Icons used to be something of a black art in the Windows world. Few graphics programs like Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop handled the ICO format natively, so one was typically forced to use specialist software like Microangelo to create icons. And while using Microangelo wasn’t especially difficult, it was “different” enough that many people downloaded a demo, installed it, spent 10 minutes playing with it and then decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble.
Those days are gone though, thanks to a free Photoshop plug-in from Telegraphics. All you need to do is download the plug-in and install it per the instructions for your operating system and software (the plug-in works in most other programs that support Photoshop plug-ins, such as AfterEffects, Corel PhotoPaint, Paint Shop Pro, etc.).
All you have to do then is fire up the program and create a new image. What size image you create depends on what you want to use it for. Windows XP icons come in 48×48, 32×32 and\or 16×16 sizes (you might want to read this MSDN article, which has all the information you could ever want about Windows XP icons). You could always create a larger image (say 128×128) and shrink it down before saving if that’s what you want to do; just be careful, ‘cos something that looked great at 128×128 might end up looking like crap at 16×16! In any case, once you have the image the way you like it, all you need to do is save it as an ICO file – which will be available under “file types” in Photoshop’s native “Save As:” screen.
You might want to have your own “fancy” icon for your website, just like the stylized “J” that this site uses. To make that icon, I simply created a new transparent 48×48 image, added a “J” using the Text tool, then shrunk the image down to 16×16 (the default size for “Internet icons”) and saved it as “favicon.ico”. Once that’s done, all you’ve gotta do is upload it to the root directory of your website… the icon should automatically appear in your browser’s address bar, although you might have to refresh the page (or even close and reopen the browser) to see it. Firefox people should know that – unlike Internet Explorer – the favicon will not change for a bookmarked site unless you delete and recreate the bookmark. So if you bookmark your own site and the bookmark has a generic “icon” by the sites name, you have to delete the bookmark and add it back after you’ve uploaded the favicon.ico file. Firefox will probably initially bookmark the site with a “generic” icon, so you will probably have to click on the bookmark after it’s been saved for a second time to see your new icon.