Friday, August 23, 2013

Reducing Clutter On Your Windows Desktop

There are many ways to reduce clutter on your desktop to help cut down on distractions when you are writing. You can delete unnecessary icons by installing a launcher, for example. One of my favorites is to use a virtual desktop app like Dexpot, which lets me set up a Windows desktop screen with nothing but my writing programs and a suitable background.

Today, I've been testing another way, and I've decided I like it.

The Windows interface is familiar and comfortable. At least it is if you like Windows. But it is not particularly clean. Most of us have everything we ever use, right at our fingertips. This is convenient, unless we want to focus on something, like getting that manuscript finished.

But did you know you can replace the standard Windows shell (the stuff you see on your screen)? Your computer still runs Windows underneath, and you can easily switch back to the regular Windows interface.

There are several free shells available. I tested three today, and decided I like one called SharpEnviro. SharpEnviro is easy to install and configure, and it gives me a sleek and clean Windows screen:

This does not look like the Windows you are used to, but I assure you, all it is is Windows 7 with a new skin. I created my own theme with my own favorite background picture, but there are premade themes that make setup even easier.

I can still get to all my programs from the Scott menu at the top left. Frankly, the program menu in that main menu is not designed very well, but in this case, that's a good thing. If it's inconvenient to get to my favorite software distractions, I'm less likely to go there.

Because this shell is completely customizable, I placed links to my favorite writing programs in an application toolbar just left of top center. I even created a Writing menu with links to programs, project files, and my writing folder:

Everything I need is easily accessible.

I could easily take this a step further. Right now, I've set up my screen to provide everything I normally use. However, I could set it up so stuff that has nothing to with writing is harder to get to, or even hide everything that has no place in my authoring environment. Because switching to this shell requires a restart (once there, I can switch back to my regular Windows with a click, but I could hide that if I wanted), it would be inconvenient to leave my environment to check Facebook or email, provided, of course, that I don't make an easy link to my browser.

For me, and probably for you, the browser can be part of my writing environment because I use it for research. My browser is my primary dictionary and thesaurus. So I wouldn't hide it. But what I might do is set up a different browser with bookmarks only to my writing tools. For example, right now my main browser is Firefox, so maybe I would set up Chrome or Opera or Safari as a writing browser. Or maybe I would set this writing environment solely for the writing part of the job and do my research on a different space, or keep it off the main screen by using one of the built-in virtual desktops. The virtual desktops lack the customizable icons and backgrounds that Dexpot provides, but they give you additional screens so you can keep different tasks separate, like you can on the screens on your iPad or Android tablet. So you could keep your browser tucked away on Screen 2 while you work on screen one, so it requires some effort to get there. Even if it is only a click, at least it's out of your sight while you write.

You might find the idea of using an alternative shell a little frightening. You don't need to, as long as you are moderately comfortable with menu-based configuration screens. There's no scripting or hacking required. Plus, all of your usual Windows stuff, including the look and feel you are used to, is a click away. Even if you don't use the one-click way to get back because it's a little too easy, you can set things up to go back to regular Windows when you restart.

I added the option to go back to Windows with a click to my launcher, a separate program called RocketDock, which I keep hidden out of the way at the top of my screen. I have to move the cursor to the top center of my screen to get to it. That link is also in my Scott menu, but at least it's not on the desktop, which is the default configuration. Desktop icons are distracting and too easy to hit when I should be writing.

 So, if you are looking for a way to create a unique writing environment on your all-too-familiar computer, you might want to give SharpEnviro a try, or at least read up on it to see if it's what you're looking for.

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