Windows users have always enjoyed customising their Desktop with new icons, cursors, sounds, wallpapers and even title bar colours. One of the problems is that you can easily get bored with staring at the same picture everyday. Windows 7 includes the option to have a slideshow of pictures rather than one static image but even that can be cumbersome to keep fresh. One way around this is to use images supplied by RSS. If you aren’t familiar with RSS then you can check out the info here but basically it’s a way of getting automatic website updates. This can be seen in the Bing Dynamic theme provided on Microsoft’s Personalization website.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple to add your own RSS theme as a background slideshow. I tried creating one using the SimpleDesktops.com RSS feed to no avail. It turns out this is because the image links in the RSS feed can’t just be URLs (like when displayed on a website or feed reader). They have to be enclosures (which is like an email attachment). I have yet to come across any website that includes images this way so I gave up trying. However, I accidentally stumbled across an article on Greg Duncan’s Cool Thing of the Day blog that revealed a secret to get it working with Flickr feeds.
All you need to do is change the end of a Flickr feed URL from format=rss_200 to format=rss_200_enc
That’s all it takes! Now you can use any of the millions of photo feeds on Flickr to create a variety of themed photos on your desktop. For example, I have been taking a few macro shots on my phone and uploading the interesting ones directly to a special Macro set on my Flickr page. So now I can control the Desktop Background of any of my PCs simply by using the new Flickr app on my WP7 phone. That’s pretty cool for a geek like me
If you want to see an example of this then download my Macro theme here (only 1.1.KB) and open the file using notepad. You’ll see its pretty simple to understand. The RSS URL is right at the bottom if you want to change it to another feed.
RSSFeed specifies an RSS feed to use as the background slide show. For the feed to work, you need to reference high-resolution images adhering to the “enclosures” standard used by the Windows RSS Platform. Because of this limitation, .theme files that include an RSS feed must be created manually.
I don’t really see why that limitation means that it should be such a manual process. Perhaps a person more clever than me could write a simple program that allows a user to enter an RSS url and it writes the file for them. You can do any further customisation from the Personalization applet in the control panel. If you are interested in all the not-so-gory details of the syntax, or how to add custom icons, sounds or brand image to a theme, you can check out the technical reference on MSDN
If you find any good sources of images or want to share your own themes then give them a shout in the comments.