New Year, new desktop design at D’log


The rationale: I liked the design flair and sheer chutzpah of the Windows 8 look, but loathed the clunky Microsoftist “do it our way, or else” implementation. Having successfully bypassed Microsoft’s apps / store and other impositions with my new Windows 8.1 PC, I still wanted the Windows 8 Metro / Modern style desktop that Microsoft failed to deliver. I discovered the free xWidgets system, and my new Win8 desktop was designed throughout a Sunday afternoon.

My desktop layout is still a bit rough around the edges (Classic Shell’s Start button will probably change its appearance soon, maybe also the central ‘flag’ logo). But here’s the layout rationale/blocking…


I even ended up making an xWidget of my own, to serve as the movie and magazine launcher icons…

instructions[.zip pack]

Here are the basic steps to set up my desktop design, if you had a hankering to recreate it yourself:

1. Download my .zip pack containing my wallpaper, some custom icons, and an xWidget I made that serves as scalable media launcher tiles on the desktop (such as the movie poster and magazine clickable icons seen in the desktop screenshot).

2. Download some additional Windows Metro style icon sets such as the huge set from DAKirby. You will need icons in Windows .ico format to swop into traditional desktop icons.

3. Tell the Windows desktop to allow icons to be placed anywhere you like. To do this: right-click anywhere on the desktop | “View” | turn off “Auto arrange”). Set the desktop to use big icons. Then swop out your old icon graphics, then arrange the new icons freeform.

6. Install Icon Restorer (or similar Windows freeware), and save a backup of your new rough-draft layout.

5. Set up the icons on the taskbar (save linked desktop icons onto the desktop | swop out icon graphics (.ico format needed) | then drag to taskbar).

6. Install Snippage. It’s pretty easy to use. It’s just a mini web browser, which lets you snip a bit of a live website and then show it live on the desktop. The ‘snip’ seen above is the BBC local 5-day Weather snipped to a two-day block, placed on the desktop. Set it to refresh maybe once an hour. (For security make sure you update Adobe Air, which is what runs Snippage, to its latest version). When you mouseover a Snippage tile, the controls pop up.

7. Install the core xWidget freeware, so you can run a load of xWidgets on the desktop.

8. Install all the little xWidgets listed on this Pinterest page, and also my custom one (found in my .zip file).


Install all these xWidgets, which is pretty simple. Extract them from their .zip and .rar files and then double-click on them, which sends a copy of them into the xWidgets folder. That’s it. After installing them, to find your new widgets from the desktop: click “Show hidden icons” at the end of the Task Bar | double-click on xWidget icon | right-click on empty part of the special pop-up xWidget taskbar | then choose “Refresh widgets list”.

9. Arrange the xWidgets on the desktop, and individually set up the functions of the new xWidgets (right-click on them, set “shortcut setting”, “update RSS”, choose icon, etc). Learn also how to re-size them, change their transparency level, flip them to change the colour, etc.

10. Then click “Show hidden icons” at the end of the Task Bar | right-click on the main xWidget icon | Backup/Restore | then Backup your new xWidgets desktop layout.

You’re done, bar some pixel-perfect fussing. It’s all happily stable for me, and doesn’t chew up system resources. It runs happily on 64-bit Windows. With this lot in place, and these Windows 8.1 tweaks, you should barely have to see the Windows 8 Store apps at all. The system “Search” xWidget, seen in the bottom-left corner, launches search results in Explorer rather than in an app. Even Task Manager can be launched properly, in a window, by simply right-clicking on the taskbar.

If you have to Restart (rather than Hibernate) the PC, xWidgets remembers where stuff was placed when it gets re-started. So does Snippage.

Additional note: I also run ModernMix just in case, which forces many (not all) Windows 8 “apps” to open in a normal Window.