Rainmeter is a free, open-source desktop environment and customization tool. It lets you re-skin your Windows desktop with various themes and create real-time displays for everything from system resources to e-mail alerts, even the weather. It's built around customizable resource meters and desktop widgets similar to Windows gadgets, and it can integrate music and media players and files as well as Web-based resources like RSS feeds, video, and data streams. Since Rainmeter is an open-source project, you can download new skins online and even contribute your own creations.
Rainmeter's themes are basically just .ini text files that tell the desktop how big this should be and what color that should be, much like desktop themes in Windows, but with more options for customizing and personalizing not only what the desktop shows but what it does. The online documentation includes instructions for programming themes directly from text files, too. We selected the Gnometer skin for starters; it installed some useful widgets on the desktop, including a digital clock with analog icon that shows a calendar when you hover or click; quick-access icons for drives and the Recycle Bin; and a nifty little system resource monitor that showed CPU, RAM, and SWAP in linear graphs and percentages. That's just the beginning, though. We right-clicked Rainmeter's System Tray icon, selected the theme's properties (which lets you change fonts and colors directly) and opened the Configuration Tool. This small dialog actually lets you customize every square inch and every pixel of the desktop; it even includes options to integrate uTorrent, Google features, and weather feeds. The Color Settings list color numbers and have customizable values and a link to an online color picker tool that lets you create colors and save them in Rainmeter. You can create as many different skins as you like and switch between them quickly and easily via the program's System Tray menu.
We've seen lots of desktop enhancements, but Rainmeter is better than most. Newer versions of Windows offer a lot of desktop features, but it can be cumbersome to make all the small changes that Rainmeter does so easily. It's well worth a look.