Modifying the default (pre-login) Windows wallpaper

As detailed previously on this blog, I have a half-dozen PCs networked at home, and four of them share a single LCD display, mouse and keyboard via a KVM switch.  The problem I run into is that it can be difficult, at times, to figure out which PC I am looking at.  The problem is especially evident when I am not logged in to any of them and they present identical Windows login screens.

Sure, I could crane my neck over to the KVM and see which of the four indicator lights is illuminated.  But the easy way is to change the default wallpaper of the login screen to display the computer’s name and other identifying attributes.  That way there is no neck-craning to see the KVM, nor having to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to view the login properties — the computer’s name, role and IP address appear immediately, like so:

w2003_login_screen

Note that whatever wallpaper (or lack thereof) existing users have selected will still display normally when they log in — this change is just for the pre-login screen.  You could also choose to display something more aesthetically pleasing, like a picture of puppies, kittens or Jessica Biel.

I have blurred my IP address and Active Directory domain name for security purposes.  And speaking of security, do not put things like passwords on your corporate servers’ default wallpaper.  IT Risk Management types tend to freak out about that.

Here’s how to change your default (pre-login) wallpaper:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (regedt32.exe) and navigate to key HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop.
  2. Look for the string value Wallpaper under that key.
  3. Change the Wallpaper string value to be any bitmap file (.bmp) and include the full path — i.e. drive letter, folder and bitmap filename — like c:\windows\backgnd.bmp.  The wallpaper graphic must be a bitmap file, not a JPEG or other graphic format.
  4. Look for a second string value under HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop called WallpaperStyle.  Create it if necessary.
  5. Set the WallpaperStyle string value to be o to display the wallpaper bitmap centred, as-is.  To tile the wallpaper, set the value to 1.  To stretch the wallpaper to the edges of the screen resolution, set the value to 2.
  6. Exit the Registry Editor and restart your computer for the changes to take effect.

Amazingly this stupid Windows trick has been on the books since 1993, when Windows NT 4 was first released.  Of course, I just discovered it this past weekend.

If you don’t feel like messing with all of that yourself, and custom-crafting a default wallpaper, consider using a software tool to do it for you.   BGInfo can collect your system stats (hostname, username, CPU, OS, IP address, DNS server, boot time, etc) and display them on the background wallpaper automatically.  BGInfo’s screen data can be automated and highly customised, and it also has the ability to modify the default user login screen.  You may find it useful in your multi-PC environment!

Category: Web/Tech
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