Windows 7 Foundation

Customizing Windows 7

Windows is infinitely customizable from the desktop image, colors on the screen, to the font size, screensaver, and security settings. You will find just about every kind of look and feel available to make Windows look and operate how you want it to. In this section of our free Windows 7 tutorial, we’re going to look at how to customize the Windows desktop, change the video settings, customize the start menu, make the taskbar work for you, and set folder settings. Along the way, you will learn about power settings, screensavers, and a few tips on how to make Windows look like an older version – if you want to revert back to something old school. First, let’s explore the Windows desktop.

Customizing the Desktop

The Desktop is the background of what you see when Windows first starts up. It typically contains many icons, but by default only has the Recycle Bin icon. The other icons you see in my desktop above are Shortcuts to start a program. A shortcut is a link to start an application – it’s not the application itself.

As you can see on the icon above, there is a shortcut arrow, , indicating this icon is a shortcut and not the actual application. Here’s the actual application icon, copied to my desktop:

The icon on the left is the shortcut to the application, the one on the right is the actual application file.

You are welcome to delete any icons on the desktop – if you delete a shortcut (one of the icons with a on it), you are not deleting the actual application– just a link to it. If you delete a file without the , it is some other kind of file. You can delete an icon on the desktop by clicking once on it and pressing the Delete key, by dragging it to the Recycle Bin, or by right-clicking on the icon and selecting Delete.

As in any other folder on your computer, you can store any types of files you wish on the desktop, including folders. We don’t recommend using the desktop for file storage (that’s what your Documents folder is for), but many people find it easy to store files on the desktop to retrieve them quickly.

Customizing the Windows 7 Desktop

When you right-click in an open area on your desktop, you’re going to see a list of options to change settings on the desktop, like this one:

Changing the Desktop Views

  1. Right-click on the desktop and select the View menu.
  2. If you would like to change the size of the icons, select the size at the top.
  3. If you’d like Windows to Auto arrange the icons how it sees fit, select that option.
  4. Align icons to grid keeps the icons well aligned where turning off this feature will allow you to place icons where ever you want.
  5. If you don’t like all those icons cluttering your desktop, you can turn them off using the Show desktop icons – they are still present, just hidden.
  6. Finally, if you’re using Desktop Gadgets, you can show or hide them with the final option.

Personalizing Windows

At the bottom of the desktop right-click menus is the Personalize option. This link opens the Personalization control panel allowing you to set the user interface to look and feel how you desire. When you select the Personalize link, this control panel opens:


On the left, you see options to:

  • Change desktop icons: decide which desktop icons you want displayed on your Windows desktop.
  • Change mouse pointers: don’t like your current mouse pointers? Change the cursors and arrows to suit your desires.
  • Change your account picture: change the image shown at login and at the top of your Start menu.

In the middle, you will see the different themes available with an option to obtain more themes online. As you see, several of the themes have multiple desktop images – these themes will rotate the desktop images so you see a different picture throughout the day. As you scroll down in the middle, you can select from many different themes to suit your personal style. You also will see a link near the top for Get more themes online which allows you to find many other unique themes to install for your computer.

Across the bottom, you can see there are several different options for you to change if you’d like, including:

  • Change the desktop background image/colors
  • Change your window colors
  • Change the default Windows sounds
  • Change/enable/disable your screensaver

Setting a New Windows Aero Theme

If you would like to set a new theme, it’s pretty simple. In the Personalization control panel, click on the theme you’re interested in activating.

In the example above, I clicked on Architecture, now the Architecture Aero theme is activated on my system:

Video Settings

There are several things you can customize for the video settings on your computer. Windows tries to guess the appropriate screen resolution and settings for multiple monitors, but you may want to tweak this to meet your needs.

  1. Right-click anywhere on the desktop and select Screen resolution.
  2. The Screen Resolution control panel opens. You have several options you can change on this screen. If you have several monitors, click on the monitor you’d like to customize. In the screenshot above, you can see I have two monitors – the internal laptop screen and a bigger external screen.
  3. To change the screen resolution, pull down the Resolution menu and select a resolution you would prefer.
  4. You can also decide how you would like to handle multiple monitors. Extend these displays treats the two monitors as one, allowing you to move windows between them. You can also Duplicate the displays, or have the same screen running on both monitors (for example, if you treat your laptop as docked, you may only want to work with your external screen). You can also decide if you simply want to have your desktop on monitor 1 or monitor 2.
  5. Once you’ve customized your display settings, click OK to save your settings.

Customizing the Start Menu

The Start Menu is one of the most frequent places you will go when using Windows 7. As such, Microsoft wanted it to be highly customizable to work well for you. You can customize the Start Menu to make it work any way you want it to.

  1. Right-click on the Start menu and select Properties.
  2. Click on the Customize button.
  3. There are many options to customize in the Start menu. Scroll through the list to see all of the different features you can customize.
  4. Once you’ve made any changes, click OK to save your settings.

Customizing the Taskbar

The Taskbar, aka the Superbar, is where your running applications and any programs pinned are located. There are a few options you can customize on the taskbar, let’s explore them:

To access the Taskbar properties, right-click anywhere in an empty area of the Taskbar and select Properties. The first option is to Lock the taskbar. This locks the current icons in place. Next, you have an option to Auto-hide the taskbar, selecting this option will hide the taskbar and start menu whenever your mouse is not at the bottom of the screen, when you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen, the task bar will show. The third option is to Use small icons, this changes the icon size from large to small.

Next, you can move the taskbar to some other location on the screen (such as left, right, or top).

You can change how Windows groups the icons by changing the Taskbar buttons option to always combine, combine when the taskbar is full, or never combine.

We discussed changing the notification area icons in an earlier section of this tutorial.

Finally, you can change the peek, if you run your mouse to the Show Desktop button at the bottom right of the taskbar, it will show you a peek at your desktop and temporarily make all of the windows transparent. You can turn this off.

Once you have configured your taskbar, click OK to close the properties window.

Folder Settings

By default, Microsoft tries to protect you from yourself and hides operating system files to keep you from messing anything up! However, you may want to change folder settings to show hidden files, turn off simple file sharing, or show operating system files.

How to Show Hidden Files in Windows 7

  1. Click on the Start menu. Click on Computer.
  2. Click on the Organize button. Click on Folder and Search Options.
  3. Click on the View tab.
  4. Click on the radio button next to Show hidden files, folder, and drives.
  5. Click OK to show hidden files.

How to Show File Extensions of Known File Types

Windows hides the extensions (such as .doc or .txt) of known file types. You can show these extensions in Explorer if you’d prefer.

  1. Click on the Start menu. Click on Computer.
  2. Click on the Organize button. Click on Folder and Search Options.
  3. Click on the View tab.
  4. Uncheck the checkbox next to Hide extensions for known file types.
  5. Click OK to show hidden files.

How to Show Protected Operating System Files

Windows hides protected operating system files. You can show these files in Explorer if you’d prefer.

  1. Click on the Start menu. Click on Computer.
  2. Click on the Organize button. Click on Folder and Search Options.
  3. Click on the View tab.
  4. Uncheck the checkbox next to Hide protected operating system files (Recommended).
  5. Click OK to show the protected operating system files.

As you scroll through the Folder Options list, you will see many options you can use to customize how you interact with Windows Explorer. If you change some options and find out you made a mistake – don’t worry! – just click on the Restore Defaults button to get things back to normal.

In this section of the Windows 7 tutorial, you learned how to customize several aspects of Windows. In the next section, we’ll look at how you can find help when you need it.

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