Expressing Yourself Online: Customizing Instant Messages, Desktops And Toolbars

Customize your computer's appearance and outgoing messages with unique avatars, desktop backgrounds, and even toolbars.

The Internet is a great place for self-expression, and your computer is capable of reflecting your interests as well. With almost any operating system (this guide covers Microsoft systems), you can customize your computer's appearance and outgoing messages to suit yourself.

The desktop is the simplest part of a display to modify. Using your mouse, right click on the screen after minimizing or closing everything and choose "Properties". This method will work on most Windows releases, or you can go to the control panel, which you can find in your Start menu. Once the Properties box appears go into the "Desktop" tab. (If you opened Control Panel, you will need to go to "Display" first.)

Once you are in the Desktop area you should be able to choose from a selection of pre-set backgrounds. You can also add your own backgrounds by saving pictures (they must be .bmp format if you're using early versions of Windows!) in C:\Windows, using "Browse" to select an image on your computer (If you have Windows XP) or by right-clicking on a picture on the Internet and choosing Set as Background. You have the option, if your picture is too small, of making your background tiled or centered, or having the picture enlarged to fit the screen. The most common screen sizes are 800x600 and 1024x768.

Your toolbar is a bit more complicated, depending on what you are looking for. Initially you may need to unlock your toolbars (View > Toolbars, and uncheck "lock the toolbars") and drag the "Links" section located on the right-side of the Internet Explorer window downward until you can see it. In order to simply add links to your Internet Explorer bar, you can either drag website URLs from the Address bar or your desktop to the Links bar, or you can create shortcuts in your Favorites folder. Do this by going into the Links folder (C:\Documents and Settings\YOUR NAME\Favorites\Links) and right-clicking, then choosing New > Shortcut. (In earlier versions of Windows, create your shortcuts in C:\Windows\Favorites\Links)

Customizing messages will be dependant on what program you use for instant messaging. Most will allow you to modify the text color and size as well as characteristics, and append an avatar to your outgoing messages. Manipulate the text by using the buttons that appear when you open a new message window. By going into your messenger's Options menu you can make these changes default each time you turn on the program or you can simply change them for that session. Choose a color or background color that you like and a unique, easy-to-read font.

Many instant messengers allow you to set an avatar, a small picture that usually can be anything from 50x50 to 100x100 pixels. There will be default images to choose from or you can create your own. Open an image (.bmp, .gif or .jpg work best) in an image program (MSPaint is the default that comes with Windows, but if you need to resize an image, I would recommend something with more options) and crop it to a size acceptable for your messenger. Feel free to add borders or words to your image to personalize it, and save it. Again, check your messenger for acceptable image formats. If you have Windows XP, you can add the avatar to your login screen as well, by going into the Users section of your Windows Control Panel.

Your computer can be an extension of yourself, especially when you are putting it to use for many hours a day. Create a unique avatar, toolbar or desktop that is unmistakably yours--the possibilities are endless.

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