You stare at your Windows desktop every day. So why not make it your own? With a little know-how, you can make your desktop easier to read, more enjoyable to look at, and more useful.

Read on for some tips.

Q: How can I create a desktop background from a personal photograph that I love? I’m using Windows 7.

A: That’s fairly easy, so long as you know the resolution of your monitor and you have a decent image editing program that allows you to crop an image to an exact size specification.

To find the resolution of your monitor, just right-click on your Windows desktop, and select Screen Resolution from the pop-up menu.

The resolution will be listed in the resulting dialog box, in the form of 1024x768 -- although your numbers may be different. Those numbers represent the number of columns and rows of pixels that make up the image on your screen. Write that number down.

Now it’s time to open your photograph in an image editor to make sure it matches the size of your monitor. If you don’t already have a decent image editor, download and install PhotoScape (http://www.photoscape.org), which is a free and very capable program for performing many simple and advanced alterations to photos. For the purposes of this explanation, we’ll assume you use PhotoScape. To use another application, just substitute the directions provided.

Load your image into PhotoScape, either by opening it from your hard drive or pasting it from the clipboard. Then select the Editor tab, and below the image you opened or pasted you’ll see a “crop” tab. Select that. Now from the Aspect Ratio/Size drop-down on the Crop tab, select Assign Ratio/Size.

In the resulting Crop dialog box, enter the resolution of your monitor in the Width and Height boxes. For example, if your monitor’s resolution is 1024x768, then you would enter 1024 in the Width box and 768 in the height box. Click OK, and a crop bounding box will appear on top of your image. You can drag any of the handles on the corners of the bounding box to adjust the crop’s location. When you’re happy with the crop’s location, either double-click inside the photograph or click the Crop button in the Crop tab.

Now click the Save button, and in the next dialog box, click the Save As button. Select a location on your hard drive where your newly cropped image is to be stored. Select BMP or JPEG as the file type, give your file a name, and click Save.

Now that your file is stored on your drive, all you have to do is tell Windows to use the image as your desktop background. In Windows 7, open the Start menu, type “desktop,” and click the Change Desktop Background entry. In the resulting dialog box, click Browse, and then navigate to the drive and folder where you stored your image. Click OK, select the image, and it will appear as your desktop background.

That’s all there is to it.

Q: Where can I find free desktop wallpaper online?

A: Artist and photographer communities are some of the best places to find gorgeous computer wallpaper. Flickr has a free wallpaper section (http://bit.ly/BxJ6o), as does DeviantArt (http://bit.ly/13RhIM) and PhotoCamel (http://bit.ly/9c4Lsr). Mike Bonnell, a graphic artist and photographer, has long supplied stunning desktop backgrounds at his site (http://www.mikebonnell.com).

The steps for grabbing a wallpaper image from the web are pretty easy. You can download the image and follow the steps in the previous question to activate it. Or with Internet Explorer, you can simply display the image in the correct resolution for your monitor, right click the image, and select Set As Background from the pop-up menu.

Q: Is there a way to make my Desktop icons bigger in Windows Vista?

A: In Windows Vista and Windows 7, changing the size of your desktop icons and labels is really easy -- and fun.

First, minimise all windows so that you see you complete desktop.

Then click a blank spot on your desktop, hold down the Ctrl key, and use the scroll wheel on your mouse to either increase or decrease the size of icons and icon labels. Moving the wheel forward increases the size, and moving it backwards (toward you) decreases the size.

Optionally, you can right-click your desktop, point to View from the pop-up menu, and then choose an icon size from the submenu.

Q: I just bought a computer with Windows 7 installed. What happened to the gadgets that Vista had?

A: Microsoft heard too many complaints about gadgets using valuable system resources in Windows Vista, so it removed them by default. Don’t worry, though: the desktop gadgets are still available, and they’re actually more flexible than ever.

Bring up the gadget palette by right-clicking your Windows 7 desktop and selecting Gadgets from the pop-up menu. Doing so brings up the semi-transparent palette from which you can drag gadgets onto your desktop -- and place them anywhere. In the lower-right hand corner of the gadget palette, click the Get More Gadgets Online link to browse through hundreds of additional gadgets, easily sortable by such criteria as highest rating, date added, or title.

If you find an additional gadget you’d like to add, just click Download and follow the prompts to install the gadget. Once installed, it will be added to your gadget palette for easy addition to your desktop.

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