Best Practice Ezine #108 Vista’s Sidebar and Gadgets

Windows Vista Sidebar and GadgetsVista sidebar and Vista Gadgets

Imagine that it’s your birthday; you see in front of you a present in an enticing box.  Now once you unwrap your gift, the box has no further value, it’s the present that now holds your interest.  So it is with Vista’s Sidebar and Gadgets, you open the sidebar in order to enjoy the Gadgets.

Vista Sidebar Topics

Introducing Vista’s Sidebar

In the Beta versions, I was all for dismissing Vista’s Sidebar; I did not need a big clock and the other Gadgets had no appeal.  Also, I foolishly believed the false rumours that the Sidebar would not make the final version of Vista.

My interest in the Gadgets was rekindled from an unlikely source – Google.  Now Google provide a rich range of applets to make my browser’s home page more productive.  Suddenly, I made the connection, Vista can do for my desktop what Google applets do for my browser.  Isn’t it funny how when you change from critic to advocate you see the world in a different light.  After my conversion to Gadgets I begin to see must-have items where before I could only see dross.

Sidebar – Basics

The Sidebar is a panel on your Vista desktop where you can add applets or ‘Gadgets’.  If all else fails, you can open a Sidebar by navigating to the Start Menu, All Programs, Accessories, Windows Sidebar. (Note the word Windows before Sidebar).  Remember that the Sidebar is merely a container object for the Gadgets.  While the Gadgets’ natural home is in the Vista Sidebar, they are capable of a free existence and thus can roam anywhere on the desktop.

Defining Vista’s Gadgets

  1. Gadgets are compact, mini applications that focus on one task.
  2. They present information that users can easily understand.
  3. Gadgets are installed locally rather than run from the internet.
  4. Each applet blends with the Vista desktop yet is unique in its look, feel and behavior.
  5. Anyone who understands JavaScript and html can create a Gadget.
  6. A gadget is not a vehicle for multiple functions.
  7. If a user needs to read the manual then this is not a ‘Gadget’.

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Believing in Windows Vista Gadgets

You have to be a believer.  I exhort you to make that leap of faith that Vista’s Gadgets have a future.  My foray into the underlying technology reveals that it’s only html, XML and JavaScript.  Consequently, it’s going to be easy for developers and creative people to build a raft of Gadgets.  Watch out for a rash of tools that you did not know that you needed!

Don’t be put off because 80% of the Gadgets are useless.  Savour the discovery of that little gem amongst the distracters.  Enjoy exploring the borderline between a toy and a time-saver.  Take pleasure from trying a new applet, I say again, one or two will turn out to be indispensable.  If you want a focussed search then browse through the categories before you start downloading and installing.

As usual, Microsoft provide 3 ways of doing everything; while this overkill often induces ridicule, it does infuse newbies with confidence that wherever they click, double click, or right hand click, they will soon install the Windows Vista Gadget and get it configured to their preference.

Obtaining more Gadgets is easy; from the Vista desktop, right-click the Sidebar, Add Gadget, Get more gadgets online.  Alternatively, with a basic knowledge of XML, HTML and JavaScript you could write your own.  Else you could take a leaf out of my friend ‘Mad’ Mick’s book and reverse engineer Vista’s files in the Program Files –> Sidebar –> Gadgets folder.  Incidentally, some techies have got the Vista Gadgets installed on XP, try this in your favourite browser ‘Microsoft Gadget Gallery’.

Vista Gadget Philosophy

One of the advantages of working for myself is that I can be honest.  Gadgets will always be toys, some of which have a business justification.   Let us start with those Vista Gadgets which overlap both the ‘Toy’ and the ‘Business’ categories, for example, news, travel, traffic, meetings and diaries.  In this category are also calculators, currency converters and UK postal calculators.  For most people, photos and music will be in the personal or ‘Toy’ category.  At the other extreme are out-and-out ‘Toys’, with no pretence as business tools, for example Sudoku, Poker and the world’s most basic game, Snack.

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Guy’s Top 7 Windows Vista Gadgets (A list likely to change)

  1. CPU and Memory Usage
  2. Weather
  3. Postage (Handy since UK changed letter rates)
  4. Outlook Usage
  5. Sudoku
  6. Uptime
  7. Battery percentage on my laptop

Summary of Windows Vista’s Sidebar and Gadgets

Not all technologies are successful.  Vista’s Sidebar has more than its fair share of false starts.  However, I am now an advocate; these Gadgets are here to stay.  There is something for everyone, from better ways of delivering news feeds, to out-and-out games.  What is intriguing is the anticipation that there may be Gadgets out there that we did not know that we needed.  As so often is the case, the chase and the exploration may be even more exciting than the end result.

See more in my Windows Vista Section

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