RainMeter is undoubtedly one of the most powerful free desktop customization and widget engines on the Windows platform.
It can place all sorts of interactive informational devices on your desktop, is highly customizable, supports multiple skins, is multi-monitor friendly, and offers a wide range of available widgets to choose from (e.g. calendars, resource monitors, feeds, wheather, email, favorite apps and folders widgets, pictures, and even applications such as uTorrent or VLC).
But RainMeter is unique compared to most widget engines in that it is clearly designed with desktop customization in mind.
Widgets can be embedded so that they are part of the desktop, living “under” your Windows or icons and set so that they are interactive when you click or mouse over while simultaneously pressing “shift” on the keyboard.
The flip side to this is that RainMeter can feel like it was designed for geeks rather than normal users; setting up your desktop and various widgets can be labor intensive and unintuitive, and requires a bit of a learning curve.
For those who would like to embed all sorts of information on their desktop, this is likely the holy grail! Here are some pros and cons:
PROS: things I like about RainMeter
- A comprehensive desktop customization software: want to create the perfectly customized desktop? You’ll love RainMeter. I love the fact that you can make a widget draggable or not, and enable clickthrough such that the widget will in effect become part of the desktop wallpaper cease to be interactive unless shift+mouse are used together.
- Supports multiple monitors: with the same versatility that it supports a single screen.
- Skins: are impressive; just look at the screenshots above. Skins have to be downloaded separately and there are 3 “recommended” skin suites. The RainMeter site offers ample resources and tutorials for how to create your own skin, if you’re up for it; but you will need to be somewhat technical (and committed).
- Wide range of widgets: including interesting ones such as wheather, email, and Torrent. The widgets are designed differently
- Plugins: RainMeter is built on a plugin architecture that can help you create your own custom widgets, but again you will need to be somewhat technical.
- Community: RainMeter is a product of an online community that has made this software innovative and exciting. Kudos to those guys for the wonderful recently released version 2 of this software.
- Easy backup: now that you’ve set up your widgets just the way you want them, you can use the included “RainBackup” app to save your RainMeter setup and even transport it to other machines. (Note: backup your skin before you try another, or you’ll lose your customizations).
- Resource usage: is very reasonable for a software like this, at under 20 megs.
CONS: things about RainMeter that could be better.
- It could be more user friendly: it took me a while to figure out how to configure each widget the way I wanted it and/or make it functional (and I consider myself somewhat technically savvy). Widget customization is somewhat confusing because it (a) it seems to be different for each skin, and (b) happens in multiple places. For the Gnometer skin, for example, there is a centralized dialog that appears when you right click any widget, then Gnometer, then Settings.ini, but each widget still has to be set up separately for more general desktop behavior. Other skins do not necessarily have a central widget, and I get the feeling that for some you have to go in and manually edit .ini files for the different widgets to configure.
- Widgets are skin specific: which is somewhat strange. Unless you want to wade into the complicated process of stitching widgets together yourself you will simply have to hope that the skin you like comes with the widgets you want.
- App and folder widgets are useless: in that they have to be laboriously configured, and the icons to be used manually saved as PNG files first. Contrast this with the fact that so many launchers nowadays will let you drag and drop the folders you want and deal with the icons for you.
The verdict: overall, an excellent software that is both powerful and highly customizable (and relatively low on resource consumption). The main criticism I have is that it feels like it was designed with geeks in mind, rather than normal users.
But consider this: although it can be somewhat labor intensive to get there, and present somewhat of a learning curve, the resulting desktops can be highly impressive (as seen in the screenshots above). Impressive enough to warrant the highest Freewaregenius Pick accolade!
Version Tested: 2.0
Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7; 32 bit and 64 bit.
Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 3.06 megs- the download is on the left sidebar under the image on the home page). Skins have to be downloaded separately from the skins download page.