Opinion » Cybernaut


Pimp your desktop



For most people desktop customization is limited to placing the dock somewhere handy and loading a photo onto the background, but there's a whole world out there of icon sets, themes, and desktop management software that you can use to make your default screen aesthetically pleasing - and in some cases more practical.

The first thing you need to customize your desktop is a concept. Are you going for looks, or is it about productivity? What tools and programs do you use most often, and how do you want to organize your file structure?

You also might want to look at your memory. On an older computer it's a bad idea to even use a background wallpaper image, much less any additional desktop management software. In some cases having too much on the go can cause your performance to slip.

A good place to get started designing a custom desktop is Lifehacker.com in their Featured Desktop section (http://lifehacker.com/tag/featured-desktop/). There are examples for Windows, Linux and Apple computers, and really the sky appears to be the limit.

The Mac "Star Trek" computer is one ambitious example, with Next Generation-style images on the screen showing the time, weather, iCal calendar, iTunes, Activity Monitor, and more. Another example is the SpiderMac, where information is presented in the voice bubbles of a Spider-Man strip.

As well as showing off the finished product, Lifehacker also includes a list of software and tweaks that the creator used to create the custom design. Typically Lifehacker supplies links to the websites where you can download the software, but a simple Google Search will get you to sites you can't find.

Lifehacker will also tell you where you can go to get free wallpaper that you can use to set the theme of your desktop.

Remember: almost any image can be turned into an icon. If you want your background to be a tree and design icons that look like leaves then you'll need a little bit of graphic assistance, but luckily there are tutorials on making folder icons and creating custom icons at http://lifehacker.com/279032/create-your-owncustom-icons. A search at any download site like www.download.com or www.tucows.com will turn up a huge number of custom icon creators, as well as literally thousands of free icon sets that you can download and use.

One example desktop at Lifehacker was particularly compelling, especially for people who do most of their computing in the "cloud" - using online software and storage for most of your computing (e.g. Google calendar, Gmail, Google Docs, Flickr, Facebook, Pidgin and others). Check out the "Full-Screen Firefox Cloud Desktop" to find out what you can do with Google's (still experimental) Firefox Desktop extension, which basically turns web browser windows into widgets.

Tony Hawk does it again

A few months ago I was excited about the Wii Fit balance board and its potential for things like skateboard and snowboard games, but that excitement soon passed. Now I'm excited by Tony Hawk Ride.

I haven't been excited about a Tony Hawk game since Tony Hawk ProSkater II, a PSOne game that was extremely popular about 10 years ago. I've played a lot of games since, but none of them really excited me - even EA's Skate, which was beautiful to look at but impossible to control.

Ride is more than a game, it's actually a new control system. Basically it includes a rugged plastic skateboard deck that you actually stand on, tilting it to turn, pressing on the heel and nose to ollie and nollie, spinning it on its axis, and more. Built-in accelerometers measure your movements, pressure sensors measure your shifting weight, infrared sensors at either end can detect movement so you can "grab" your virtual board in the game.

It seems like the kind of game that will be hard to learn but gratifying to master. It's also very physical and I can see it being promoted as a good way to work out your core - the same way that Wii Spots is good at getting people off the couch.

You can play the Tony Hawk 10 game that comes with it with a controller, but if you opt for the full package with the board you can play the entire game hands-free.

There's no word on a release date (October most likely) or price (one rumour pegs it at $120), but gamers are going crazy for this title. It will be demonstrated to the public for the first time at the E3 conference in June, and you can usually expect a three-to-six month turnaround before it will be released to the public.

No snowboard games have been announced yet, but it's probably only a matter of time before other games are created to support the controller. As cool as it is, it would be a shame to buy setup and only have the option of using it for one game now, and maybe another Tony Hawk game a year or two later.