Windows 10 – Customize Wallpaper if Windows is not activated…

Hello World, 

As we have been busy with login screen customization on Ubuntu (See here and here), we have received some questions and requests to tackle the same topic for Windows 10.  Microsoft provides since a long time the possibility to personalize the look’n feel of the Operating system and offer an easy way to do this.  You usually go to your control panel or Settings modern interface and you select personalization option. 

However, there are some cases where you cannot use the Control Panel or Settings Modern interface to personalize your desktop background or your Lock Screen image in Windows 10.    When you Windows 10 machine is not (yet) activated, Microsoft put some limitation in the customization actions that can be performed. In some specific scenarios, it might happen that indeed you do not want to Activate your Windows 10 machine (in our situation, it was working on Proof of Concept in a test lab with no internet and no KMS server available) but you might still need to provide these basic customization actions…  

Some people asked us if it was possible to still implement some level of  customization on Windows 10 which is not activated.  So, Let’s find out…. 


Problem Description

Let’s assume that you have a freshly new installed Windows 10 machine (whatever the edition) and you would like to customize the background and use a custom picture.  Usually, in order to personalize your desktop interface, you would right-click anywhere on your desktop and you would select the option Personalize

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This will open the Settings Page > Personalization section.  If you Windows 10 is not (yet) activated, you will notice the notification message that you cannot customize your Windows 10 machine as long as it’s not activated

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In the Settings Page > Personalization section, on the left menu, if you click on the Lock Screen option, you will see that the same notification and limitation is also displayed 

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So, as you can see, Microsoft makes it difficult to modify the Look’n feel of the Windows 10 if not Activated.  However, it’s still possible to customize your desktop….

Possible Workarounds

In this post, we will focus on customizing the Desktop Wallpaper. In the next post, we will tackle the most complex tasks of customizing the login screen in Windows 10….

Option 1 – Through Contextual menu 

The easiest way to set a custom background (on per user base) is to right-click the image you would like to use and select the option Set image as Desktop Background.  

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This action will display the new background image immediately with no logoff/logon needed.  

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As you can see, this is really easy to do….

Note: This option will work with all Windows 10 Editions

Option 2 – Update Registry Key Values 

Based on the Windows 10 Edition you are running, you might have different ways to perform the customization for the Desktop Wallpaper.  To find out where the picture currently used as background desktop is located, you can browse the registry and locate the following key

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper

The picture below shows that the default image used as Desktop wallpaper is located under c:\Windows\Web\Wallpaper\Windows\

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So, to customize the Desktop background, you would simply need to update this registry key and point to the location where your picture is located.   In our example, we have created a folder called C:\Personalization folder. This folder stores the image that will be used for our Desktop  Background.   

In order to use this image as Desktop background, we will simply update the information found under the registry key mentioned above 

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You will need to logoff/logon in order to see the new Desktop background.  

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Note: This option will work with all Windows 10 Editions

Option 3 – Using Local Group Policy 

You can use the local Group policy (through the Gpedit.msc console) or create a domain group policy (if your machine is joined to a domain) to also customize your Desktop background.  However, based on the Windows 10 Edition you are running, you might have some limitations introduced by Microsoft.   For example, Windows 10 Home Edition, does not provide the gpedit mmc console which allows you to create local group policies. 

However, it’s possible to re-enable this mmc console on Windows 10 Home edition by executing the following commands in a Powershell Console started with Administrative privileges  

@echo off 
pushd "%~dp0"

dir /b %SystemRoot%\servicing\Packages\Microsoft-Windows-GroupPolicy-ClientExtensions-Package~3*.mum >List.txt 
dir /b %SystemRoot%\servicing\Packages\Microsoft-Windows-GroupPolicy-ClientTools-Package~3*.mum >>List.txt

for /f %%i in ('findstr /i . List.txt 2^>nul') do dism /online /norestart /add-package:"%SystemRoot%\servicing\Packages\%%i" 

Source & Credits :

To customize the Desktop wallpaper through local group policy, you will execute the following command in the Run Box.  


This will open the MMC console.  Browse to the User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Desktop > Desktop and select the option Desktop Wallpaper

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Double-click on the option and the following dialog box will be displayed.  Tick the enable option and specify the location where the custom desktop image will be located.  Press OK 

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Perform a gpupdate and logoff/logon.  After your login, you should see that the Desktop background wallpaper has been modified successfully 

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Final Notes

This is it for this post ! 

As we have seen, even if Microsoft makes it a little bit more difficult to customize the Desktop Background, it’s still possible to customize it.  The steps needed to perform the customization is quite straight forward.  This was the easy part of the customization process.  Now, a lot of people also tend to customize the login screen.  This operation can also be performed even if your Windows 10 is not activated.  However, some specific and new steps needs to be performed in order to customize the login screen

The next post will tackle the customization of lock screen in Windows 10.   So, Stay  Tuned !

Till Next Time

See ya

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