Here is a quick and simple guide on how to enhance your Windows desktop with themes, good looking wallpapers and great applications.
This guide is ideally suited for Windows XP, but post-XP users can also achieve similar results without needing some of the applications in this guide, e.g. Vista and 7 has its own dock/widget system.
Not all custom themes are programs. Windows blinds and styleXP work just fine, but take up way too much memory for me, so I choose to go the path of a custom “uxtheme.dll” file. Customize.org’s XP Themes section has all kinds of themes for download that can be used for this process. For usage and installation of this type of customization, see: How to use XP Themes.
One good thing about Mac’s is the dock, which looks nice and keeps all your programs and links right there without having to go to the start menu. There are two ways to emulate this well on a Windows machine. One is ObjectDock and the other one is Rocketdock. Which one you want to use depends mostly on the look and feel you like and how much memory your computer has (Rocketdock can be memory intensive). To customize these, different themes can be downloaded, however as far as the icons go, any icon file, or even a JPG/PNG can be used as an icon. A good place to find icons is IconFinder.
For an alternative to Docks, one can check out Launchy. Launchy is a free windows utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager. You simply type the program you are looking for in the Launchy input box and it will find what you are looking for.
Rainmeter & Rainlender
This is what most people ask about when they see different peoples “widgets” hanging out on their desktop. Usually it’s a program called Rainmeter, which displays useful facts about your computer, such as CPU, download rates, memory, time, storage space, etc. It can also be styled to look pretty cool.
The calendar and to-do list widget that is featured in my desktop screenshot above is part of Rainlender.Rainlendar is a customizable calendar application which stays out of your way but keeps all your important events and tasks always visible on your desktop.
Some people have custom Winamp themes (aside from the controllers in Rainmeter) to enhance their desktop. Winamp is a free media player, which I have used for as long as I have had a computer.
Customize – Tons of skins and customizations for Windows.
DeviantArt– Has icons and skins and a bunch of other media if you know where to find it.
Feel free to post additions, links, guides, or any information in the comments and I will add it.