Well, if you're a windows user, like me, you might have noticed the Plus! program... If you've tried it, you know that you can choose one of a few themes included in the Windows 98 cd to change the background, cursors, sounds, screensaver, and icons. Also, if you've done some searching around, you might have found entire web directories devoted entirely to desktop themes. But the elusive Spaceballs or Robert Jordan, or whatever, theme is nowhere to be found. You might think to yourself... "If I knew how, I could make the perfect one myself..."

Well, I'm gonna tell you how...

First, you need a theme editor. Something easy to use, relatively small download, and easy to install on your system. For this, I recommend Desktop Architect. You can find and download it at http://www.desktoparchitect.com. It has all of the utilities you need to edit the theme, and put everything together.

Once you have that downloaded and installed, you need little more than a theme idea. Something original, or a new twist on a popular theme; anything as long as you like it. A good place to begin our adventure is the desktop wallpaper.

Make sure the picture you choose is clear, and stretches well to any resolution without degrading quality. Bitmaps are probably the best quality, but make for a very large file. The most versatile picture files are probably jpg's. When you have made your decision, simply tell Desktop Architect to recognize your picture as the wallpaper.

Like most work you might do on the computer, it is important to save often. Since this will be the first time saving, you go to "file"--"save as" then name your theme file whatever you want.

Oh, I forgot to mention, everything you choose to put in your theme (background, sounds, cursors, etc...) should be placed in a temporary folder. Including the theme file you just saved. This makes for easier packaging, and makes it easier for your computer to find the files you specify.

Ok, now that we've got the background picture, a good screensaver is in order. You can make your own, or you can go to sites such as http://www.themeworld.com and download a free screensaver which might fit your theme idea. Once you've got the screensaver, let Desktop Architect know where it is (in the temporary folder you made, right?) and save your changes.

Now, we get into the fun stuff... Sounds, cursors, and icons...

Since all three are about equal difficulty, I'll start with sounds. In the desktop theme, you can specify wav files that will be used as sounds for your theme. The easiest way to do this, is to search the web for sound clips related to your theme. Chances are that you'll find some small wav sound clips that would be perfect for your theme. Simply place the sounds in your folder, direct desktop architect to match certain sounds to certain events, and save again. For a complete list of the sound events, and what they mean, I recommend going to http://www.themeworld.com/faqs/themes-create.shtml

Now, if you're a little more experienced, you might want to get the sounds from your very own cd collection, and edit them to the perfect size. For this, you'll need a sound editor (I recommend Cool Edit 2000 - http://www.syntrillium.com), and a cd ripper (I recommend Zlurp! - http://www.zlurp.com). Simply rip the cd tracks you want to use, then use your editor to cut them down to size and/or fade in, fade out, echo, alter, and all that other junk. These are the fun ways to professional sound bytes!

Whew, that was a little complicated, wasn't it? Ok, after you've saved your work, you can start on the cursors.

Once again, the easy way to acquire cursors for your theme, is to search the web for cursors related to your theme idea. Places like Cometzone (http://www.cometzone.com) provide easy-to-use pointers that come in a wide variety of themes and categories. Make sure Desktop Architect knows which cursor goes where, (after you've placed the cursors in your folder, of course) and save your work again.

Again, for those of you with a little more expertise, you can make your own cursors using editors. (I recommend Microangelo) If you're artistic, you can simply use the paint-like program in Microangelo to make your cursors from scratch, or you can use the handy-dandy screen capture tool to grab a portion of whatever is showing on your screen at the time, and use THAT for your cursor.

Lastly, the icons.

The icons can be created/found in the exact same way as the cursors. Searching for icons can come up with great results, and Microangelo is also compatible with icons, so you can make your own if you wish. Place them in your folder and save.

Cleanup on your theme can be little things like making a color scheme and specifying fonts to be used. Those are relatively easy and straightforward, so I'm not going to get into that. Once you've completed your theme, save it one final time, and hit that magic "Apply" button!

Voila! You now have your very own desktop theme. Package it if you want, and then you can distribute it to the world!

Note: I purposefully left out Startup/Shutdown logo screens, because they are the most complicated of all to create (in my opinion), so I'm going to node that separately.

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