How-To: Personalise Windows 7 Starter

Owing to Microsoft’s marketing strategy, Windows 7 Starter Edition is far from complete. Features are stripped to make this most basic edition also the cheapest. However, many of the personalisation options are also stripped from Windows 7 Starter.

You can still customise a lot, although some of it is hidden, away from menus and control panels. It’s that part of Microsoft’s corporate, money-minded, mean-spiritedness coming to the fore, in the hope that the less knowledgeable computer users will simply stump up for an upgrade to a more expensive version.

Here’s the scoop: you don’t have to…

In all other editions of Windows 7, you can easily personalise your desktop environment by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Personalize. Change themes, background, sounds, screen-saver, mouse pointers, desktop icons amongst a long list.

This Personalization panel not available Windows 7 Starter. However, right-click on the desktop and you will get a more traditional option to change your display resolution and add Desktop Gadgets.

Using the Start Menu search, you can rediscover many of the personalisation settings.

Sounds
Enter “change sounds” in your start menu search, then select “Change system sounds.”

Change or remove any of the current sounds scheme. or choose one of the other sound schemes; Windows 7 Starter includes all of the new sound schemes by default.

Screensaver
Windows 7 Starter does still include all the default Windows 7 screensavers. Type “screensaver” in your start menu search, and choose “Change screen saver.”

This opens the familiar screensaver options dialog where you can choose the screensaver and settings you want.

Theme
Windows 7 Starter defaults to the Aero Classic theme, similar to the default Aero Glass theme on other editions of Windows 7, but without transparency effects. This is the only Aero type theme provided by the install. Some options you would expect to be able to change, you can’t, like background pictures and colours – but more later.

You can’t apply any customised theme in Windows 7 Starter and Home editions. If you download and try to apply themes, you will get a dialog saying “This edition of windows doesn’t support themes.”

You can ‘downgrade’ to the classic Windows look from Windows 95/98/2000/ME, to save processing power on low-spec machines (or battery power on notebooks) or set a high-contrast theme for visual-impaired accessibility. Type “theme” in the start menu search, and select the “Change the color scheme” link.

You can change many of the theme options in the Windows Classic theme, including the desktop background color. Click Advanced, click on the background color in the picture, and then choose the color you want from the drop-list. Here’s a minor ‘cheat’ – changing background colour in Classic carries this option over to Aero.

Background Picture
Windows 7 Starter does not allow you to change the background image. It’s embedded and validated in a strange way through code. There are registry hacks you can make to change it if you feel brave, or third-party softwares (including ‘Omnia’) if you feel brave in a different vein. Remember the danger with these two methods is finishing with a non-working Windows 7 desktop.

You could instead run the Slide Show desktop gadget to get alternative images on your desktop but this does not, as far as I know, run full screen corner to corner.

To add this, right-click on your desktop, and select Gadgets. Double-click on the Slide Show gadget, or click and drag it to your desktop. By default the gadget is small. To make it larger, hover your mouse over the right hand side of the gadget, and click on the middle button with the arrow. The gadget will show a 320×240 image.

Alternatively if you go to display properties you can turn off background pictures and have a plain coloured desktop background.

Desktop Icons
To change the icons for the special desktop shortcuts – My Computer, Network and the Recycle Bin – enter “icons” in the start menu search and select the “Show or hide common icons on the desktop” link. You can show or hide icons, or change the icons for these shortcuts.

Select the item you wish to change, and click Change Icon. You can select from icons included with Windows, or any others you have on your computer.

Mouse Pointers
To customize your mouse pointer, enter “cursors” in the start menu search, and choose the “Change how the mouse pointer looks” link. This opens the classic mouse properties dialog, where you can choose mouse pointer schemes and change individual cursors.

Conclusion
It’s not the same as having the full theming engine as in the more expensive editions of Windows 7, but at least you can have something that’s more individual to you whilst losing some of the more irritating MS defaults. AJS

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