Your desktop is the first thing you see when you start your computer, so why not use it for something more useful than just displaying a cute picture? There are some tricks - and software apps as well - for embedding interesting information (calendars, to-do lists, CPU data) on your desktop, so that you always have it at hand. Here's a list of five elements you may want to have on your desktop, from a simple text file task list to a fully featured system monitoring tool.
Embedding a to-do list in your desktop background is easier than it seems. All it requires is a simple text file that contains your list and an old Windows feature: Active Desktop. The trick consists of creating a very simple HTML document in a text editor with your list, and then using Active Desktop to show it on top of your wallpaper.
A sample HTML to-do list would look like this:
Now, open the Display Properties window by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop and select the Desktop tab. Then click on Customize Desktop and go to the Web tab. Here you'll be able to select a webpage to display on your desktop, i.e., the HTML file you just created.
The final result will look more or less like this:
Having a calendar always visible on the desktop is also really simple. You can either download a wallpaper that has already a calendar included in its design (like the beautiful collections featured each month in Smashing Magazine) or add a calendar to any desktop background image with this website. Simply select the image, tweak the calendar's options and cilck on "Create".
If you want to track multiple system values right on your desktop, a tool like GKrellM would be a good choice. With this utility you can keep track of CPU, temperature, network connections, hard disk, memory and other system elements. It's quite intuitive and easy to use.
For those who prefer to focus on network connections, there are also special software tools like NetMeter, which displays a customizable, real-time graphic on your desktop. This window enables you to track both upload and download transfer rate, control how much data you download over a certain period of time and receive alerts if you go beyond a predefined threshold in net traffic.
Pretty much anything
But if you're an information freak who likes to have all sorts of data on the desktop, Samurize is the program you're looking for. This massive data mining tool can be configured to embed all sorts of counters and meters on your desktop, from CPU usage to a simple to-do list. It can take you a while until you customize it to suit your needs, but it's a really powerful app and is well worth the effort.