gives you a wide range of text items and panels to choose, starting from application launchers to RSS feeds of various sites you enjoy. You can also access your media player through your skin. The functionality is pretty good, I must say.

Enigma

The second one I’d like to show you today is Enigma. The design is pretty sharp and crisp — say buh bye to sleazy desktops. Once launched, you will need to set the general preferences that apply to a number of skins embedded in the theme.

Pretty slick, eh?

It takes only a jiffy to learn how to add skins to your enigma sidebar or taskbar. Personally, I like Enigma better than Omnimo because this theme seems to mesh with my background better and it simply looks more elegant.

Once set you’d be amazed at how your desktop looks. Trust me. And like Omnimo, you can access your media player through your skin. Nifty!

Wrapping Up

I think you have a basic gist of Rainmeter by now. The one issue that I think most users will face is the learning curve. At first glance, it’s not very clear as to what it does and even after installation, getting the perfect set up involves a lot of trial and error.

But once you get past that, Rainmeter is an absolute joy to use. The application is stable, skins are plentiful, the community is thriving and overall, I think it’s definitely worth a shot!

Do you use Rainmeter? Have a favorite theme yet? Let us know in the comments below and thank you so much for reading!


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