Firstly introduced by Alan Kay at Xerox PARC, the desktop of your OS can be considered a face of your computer. It can also be viewed as your secretary which you can design in accordance with your needs and preferences. You can apply all kinds of different styles, wallpapers, and icons to make your desktop more attractive. Maybe you even want some other way to access your files and folders, and launch programs. I've decided to look into some very popular applications designed to let you do all that.
Many of us value simplicity and productivity over fancy visuals. The developers of RocketDock seem to have picked up on that and designed a very handy tool which looks like the Mac dock. You can add any program to the dock and launch it from there. All your windows are minimized to the dock with one click. And you can customize any element of the dock, from colors to fonts to inscriptions. The program supports alpha-blended PNG and ICO icons; this means that you can download any third-party icon pack and apply it to RocketDock. The biggest asset, however, is that this program allows you to save space on your desktop and reduces all your common actions to a few simple clicks.
Sometimes, though, a simple dock is not enough. Sometimes we need to transform our desktop into something completely different, like a cool organizer with lots of widgets that tells us the weather and displays new e-mail messages and system info. Rainmeter is designed to do just that. Note that it does not include any ready-made solutions: using its code editor, you get to develop your desktop tools on your own. Or, if you don't feel up to the task, you can always search for widgets, skins, etc. on the program's forum, where users share the templates they've developed themselves. As for some downsides of this program, it doesn't have any settings for managing your open windows. In addition, there are no options to make any changes on your desktop with a mouse click. The program is not intended to replace other apps: it is simply a desktop customization toolkit.
Unfortunately, sometimes even a handy toolbar and a handful of widgets don't cut it when you try to manage all the piles of icons and thumbnails and applications that you work with on a daily basis. In this case, a good solution is to use a virtual desktop (and maybe even more than one). This is where DeskSpace comes into play: it allows you to configure several desktops on separate faces of a virtual cube. You can then rotate the cube using your mouse or keyboard, thus quickly switching from one of your 6 desktops to another. You can customize the look of each desktop independently and even leave all the windows and documents open all the time, simply switching to another desktop when you need to work on something else. A curious fact: DeskSpace was reviewed on one of the BBC programs in 2009, and it was dubbed as "too cool to school." Based on its extensive feature set, you shouldn't be too surprised.
To sum it all up, most desktop customization tools work by merging features inspired by different operating systems (Mac OS, Android, or Linux) and bringing them to Windows. There are, of course, small programs that serve a very specific purpose: for example, "Myfolders" helps you organize your folders; or "Launchy" allows you to use hotkeys to launch your apps. Some of these may be useless to you, while others may turn out indispensable. Go ahead and try them out.
Picture Credit: Otaku Software, Osiris Development