Personalizing Windows 7 (part 2) - Choosing Your Desktop Background

1/19/2011 9:21:07 AM

2. Choosing Your Desktop Background

The Windows desktop can display a solid background color or a picture as Windows wallpaper. Windows 7 provides a fairly large set of ready-to-use background images that you can use as wallpaper.

On your computer’s hard drive, these default background images are stored in subfolders of the %WinDir%\Web\Wallpaper folder. The name of each subfolder sets the name of a category that appears when you are working with Windows desktop backgrounds.

You can create background images to use as Windows wallpaper as well. You must create these background images as .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .jpeg, .dib, or .png files. If you add images in these formats to name subfolders of the %WinDir%\Web\Wallpaper folder, the images will be available as part of the Windows wallpaper and organized into the named sets according to the subfolder names. If you do not have access to that folder, or if you would prefer to not make changes to that folder, you can also use pictures from your Pictures Library or specify a folder elsewhere.

The key thing you need to know in terms of adding new wallpaper or even using your own images from a different location is that you should optimize every background image you use. If you don’t do this, you risk affecting your computer’s performance.

In case you’re wondering why this may be so, let me tell you the cautionary tale of an experienced pro (me) who added a picture of his kids to the desktop background and suddenly found his computer’s performance was moderately degraded. My digital camera takes high-resolution pictures—most do these days—and its pictures are about 4 MB in size, on average. By adding an unedited picture to the desktop background, I was forcing the operating system to swap in 4 MB of extra data every time the operating system displayed the desktop.

Now you may be thinking, “4 MB is no big deal; my computer has gigabytes of RAM.” Well, the problem wasn’t system memory (RAM) but graphics memory. Most computers use both dedicated and shared graphics memory. The dedicated memory on most computer video cards is relatively meager, in contrast to shared memory, which is part of RAM, so swapping in and out 4 MB is a big deal. Also, the image was sized at 3,072 × 2,304 pixels when the screen size I was using was 1,920 × 1,200 pixels. This means that not only did the graphics card have to manage this large picture, but also Windows 7 had to resize the image to fit on the screen.

The solution to the problem was fairly simple: I opened the image in my photo editor, resized it to 1,920 × 1,200 pixels, and saved the resized image with a new name to the Pictures folder in my profile. The resized image was 1 MB, and my computer was much happier.

If you examine the default images Windows 7 uses for wallpaper, you’ll find that most are less than 2 MB in size. In fact, the Landscapes images, some of the most visually stunning wallpaper images, are the most highly optimized. You’ll find that they are available at a standard screen ratio of 1,920 × 1,200.

You can set the background for the desktop by completing the following steps:

  1. Right-click an open area of the desktop and then select Personalize.

  2. On the Personalization page in the Control Panel, click Desktop Background. This displays the Desktop Background page, as shown in Figure 2.

  3. Use the Picture Location pull-down menu to specify where to look for the picture you want to use, or click Browse to select a location. The default locations are as follows:

    Windows Desktop Backgrounds

    Displays the wallpaper images in the %WinDir%\Web\Wallpaper folder.

    Pictures Library

    Displays the images in your Pictures library, which is a combination of your My Pictures folder and the Public Pictures folder by default.

    Top Rated Photos

    Displays the top-rated pictures in your Pictures library.

    Solid Colors

    Allows you to choose from more than 50 background colors, or create your own background color by clicking More and then using the Color dialog box to select or mix your color.

Figure 2. Choosing a desktop background

  1. By default, when you select Windows Desktop Backgrounds, Pictures Library, or Top Rated Photos, all related images are selected automatically and the background will rotate between these images every 30 minutes by default. Using Shift-click, you can select multiple individual pictures. You also can select a category heading to select all images in a category. To deselect an image, clear the checkbox in its upper-left corner.

  2. If you are using a background image, use the Picture position options to select a display option for the background. You have the following options:


    Centers the image on the desktop background. Any area that the image doesn’t fill uses the current desktop background color. Click Change background color to set the background color.


    Fills the desktop background with the image. Typically, the fill is accomplished by zooming in, which may result in the sides of the image being cropped.


    Fits the image to the desktop background. Current proportions are maintained. This is a good option for photos and large images that you want to see without stretching or expanding.


    Stretches the image to fill the desktop background. The result is the current proportions are maintained as best as possible and then the height is stretched to fill any remaining gaps.


    Repeats the image so that it covers the entire screen. This is a good option for small images and icons.

  3. If you are using multiple background images, use the Change picture every list to specify how often Windows should change the background image, such as every 5 minutes, every 2 hours, or every 1 day. Normally, Windows goes through the images in order. To go through the images randomly, select the Shuffle checkbox.

  4. When you are finished updating the background, click Save Changes.

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