You want to give your computer desktop a little spice, so you change the wallpaper. Perhaps you enabled a desktop-cycling option that's in Windows 7 or add themes or gadgets that work with Windows. All of these things give your computer some personality--but what if you want something more powerful?
Enter Rainmeter (download here), a free utility that adds many operations to your desktop normally reserved for Windows desktop widgets or Web applications. Rainmeter runs what are known as "skins," which are scripting applications that display information and execute applications.
The tasks fall into three categories: system information and monitoring, launchers, and Web content. You have to modify the skins by editing their .INI files, which can occasionally be a challenge since they are often not well written.
The basics of what they offer include information about system memory usage and availability, CPU load, and network traffic. There is also a clock and calendar. Then you can add things like a weather skin, a to-do list that's right in front of you, and perhaps RSS feeds and a simple desktop control for iTunes or WinAMP without having to maximize those apps.
With the advent of wide-screen monitors, there's a lot more empty real estate on our desktops. For example, I don't write with Microsoft Word maximized on my 23" wide-screen monitor, because that would leave a lot of empty white space in MS Word. The Web browser either throws off formatting or also leaves empty space. So I window the application and center it in the screen. This leaves several inches of open space on either side of the monitor, where I have my Rainmeter skins.
I keep my browser, email, and other apps centered and windowed, meaning the edges are empty. That's where the bulk of my Rainmeter skins are. So even as I write this, my full system resources, the calendar, a five-day forecast, and a four-way RSS feed (it brings in feeds from four sources, cycling through each one) are visible at all times.