BOOT CAMP 224 (07/05/02)




For most Windows users customisation rarely extends beyond a brief fiddle with the Background and Appearance settings in the Display utility (Start > Settings > Control Panel). That’s a pity because almost everything about the way Windows looks can be changed. Personalising your PC is not difficult and one of the easiest ways to make the Windows desktop your own is to change the icons, maybe with some of your own design.


Replacing a few icons can be very satisfying but it can also add to your PC’s functionality. Windows Explorer, for example, uses a simple yellow folder icon for everything, which is rather boring and not especially helpful. Your PC almost certainly contains a variety of different types of folders -- documents, pictures, music, etc., and colour coding them or changing the design will make them a lot easier to identify. Normally Windows won’t let you change folder icons (okay Mac users, stop smirking…), but it can be done and this week we’ll show you how.


Icons come in a variety of shapes and sizes but if you’re just starting out it’s best to stick to the standard Windows format, which is a tiny bitmap image made up of 32 x 32 pixels. It may not sound much but it’s surprising how much detail can be packed into such a tiny space, indeed there are those who regard the computer icon as an art form in its own right. More bizarrely there’s a website devoted to creating a virtual ‘town’ out of icons, designed by visitors to the site (, but we’ll confine ourselves to more down to earth activities, starting with changing desktop icons.


All versions of Windows come with icon ‘libraries’ containing a couple of hundred designs and virtually every program or application that you install on your PC comes with its own small assortment of icons, so there’s plenty to choose from. Most versions of Windows keep the icons in a special type of file called a dynamic link library or ‘dll’, the main icon libraries in Windows 98 are in C:\windows\system\shell32.dll, and C:\windows\system\pifmgr.dll. However, you won’t be able to see them without a ‘viewer’, more about that in a moment. Incidentally, non-Windows icon libraries generally have the file extension *.icl, whilst individual icons have the extension *.ico.


The icon libraries in Windows are quite varied but if you’re serious about changing the way your PC looks then there are several million icons – mostly free – available for download from the Internet, covering virtually any topic, genre, style etc. you can imagine. There’s a huge selection at for something a little more specific, try, which is the place to go for famous faces. If you have a particular interest just type the name of your fancy and the word ‘icon’ into the Search field (e.g. ‘cowboy icons’), of your preferred search engine.


If you do decide to download icons from the web create a new folder to keep them in, call it ‘myicons’ or something similar, so you’ll know where to find them. Some icon libraries can be quite large and may be compressed or ‘zipped’ in which case you will also need an unzip utility like WinZip on your PC (


Desktop icons fall into two basic types; those associated with some standard Windows components including My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin (empty and full) and Network Neighbourhood, and all the rest. The former icons are a special case and from Windows 98 onwards can be changed via the Display utility in Control Panel. Select the Effects tab, highlight the icon you want to change and click the Change Icon button. This opens an icon viewer and initially you’ll be presented with a small selection of alternatives but for a much bigger choice click the Browse button and navigate your way to the two Windows icon libraries, or any icons or libraries you’ve downloaded. In order to display the contents of third-party libraries you may have to change ‘Files Of Type’ in the Browse dialogue box to ‘Libraries’ or ‘All Files’. Make your selection and click OK, if you don’t like it simply click the Default button to return to the Windows standard-issue design. 


To change any other desktop icon just right-click on it select Properties then click the Change Icon button and follow the same procedure to open the icon viewer and display the contents of the Windows or your own personal icon libraries.


Creating your own icons is very easy, you can even use photographs shot on a digital camera or scanned into your PC, and you don’t need any special software, provided you’re using Windows 98 or later. Open the image in Windows Paint (Start > Programs > Accessories); if necessary use the selection tool to define the part of the picture you want to use. Press Ctrl + C to copy to Clipboard, select New on the File menu and Ctrl + V to paste it in. Next, use SaveAs to save it as a 256 colour or 24-bit BMP (bitmap) file, then use SaveAs again, this time changing the extension to ‘*.ico’ and save it in your icon library folder. You may need to adjust the proportions of the source image (Attributes on the Image menu) to get the size and shape correct. You can also create icons from scratch with Paint but you must use Attributes to set the height and width to 32 x 32 pixels. Many other paint box and graphics programs also have icon design facilities and they will usually have more varied creative facilities and there are also plenty of specialist shareware and freeware icon design programs, you’ll find a good selection at, (type ‘icon design’ in the Search field).


Finally, to return to that earlier promise about changing the yellow folder icons in Windows Explorer. Windows won’t allow you to change folder icons so you need a program like ChangeIcon (freeware, download from:, it works like the standard Windows icon changer utilities, allowing you to select alternative icons from Windows or your own libraries.


Next week –  Screensavers





Image file format (extension *.bmp) used by Windows and many other programs



Picture-Element, a single dot in a digitally generated image or display



A program that allows a file to be read or displayed though not changed



If your screen resolution is set to 1024 x 768, or higher, you may find your desktop icons are a bit on the small side and any you’ve made from pictures may look indistinct. You can change the size of icons (make them smaller as well as bigger) by right-clicking into an empty area of the desktop, select Properties then the Appearance tab. In the ‘Item’ drop-down menu select Icon and in the Size box increase or decrease the value as necessary.

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