Exploring the Windows Vista Sidebar

The Windows Vista Sidebar is Microsoft’s answer for quick and easy access to simple functionality. The sidebar acts as a dock for mini programs called gadgets. Gadgets are simple applications that provide easy access to frequently used tools and limited, but useful information. The Sidebar gadgets can get updated information from applications or web services.

The Vista Sidebar comes equipped with eleven gadgets for getting information on things such as the date, time, weather and system performance, as well as utilities such as sticky notes and slide shows. Additional Microsoft and third party gadgets, that number in the hundreds and are growing everyday, can also be downloaded and installed. New gadgets can be developed relatively easily using web-orientated technologies like html and scripting.

Some gadgets improve the productivity of the user by simplifying access to commonly used tools and information, while others are a distraction and do just the opposite. While taking the different gadgets for a test run I spent a lot more time playing with the Picture Puzzle, gadget than I would have liked to. Had I not cheated, this article would’ve never been finished!

Sidebar

Accessing the Sidebar

The Sidebar is an optional Windows component and is not set to launch automatically by default. You can launch the Sidebar using the methods below:

  • Clicking the Start Menu | All Programs | Accessories | Windows Sidebar.
  • Clicking the Start Menu, typing “sidebar” in the search box, then pressing Enter.

While the Sidebar is open, you can bring it to the front by right clicking the Sidebar icon in the notification area of the task bar and clicking open. You can bring the gadgets to the front, which also happens to bring the Sidebar to the front, using the methods below:

  • Right clicking the Sidebar icon in the notification area of the task bar and clicking Bring Gadgets to Front.
  • Using a keyboard shortcut with the Windows logo key and the space bar.
  • Right clicking the Sidebar and clicking Bring Gadgets to Front.

Adding and Removing Gadgets

Installed Gadgets can be added to the Sidebar by either clicking the + button on the top of the sidebar or right clicking the Sidebar or Sidebar notification icon and clicking Add Gadgets. The Gadget Gallery will appear displaying the available gadgets with a picture and the gadget name twelve per page. The Gadget Gallery also includes a search box, collapsible gadget details and a link to get more gadgets online. Adding the gadget from the Gadget Gallery can be accomplished by double clicking the gadget image or right clicking and clicking add. Right clicking a gadget in the Gadget Gallery is also how you uninstall a gadget.

Gadgets can be removed from the Sidebar using one of these methods:

  • Right clicking the gadget and clicking Close Gadget.
  • Clicking the X button on the gadget handle that appears when the mouse pointer hovers over the gadget.
  • Using the View Gadgets dialogue accessible through the Windows Sidebar Properties dialogue.

You can also detach a gadget by dragging it from the Sidebar or right clicking it and clicking Detach from Sidebar. Detaching a gadget can provide an alternate interface with some of the gadgets.

Configuring the Sidebar

The Sidebar comes with a number of configuration options. You can access the Sidebar configuration options by right clicking the Sidebar or Sidebar notification icon and clicking Properties. This opens the Windows Sidebar Properties dialogue from which you can change the options below:

  • Whether or not the Sidebar starts when Windows starts.
  • Whether or not the Sidebar is always on top of other windows.
  • Whether the sidebar is displayed on the right or left of the screen.
  • Which monitor to display the Sidebar on.

The Windows Sidebar Properties dialogue also provides access to the View Gadgets dialogue, where the running gadgets are listed and can be removed. You can also restore any gadgets that were installed with Windows previously but currently are uninstalled.

Configuring the Gadgets

Each gadget allows for the opacity to be set to give it a translucent effect by right clicking then selecting the percentage from the Opacity sub-menu. Other options vary from gadget to gadget and many of them do not have any options at all. For gadgets that do have their own configuration options, they are accessible by either right clicking the gadget and clicking Options or clicking the wrench button on the handle that appears when the mouse pointer hovers over the gadget.

Is it Worth it’s Weight in Resources?

The Windows Sidebar itself is a great addition to the Windows desktop environment however, the simplicity of any gadgets developed leaves little room for anything revolutionary. As of writing this article, the highest-ranking gadgets on the official Microsoft gadget download site have yet to receive an average ranking greater than three out of five stars.

The Sidebar is at home on newer PCs and nicely fits in the extra real estate offered by wide-screen monitors. Users that have upgraded their older PCs to Vista might be less inclined to take advantage of the convenience it has to offer due to its fairly large performance footprint. With thousands of new gadgets being created as I write this and hardware upgrades being inevitable, the Sidebar is destined to become as familiar and commonly used as the task bar.

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