How organized is your computer desktop? Not very? Same here! I install and test programs almost on a daily basis and they litter my desktop with new icons. I also save some files to my desktop for really quick access. By the end of the week, it usually messier than the offline desk in my home office.
Having an untidy desktop doesn’t make for great productivity, hunting and pecking for that crucial file or program usually takes several seconds. Repeat that operation many times over the course of a week and you’re starting into eat into your coffee break just finding stuff that should be obvious.
So, what’s the answer? Well, redecorating is the way to go.
First step. Minimize all open windows (hold down the Window-key and hit the M). Delete icons for any programs you don’t use at all and move the rarely used to a separate folder. Windows can automate this process for you.
Second, this is the slightly tricky bit. Open your favorite graphics editor and create a file to fit the dimensions of you monitor at the resolution. In my case it is 1440×900 pixels, but you may have a 1280×800, 1024×768, or even 800×600 desktop. At this point you may want to overlay a nice plain scenic shot but I choose to have a near-black background. Save the file as a Windows BMP, call it new-desktop.bmp or something similar.
Next, think about what categories your programs and files might slot into: System, Tools, Entertainment, Internet, Docs and Files etc. And count how many you have.
Now, draw a grid with a 1-2 pixel width line on to your BMP so that there are as many boxes as there were categories.
Choose a nice clear font, at a suitable size (14pt say) and add labels at the top left of each box on your grid corresponding to each category you are going to use. Once you’re happy with the results save the BMP.
Now right click on your Desktop and choose Properties from the drop-down menu, click the Desktop tab and then browse for the BMP file you have just created and select it as the new wallpaper. Select Stretch, although it should fit perfectly anyway if you got the size right. Click okay. Your grid with categories should magically appear as your redecorated desktop.
At this stage, all your many icons will still be arranged as they were before. So, right click a blank space on the desktop again, choose “Arrange icons by” and make sure Autoarrange is unchecked and that Align to Grid is checked.
It’s very easy to inadvertently trigger an autoarrange of desktop icons in Windows XP so you need to find some way of saving the new layout you will make in the final step. Download this file. Unzip it and copy the file layout.dll to the /system32/ folder in your Windows folder. Then double click the file layout.reg and when asked if you are sure you want to add the information to the registry click OK. Restart your computer.
Now, you can start re-arranging your icons according to their categories. Drag the My computer, Recycle Bin icons etc into the area bounded by the System box, Word, Notepad, Winzip etc into Tools, Firefox, Thunderbird icons into Internet, last.fm, iTunes, Picasa etc into Entertainment, and any files and docs into the files and docs box. Continue until you have everything just as it should be. Finally, right-click the Recycle Bin and click the new menu item Save Desktop Icon Layout.
Other people have done similar things with their desktops, if you’d prefer something more aesthetic you might want to check out this guy who has some readymade BMP files for download with colored regions and standard Windows backgrounds. In fact, now that I’ve found that site, I’ve redone my desktop (took a couple of minutes).
UPDATE: I’ve created a new organizer wallpaper inspired by my new tumblr theme. Download the raw desktop jpeg file here, resize to fit your screen, tidy up the rough edges and edit in your own categories and convert to BMP to load as wallpaper. (I have this in Photoshop format if anyone would like to play around with colors and layout more precisely).