What do you think about desktop customization?

Christopher Keroack, the Test Manager for the Windows Accessibility team, asked me if I could post the following:

What do you think about desktop customization?  This can either be out of necessity (e.g. making fonts bigger, making UI easier to click with the mouse) or to personalize it (e.g. changing the desktop background). I’m especially interested to hear from people who aren’t necessarily font / scheme geeks, who only want to tweak something occasionally. What bugs you most? What do you do most often? What just doesn’t make sense? And what do you think of the accessibility settings in Windows today?

Update 4/25/2005 Wow, this post is a year old.  crazy how time files.  Anyways, thanks to all those who answered.  Now that Communtiy Server (our new blogging software as of 3/25/2005) allows us to control how long people can comment on a post, i was going to keep this one closed, but the blogging software doesn't allow you to see the previous comments.  So, i'm going to keep the comments enabled, but I really don't think Chris is actively seeking this data any longer.  =)

Comments (18)

  1. denny says:

    seemed like XP themes and Plus was more like Themes–

    IMHO Plus on 98 was a much better package.

    I’d prefer that MS take more of a let the users chose line on themes….

    I did a bit of editing of my 98 system via the theme support that was fairly open to editing.

    XP seems more "Locked Down" and not as "User eXPerience" as it should be….

  2. Pete says:

    I can’t say I customize a ton, but there are a few things that bug me regarding my multiple monitor setup… I’m not sure if this falls in the accessibility bucket, but you opened the flood-gates on desktop customization. 🙂

    – The desktop wallpaper doesn’t span all the monitors by default (have to hook it up through an HTML page to make it work)

    – The taskbar doesn’t automatically span all the monitors

    – No options for maximizing windows to all monitors (or stretching horizontally as a horizontal maximize)

    – Most screensavers are single-monitor screensavers

    – Sometimes right-clicking (to get the context menu) makes the menu appear on another screen (depends on the application though, outlook express isn’t very good at this, but outlook is)

    – Dragging windows from one screen to another isn’t the best way to do this – should be able to auto-push a window to another screen and it should resize so it ‘appears’ to be the same size from the previous screen (different resolutions)

    – etc

    There are several external applications which force the desktop to do the right thing, I’m currently using UltraMon which has a lot of the features above. I think this should definitely be built into Windows, though! 🙂

  3. John A. says:

    There seem to be many actions that will cause the icons on the desktop to rearrange. I often change screen resolutions, sometimes by connecting via remote desktop and every time I change, it shuffles my icons all over the place.

    Please stop rearranging icons without asking first. Perhaps you could add an item that holds any icons that are now "off the screen" because of screen resolution change.

    Multiple monitor control is still almost completely in the hands of the video drivers, rather than in Windows XP. I hook up to TV displays and the like regularly and I am constantly frustrated each time I hook up a new monitor. There seems to be no plug and plug functionality for composite, so it will not detect the monitor being plugged in and it will not "turn the display" on, as far as Windows is concerned if the display is not plugged in at boot.

    It would also be nice if Windows XP would recognize when a certain monitor is being plugged in. For instance, when I plug in my desktop monitor into my laptop, I want Windows XP to automatically transfer the primary desktop on to that external monitor, along with the taskbar, etc.

    Thanks for letting me sound off.

  4. David Cumps says:

    "The taskbar doesn’t automatically span all the monitors "

    I vote for an option to do that, because I personally don’t want to have the taskbar span all monitors automatically. I have one "main" monitor with the taskbar on, and another "helping" monitor for me to drag things on.

    (oh, and UltraMon is a great app! ;))

  5. Chris McKenzie says:

    I personally want to be able to edit every aspect of the XP theme. I don’t like the choices that come boxed with XP, and I don’t really want to spend hours on the internet trying to figure out how to code my own.

    One of my favorite powertoys is the multiple desktop. This toy should be customizable in terms of the number of desktops it manages (no hard-coded 4, what if all i want is 2?), and each desktop should be able to be configured independently, including such things as icon presence and placement.

    You can never have enough screen savers.

    Expandable icon groups: This is an idea that I don’t think anyone has implemented yet, but I’d really like to see: I’d like to be able to create an icon on my desktop called, say, "Games’, and have it act as an expandable menu exactly like the start menu. I’d have about 5 of these guys: System, Internet, Finance, Games, Development. This idea is royalty free :).

    My 3 cents,


  6. Roger Heim says:

    Instead of having an item that holds the "off screen" items why not just remember different desktop arrangements by resolution. Desktops are already stored by user, just add storing it by resolution.

    Admittedly, the average user probably doesn’t change their resolution that often.

    I’m just about to add a second monitor to my setup (gotta love those Dell outlet store specials!) I must check out this UltraMon.

    There’s an option in XP to lock desktop web content; how about extending that to allow locking icons so they can’t be moved accidently? I’ve seen user’s with shaky hands actually drag an icon while trying to double click.

  7. Luc Cluitmans says:

    I agree with the earlier comments about windows XP themes. At the very least I want to be able to change the colors to something I like. Realizing that all artwork is implemented as bitmaps somewhere, I would have hoped that there had been options to change the hue of the colors, or otherwise modify the colors in those bitmaps without modifying the soft gradients and contrast properties (e.g. change that horribly ugly blue into green 🙂 ). Given the fact that the colors in the standard theme are clustered in a few groups (there are the blue areas, the reddish-orange close buttons, some gray areas, light backgrounds, and a bunch of font colors, if I recall correctly), it would be nice if each of these could be adjusted separately, giving back some of the customizability of Win98 …

    For now I just use an adapted version of the Classic theme…

    As far as desktop goes, I suspect mine is a bit uncommon: a 1600×1200 background, a nice image as background, with only three icons on the desktop: My Computer, the Recycle Bin and Unused Desktop Items … I start programs either from the quicklaunch bar or the start menu. As soon as any installer insists on dumping an Icon on my desktop I immediately throw it in the Unused Desktop items or delete it.

  8. Ed says:

    Screen Real-Estate – So important!

    Big icons, useless toolbars, functions without keyboard shortcuts (or hard to enter) are all things I despise.

    My whole desktop is quite bare actually… No wallpaper even. My friends give me grief about that. 🙂

  9. Mike Dunn says:

    "making UI easier to click with the mouse" is behind most of the changes I make. First off, on XP I always use the classic style, I don’t need or want a theme.

    Next, I set the title bar font to something in 12 point and bump up the title bar size a bit. That makes the window titles easier to read and easier to click on.

    Then I make the scroll bars a LOT bigger (I have them at 17 right now, 1280×1024 resolution). That’s one thing that bugs me about the Luna theme and the default settings in classic, the default scroll bar size is far too small to be easily reachable with the mouse (and it’s been that way since Win 95).

    One other thing I do is turn on ToggleKeys, so I get a beep if I accidentally hit Caps Lock.

  10. The desktop cleanup wizard should not be enabled by default, but I think that has been changed in later versions of Windows XP Pro. Along with disabling this, the very first thing I do, is to customize the desktop further by adding all four icons available in the General tab to the desktop – unless I’m prevented from doing so due to an implemented policy. 😉

    It might seem somewhat petty mentioning this, but I’m slightly annoyed with the fact that unless I use the classic style (which I usually do), I have to deal with a green start button – regardless of the color scheme. It disrupts the overall appearance, unless you have a penchant for meadows and shrubbery – both of which are potentially a good match.

    Finally, I intend to digress: I won’t bother to go into details, but an overall "tighter" default configuration of system security would be preferrable. Services such as Remote desktop sharing and Netmeeting Remote Desktop Sharing should be DISABLED by default. And just about all the features that provide security ought to be started automatically.

    There are heaps of things that annoy me with the default configuration of XP, but they somehow elude me at this moment. Another time, I guess.

    I state this in moderate humility.

  11. Steve Perry says:

    I personally only see my desktop when I restart my computer. The rest of the time it is hidden by MANY layers of applications. The only thing I would like would be Auto hiding individual toolbars (maybe through the expand/shink freature of the task tray) and let me assign a hot key to give them focus (like using the windows key + some other key). My two favorite toolbars are quick launch and address (which should be rename command).

  12. Todd says:

    For me, I would like to see the taskbar configurable just like the office products. Every grouping can be undocked, rearranged, hidden or shown.

    After seeing some pics of win06 I hope I’ll be able to get the start button onto that rightside panelbar, preferably at the bottom. I don’t like the idea of having two bars.

    One other thing is placing the start button in the right click list. When using a mutli-screen solution, it’s a distance when going diagonal from an lcd over. To top that off would be intellisence as to where the right click initiated so the program would open in that same screen.

    I appreciate you asking, thanks!

  13. W Poust says:

    For me, the default font size is too small. I bump all of the fonts to 10pt. I can see where for older people who are new to computers, a screen of tiny print is uncomfortable to read and is problably something that they don’t know they can change.

    The stylesheet for this blog is another good example. The style sheet specifies a font size that is 70% of what I am comfortable reading and the comment area here is even smaller (10px). "font-size:0.7em" give me a break. Pass that comment on to the MSDN library folks as well.

    Every once in a while I run across the Rosetta Stone that contains all of the accessibility key shortcuts. It would be nice to have a shortcut key that would display them. I can’t remember all them at once. If I could get to a list of them quickly, perhaps I would use them more often and learn them.

  14. Simon says:

    I find the default Windows XP widgets too big for my liking, so one of the first things I do on any new box is go to Display Properties –> Appearance –> Advanced and set:

    * scrollbar size to 14

    * title bar size to 18, title bar font to 8px Trebuchet MS

    * menu size to 15

    * window borders to 0

    These changes also maximise my viewing area when browsing, text editing, etc,

    Finally I turn ClearType on, turn off hiding underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key, and personalise my wallpaper.

  15. Sean W. says:

    For me, the Windows desktop (not herein used as a catchall term for UI, but to refer to the actual desktop window itself) is a collecting place for intermediate-use files. They’re things that I’m working on, or things that I’ve recently obtained and haven’t felt like properly sorting yet. Thus the desktop does fill up on occasion, and when that happens, I clean it out; it’s like regularly attacking that pile of papers in your (physical) in-box when it starts to look too full. It’s a far better collection place than the horrid "My Documents" folder because it’s always visible just like that physical in-box too.

    So my big UI request would be *smaller icons* on the desktop, ideally as a small-icon/list view like you can display in every other folder rendered by the Windows Explorer. Smaller icons = more usable space = fewer wasted pixels.

    Al Cooper was right. Wasted pixels are one of my biggest gripes about Windows, and it’s only gotten worse over the years — Win2K was much more waste-conscientious than WinXP, even in "classic" mode. Just remember that every pixel the system uses is one the user can’t.

  16. Tony P says:

    Two thoughts came to mind when looking through these posts:

    1. I’d like to have the ability to create user defined folder views (and save that view) so I can then set other folders to these user defines views, rather than the long winded way of setting them right now. The current method relies solely on the folders being hierachical .. sometimes mine aren’t.

    2. How about the ability to define the right click of the mouse as the start menu button (I understand that called Next step?)

  17. bestman says:

    I like desktop customization, but in windows xp it get’s very irritating trying to do just a simple thing, that once again Microsoft left out. like me not microsoft, but me the user & owner of my pc to pick the size of my font in the whole windows xp, because most of the fonts inside of xp , cannot be adjusted without buying more programs to startup & eventually destroy our computers. Yes I know that I can make fonts bigger in Win XP, but not inside of windows xp. Everything else changes, but the important parts inside of the applications and settings of windows xp & other apps which is very annoying. They need to make it like in linux, because on my linux machine I can make the font what ever size that I want not the size that Microsoft wants. I am a longtime user of Windows, but with spyware,Viruses & other online threats & not being able to see the small fonts without having supersight, then I think as macs get cheaper & Linux get’s easy to use, I honestly think that Microsoft will be falling sometime in the future & I fix Windows machines for a living & microsofts security with online use is terrible & I had to build an arsenal of tools to protect me & my customers online that blockes ActiveX,Java Script,Vbscript & mime type internet objects just to let them surf in peace without all the sharks & idiots destroying there computer & then if they need those options on, then they can turn them on & then turn them off. But anyway please make it so I and others that have okay sight to be able to make our fonts as big as we want then, even 3 foot tall if we want because after all we are the ones using our computers, not Microsoft.

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