Windows 8.1 Update is already available for everyone running Windows 8.1 and although it doesn't bring too many new customization options, it still allows for a number of tweaks that enables adopters to make the operating system a bit more appealing and add their very own personal touch to its looks.
As we know, Windows 8.1 doesn't provide the same high level of customization as other platforms out there, but it still comes with options that give you the power to change the essential settings, such as colors and icons, while third-party applications also come with something extra that bring support for visual styles and other elements.
Basically, changing the looks of Windows 8.1 Update isn't such a big deal if you stick to the basics and you're not planning to make the operating system look like it's coming from a different world, so today we're going to present you the easiest way to make it a bit more appealing.
Step 1: change the Start screen background
One of the best things about Windows 8.1 and 8.1 Update is the built-in option that allows you to change the Start screen background. Windows 8 came with multiple built-in Start screen backgrounds, but starting with Windows 8.1, you are also allowed to use the desktop wallpaper on the Start screen as well.
Microsoft says that this is actually a pretty helpful feature improvement because it eases the transition from the desktop to the Start screen and vice-versa, as many users have actually criticized the Start menu replacement for its touch-oriented approach.
Do change the background, go over to the Start screen, move the mouse cursor to the right side of the screen, wait for the charms to appear, click on “Settings,” then hit the “Personalize” option and then choose any of the available wallpapers.
Alternatively, you can right-click the taskbar, hit “Properties” and in the “Navigation” tab enable the option that says “Show my desktop background on Start.”
Tip: use a clean and simple wallpaper. Avoid photos with celebrities, cars, or other objects because they do not look good when the Start screen live tiles are displayed on top of it.
Step 2: change the taskbar and windows colors
If you right-click the desktop and hit the “Personalize” option, you'll discover a completely new world. This menu allows you to change several visual settings, including the desktop backgrounds, colors, and the screensaver.
As far as colors are concerned, Windows 8.1 is by default configured to use the “Auto” option, which basically changes the color depending on your desktop background. If you'd like a different color, just choose the one you want and hit the save button.
Additionally, you can configure color intensity, while the color mixer provides you with some additional settings, such as hue, saturation and brightness.
Tip: try different color intensity values and never go for the lowest or highest levels. Windows 8.1 Update looks good with some colors on its windows, so pick the one you want and slightly adjust its intensity.
Step 3: deploy a Start menu app
If you're a Microsoft enthusiast, you sure know that the lack of a Start menu is one of the main setbacks of modern Windows, but Microsoft has promised to address these issues in future updates.
While the Start menu could be brought back at some point in the near future, you can still deploy a third-party app that does exactly the same thing and restores the traditional Windows functionality, even if you are using Windows 8, 8.1, or 8.1 Update.
There are plenty of such apps out there, but Classic Shell continues to be one of the leading choices for the majority of users, especially because it has a user-friendly interface and options that allow users to quickly shut down their computers or access installed apps.
Microsoft's Start menu is rumored to return sometime in August, and according to information provided by the company itself, could come with live tiles, a search box, and power controls at one-click distance.
Step 4: choose a different mouse cursor
If you're tired of the old mouse cursor that's available in Windows 8 and you're looking for something a bit more eye-catchy, no problem.
There are plenty of third-party skins for the mouse cursor out there and the best of all is that they aren't even requiring you to deploy some sort of application to use them.
Basically, the only thing you need to do is to download the pack, right-click the INI file and click install. All files are automatically copied to your computer and you can then enable the new mouse cursor by opening the “Mouse properties” screen in Control Panel.
Step 5: use desktop widgets
Microsoft removed the desktop widgets that were available in Windows 7, so users can no longer see the weather forecast or write down notes right on the desktop. Instead, they have the live tiles, which provide information right on the Start screen, while in the future, Microsoft is planning to allow users to run Metro apps on the desktop, in a similar fashion to the traditional gadgets.
In the meantime, third-party apps can still help you and Rainmeter is clearly the first name that comes in one's mind. This application might not be so easy to use and it requires some basic coding skills, but there are thousands of themes out there that could really come in handy. More information can be found in our in-depth Rainmeter review.
There still are some ways to bring back the old gadgets in Windows 8.1 Update, but we wouldn't recommend them, as they might slow down the operating system and turn your desktop into a cluttered working environment.
Tip: try to use only a handful of widgets, as they might affect system performance. Rainmeter doesn't hamper system performance, but if you go for another app, it might have an impact on the way your computer loads apps.