Customizing Your Windows 10 Desktop

Posted on July 3, 2020 by Brad Sams in Windows, Windows 10 with 32 Comments

When Apple unveiled its complete overhaul of the macOS interface, it left many Windows fans disheartened because Fluent has been implemented poorly across the entire OS. While Fluent was announced with high hopes that it would bring Windows into the modern era in terms of appearance, the reality has been a test of patience.

But one of the primary benefits of Windows 10 is that if you have the time and know where to look, you can fully customize the appearance of the OS. And if you want to add a little more personalization to your desktop, here is how I created the desktop you see above.

To get started, you are going to need a few apps – most are free, some are not.

  • Taskbar X – Center the icons on the taskbar

  • Rainmeter – the widgets you see on the right side

  • Curtains – Replaces start button icon with colored Microsoft logo

  • Files UWP – Modern app to browse your files

  • PowerToys – Enables modern UI for search

Once you get all of the apps downloaded, it’s up to you to customize your desktop to your preference. Each app has various ways you can tweak the interface to get exactly the design you prefer but it will take time to fully understand all the different settings.

For example, TaskbarX has various features that let you customize the taskbar with transparency, animations, and more. But keep in mind, all of these features don’t play nice with Curtains that allows for a more complete overhaul of the UI.

Of all the apps listed above, Rainmeter is the oldest and allows you to create dashboards with widgets but also interactive components on your desktop. It can also be tricky to get it set up exactly how you would like as you sometimes need third party apps, like CoreTemp, to get the CPU temperature to show up; skins are not typically well documented – you can find many different skins to apply, here.

Everything else is pretty much downloading the app and running it – TaskbarX and Rainmeter will require you to define your preferences. Keep in mind that Curtains is a premium app but everything else is free but TaskbarX does have an app in the store if you want to support the developer, it costs $2. And PowerToys is a Microsoft app that is free.

These are the apps that I use to customize my experience with Windows 10, did I miss any? Curious if there are other apps you are using to improve the UX of the OS.

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Comments (32)

32 responses to “Customizing Your Windows 10 Desktop”

  1. bart

    Brad, following you on Twitter I see a lot of discussion about Power Toys. Is this an app MS eventually will implement into Windows?

    • Usman

      In reply to Bart:

      It's more of away to experiment with power user utilities at a faster pace and then I believe merge into windows at a later date. For example there is a experimental preview pane feature for SVG and Markdown in powertoys, I wouldn't be surprised if that is later natively implemented into windows.

  2. johnlavey

    Oh I'm going to have fun with these, Brad. Thank you.

  3. mattbg

    Nice list of things for me to check out :)


    I tried Rainmeter but... the XBox Game Bar (Win+G) gives me most of what I care about.


    On the PowerToys modern UI for search, I'm already using something called KeyPirinha for that. Main benefits to me over the built-in Windows search are that it indexes bookmarks from Chrome, IE, etc. as well as having very flexible configuration to tweak the UI and search locations, result detail, etc.

  4. nbplopes

    So


    • The search thing looks like a bad version of macOS Spotilight
    • The task bar customisation looks like a bad version of macOS dock
    • And the modern file explore looks like ... I'm repeating myself


    Humm. Brad .. get a Mac :)

    • Paul Thurrott

      I'd just say it looks and works like Spotlight. There's nothing bad about it, aside from the fact that the WINKEY + SPACE shortcut is unavailable. That's the obvious choice for this, given how it works on Mac.
      • nbplopes

        In reply to paul-thurrott:


        I use the command-space combo a lot to launch apps.I barely use the dock for that matter. It’s faster than using to mouse to locate apps anywhere. I also use it a lot in iOS with my iPad Pro and keyboard for the same. It’s like local Google search without the Ads... :)


        In Windows we can use win key and start typing to launch apps, but the Layout of the UI is not as efficient as it is in the bottom right ... cortana ... distracting animations, feels slower ... slows me down. Its just not as well designed.


        Im sure there must be a convenient combo to summon this app. Maybe MS could buy it and integrate it better.


        EDIT. It seams its from MS ... man ...

        • Paul Thurrott

          Every keyboard combination should be user-configurable.
          • nbplopes

            In reply to paul-thurrott:


            As a software engineer I believe that everything configurable is not optimum neither its good design. It basically means ... “we have no idea and we didn’t invest to figure it out”.


            Overlapping keyboard combination across multiple apps and the system is a nightmare. Because it results in some things working in one time and another time not working for no apparent reason (people forget).

  5. olditpro2000

    Do people find that centering the taskbar icons is a productivity benefit? I know this started with macOS, but it seemed natively exclusive to them until Google changed Chrome OS to the same style.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Some people just prefer it. Some don't. So it should just be an option. It's certainly worked well for the Mac: The Dock has been that way for almost 20 years now. I will say that as screens get bigger, having your icons scrunched over in the lower left makes no sense to me.
      • Richardsona39

        This was why I switched to it - on a large ultrawide screen it's usually quicker to go to centered icons than all the way to bottom left. Once I got used to it there it was confusing to not have it on my laptop also. I like that the Win key is still in the corner as that's easier to throw the mouse to, while in Win 10x it's combined with the app icons I think.

        The UWP Files app looks good, but is still missing some basic functionality, e.g. can't drag and drop items between tabs or windows.Also no zip/unzip that I can tell. But it has Quicklook built in (though it only seems to work in list view, not thumbnail view) which is great. Promising though, so I'll keep an eye on it (though really I want MS to redo File Explorer properly)
        In reply to paul-thurrott:


  6. hrlngrv

    Re centering taskbar icons, swell when running programs for which there are taskbar icons, but how are icons added for running programs NOT pinned to the taskbar? The 1st such on the left, then 2nd such on the right, and so one with odd ones left and even ones right? Or all move left as icons are added to the right? Customizable?

    IMO, if one wants something that looks like a dock, better to use Stardock's Object Dock.

    Is Files UWP the UWP File Explorer? You prefer that, do you? Can you add ANY extensions to it? I use 3 File Explorer extensions with some frequently: one which shows all icons in a file and allows exporting them to .ICO files; another which allows me to create hard links and true symbolic links; the 3rd links to a batch file which stores directory listings in text files.

  7. jlmerrill

    I wish there was a simpler way to use rainmeter. I would be nice to have something like iStat Menus for the Mac.

  8. fishnet37222

    The only thing I use to customize the Windows 10 UI is Start10. Everything else works fine for me out of the box.

    • justme

      In reply to fishnet37222:

      While I would hesitate to say everything works fine out of the box - I do in general agree with you. I also use Start10, and that is the only external customization I tend to do.

  9. winner

    Too bad the average consumer will need to tolerate the default Windows interface.

    Microsoft doesn't sweat the details like others do.

  10. martinusv2

    Thank you for posting this Brad :) It's pretty cool.

  11. Usman

    I also recommend WinDynamic Desktop, it does time based background wallpaper like MacOS and also includes the MacOS wallpapers as well.


    I'm eagerly waiting for dynamic shell if and when it comes out



    • brinel321

      In reply to Usman:

      What taskbar theme is this?

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Usman:

      Windows taskbars on right or left look ugly to me because the clock forces them to be too wide.

      FTHOI, here's what my MATE panel (cropped and horizontally and vertically) looks like on the left.

      I understand not everyone would want their digital clock's read-out rotated 90 degrees. However, there's the Chrome OS approach of displaying hour above minutes in standard orientation.

    • pesos

      In reply to Usman:


      what software are you using for the floating taskbar?

  12. Shel Dyck

    the UWP version of Explorer has shipped with the OS for several years now, no icon gets created for it, so most never see it. C:\\Windows\\explorer.exe shell:AppsFolder\\c5e2524a-ea46-4f67-841f-6a9465d9d515_cw5n1h2txyewy!App is the correct shortcut.

    • Paul Thurrott

      That just seems like the Win32 File Explorer.
      • oscar90

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        The path URI is wrong, take away tree backslashes from it and you will get the UWP-version, like this:


        C:\Windows\explorer.exe shell:AppsFolder\c5e2524a-ea46-4f67-841f-6a9465d9d515_cw5n1h2txyewy!App


        Run it from winkey + R.

    • ghostrider

      In reply to ShelDyck:

      This is actually the first time I'd seen the UWP Explorer app, and I didn't realise it would be that..... bad. Seriously, it's just terrible. Horrible and unusable infact. Did MS just give up half way through, or is it seriously meant to be a replacement for the win32 app?

      • Paul Thurrott

        Yeah, it's terrible. Good UI is possible with UWP, in fact, the XAML part is the thing I like most about UWP. But this type of thing is sadly typical.
  13. Vladimir Carli

    I’m curious about file UWP and I’ll try it. It looks very similar to the finder on the Mac

  14. wotsit

    The inability to change Store app icons isn’t only a show stopper to customising Windows 10, it’s plain dumb.

    • codymesh

      In reply to wotsit:

      well the reason for this lack of customization is because UWP apps have "live tiles", even if they just appear as icons, they must be customized in a similar fashion by the developer, thus no user-changeable icon.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to codymesh:

        Just one more thing which made live tiles/UWP apps features on phones and problematic at best on PCs.

        • codymesh

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          wouldn't say it's "problematic", just different, because live tiles have their own customizations too, just not user-facing and not the kind people are used to from since the 90s. At the end of the day it's still functional and only a minority of users care that they can't put glitter on it

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to wotsit:

      UWP is NOT about customization.

  15. franklyray

    Am I wrong? Files UWP does not list Dropbox, Google Drive or One Drive.