If you’re interested in customizing your Windows Desktop, you’ve likely heard of Rainmeter. For the uninitiated, Rainmeter is an application for Windows that allows you to customize your desktop with a variety of mini-applications and widgets called “skins,” greatly expanding the capabilities of your Windows desktop. As Windows Gadgets are phased out in Windows 10 (like many other features introduced in Windows Vista) due to a combination of security risks and a lack of adoption, some desktop users may be left in the cold without a way to customize their Windows desktop environment to their liking.
Here’s an in-depth look at Rainmeter, an application for Windows that allows you to customize your desktop with a variety of mini-applications and widgets. I’ll be walking you through how to acquire it, install it, set it up and find some “skins” of your own to use.
Hold up just a second there; you’re going to need some things before proceeding with the installation and setup of Rainmeter.
- Windows XP or higher. Some features require Vista or higher.
- Visual C++ redistributable packages.
In addition, you should be aware that some “skins” require you to set them up on your own and may have special hardware requirements. Be sure to read documentation before installing any skin. We’ll be walking you through how to install and configure skins later in this article.
You can download Rainmeter from their site. Be sure to select the latest Final Release to ensure stability.
After this, open up the Rainmeter installer. You’ll be given two install options. For this guide we’ll be doing “Standard” not “Portable.” In the final step of the installer, you’re given the choice to enable launching Rainmeter at startup. I keep this enabled, but if you use an older computer with a longer startup time, you may not want Rainmeter to launch automatically.
The first time you launch Rainmeter, your desktop will be changed to look something like this:
This displays Rainmeter’s default package, “illustro,” and the skin combination that loads by default. You’ll see a welcome splash in the center of your screen with counters for time, system usage and Disk usage in the top right corner of your screen. You’ll find that if you right click any one of these skins, you can add more skins in the same package, and you can also edit or remove the skin in question.
There’s also a distinct settings menu (used to control preferences such as transparency), but most importantly, let’s right click one of our skins, hover over Rainmeter, and open “Manage.”
The “Manage” window is where you get to really start to get into the functionalities of the program. Let’s go ahead and walk through each one.
Skins shows off a list of skins Rainmeter has in its directory, whether you’ve installed them through an rmkskin file (like most skins) or you’ve manually placed them in Rainmeter’s skins directory. The default set of skins that comes with Rainmeter are “illustro” which offer various counters, monitors and even a nifty little Google search function to give a slight idea of what Rainmeter is capable of. Recall that Rainmeter skins range in functionality from basic widgets to what could be considered full applications in themselves. In this tab you can easily manage your active skins as well as refresh them to account for edits or changes made.
Layouts saves and manages certain layouts for your skins. The default layout is the one you see whenever you open the program. Using Layouts you can save your personal favorite Rainmeter setup for the next time you reset your computer or relaunch Rainmeter. This setup is important if you want Rainmeter to become a big part of your daily desktop usage.
Finally, Settings gives a basic set of Settings for you to manage, like your update options, language settings and the application launched whenever you’re editing certain skins. There’s no reason to change any of this for most people, but if you’d like all of your skins to stay in one place, you could always check “Disable dragging” in case someone else uses your computer or you worry about accidentally changing things.
Let’s move into installing and using skins!
Find and Install Skins
To me, this is the best part about using Rainmeter. Rainmeter has a bustling community of developers making various skins focused on high levels of aesthetic appeal, added functionality or both. The possibilities are essentially a whole blue ocean, but for the sake of this article, I won’t cover all of that. Instead, I’ll be telling you “how” to find skins and install them, and I’ll give you some of my own recommendations at the end of the article.
Rainmeter’s own website recommends deviantArt, Customize.org, Lifehacker, Reddit and their own forums as places to find quality Rainmeter skins. Being a Redditor, I chose to visit r/Rainmeter to find what I was looking for. I searched for “Hotline Miami Clock,” and after a few links I found this skin, which you can see on my desktop:
It’s nothing particularly special, just a clock skin based on the one from a video game I like, and installing it was a breeze.
To install a given skin after you’ve searched for and found it, first download it to your computer. After that, you’ll need to find the file in your “Downloads” folder, and identify what kind of file it is. If it’s an .rmskin file, you’re in luck. All you need to do is open it, and you can install the skin and start using it right away.
However, many skins are distributed as .zip files instead. To handle these, you’ll first have to extract the files and place them in your Rainmeter folder which you can find by typing
C:\Users\[your username]\Documents\Rainmeter\Skins. Place the folders from the zip file inside here for Rainmeter to recognize the skin.
After you’ve done this, it’s time to start using your skins.
Using Your Skins
Once you’ve installed your skins, you may be confused initially as to how to actually add them to your desktop. To add skins to your desktop, right click the Rainmeter icon in your system tray, select “Skins,” then “Your Group,” and then “Your Skin” which will be indicated by a name ending with .ini.
Once you have a skin on your desktop, you can right click it for a set of additional options.
- Variants allows you to use different versions of the same skin. Usually these are different sizes or styles.
- Settings lets you handle the options listed, transparency being among the most prominent, while other options bring you back into the Rainmeter menu we covered before. All of your primary functionality is covered here, however, and generally you shouldn’t need to do anything aside from the options listed.
To remove a skin from your desktop, unload it. To reload it to reflect the changes you’ve made, select “Refresh skin.” For the most part you shouldn’t need to tweak these other options, but if you ever want to tweak their behavior or appearance slightly, now you know how.
From here, the rest is up to you. There’s many great Rainmeter skins out there beyond simple clocks – some are app launchers, or music visualizers, some border on full interface redesigns, and some are just made to look cool.
Do you have any Rainmeter skin recommendations? Sound off in the comments!