Windows

Top 10 Windows 7 desktop gadgets

Windows 7 gadgets offer added functionality and convenience in a variety of ways. Here are a few you may want to add to your desktop.

Way back in 2008, I wrote an article titled The top 10 Vista Sidebar Gadgets. Now it's 2010 and I'm running Windows 7, and although I still use most of the gadgets I was using back then, I've also discovered a few new ones that deserve mention. Here are my favorites.

Note: This article is also available as a  photo gallery and as a PDF download.

1: All CPU Meter

The gadget I used to monitor my dual-core computer running Vista wasn't available in a quad-core version, so I switched to All CPU Meter (Figure A). It supports up to eight cores (so I have room to grow). All CPU Meter isn't as complex as some, but the simplicity works in its favor. It monitors your memory usage as well as CPUs, and it packs a lot of information into a small space. I also like that you can change the background color to match your preferences.

Figure A

All CPU Meter really does monitor all of your CPU cores -- up to eight of them.

2: Windows Orb Clock

During all the time I used Vista and the first year I used Windows 7, my analog clock gadget of choice was the electric blue version of the one that comes with the operating system. But now I've switched to a much cooler model: the Vista Orb Clock (Figure B). Of course, the same orb is also on the Windows 7 Start menu. I love its clean look and the nice symmetry of having it just across from my Start Menu orb (since I have my Taskbar set to the vertical position.

Figure B

After years with the electric blue clock gadget, I've replaced it with the Windows Orb.

3: Clipboard Manager

I've also replaced the Clipboard gadget I was using with Vista. I liked being able to access previous Clipboard items -- without opening an Office app -- but the old one was a little cheesy looking and limited in its functionality. Clipboard Manager (Figure C) looks slick and is feature-rich. You can customize the background to fit your desktop, and not just the color; you can use a photo as the background if you prefer.

You can save up to 999 clips (that's a lot of clips!) and you can delete any clip or send it to the Clipboard or to your Favorites list with a right click. The Favorites feature lets you create boilerplate text you use often. I also like the ability to mark clips with timestamps. And unlike the old Clipboard gadget, this one supports images as well as text. It even has a privacy mode, which prevents clips from being displayed on the main gadget so that passers-by who glance at your desktop can't see what you've saved to the clipboard.

Figure C

This little gadget has a big fly-out that packs a lot of functionality into a small package.

4: Facebook Explorer

One big change in my online life since 2008 is that I've become thoroughly immersed in social networking. Much of the discourse that used to take place through email discussion lists now occurs via Facebook. A Facebook gadget seemed like almost a necessity, but the first one I tried (Facebook Sidebar 1.5) didn't work. It never picked up my info even though it said it was connected. So I tried Facebook Explorer, which worked nicely. It can be configured to run in a smaller or larger width and one of three heights, and you can specify how often you want updates (from every one to 60 minutes). It gives you a compact view of your own status and information or friends' activities, as shown in two views of the gadget in Figure D. You can also update your status in the flyout.

Figure D

Facebook Explorer can be adjusted to the size that best fits your desktop.

5: Ultimate Explorer

Ultimate Explorer lets you search popular sites from your desktop without having to go to those sites first in your browser. It's a compact little gadget with that can search Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, Amazon, Digg, and many more. You can make it larger if you have plenty of desktop real estate, and you can select up to eight search sites for "snap search," which enables you to "snap" quickly from one search engine to another. It also includes a flyout calendar and events feature. And unlike the vast majority of gadgets, it even has a flyout Help section, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Ultimate Explorer lets you search many sites quickly and easily.

6: App Launcher

One aspect of Windows 7 that annoyed and frustrated many users was the omission of the Quick Launch toolbar. If you're like me, for years you've relied on the Quick Launch bar to access your frequently used programs. There is a way to get Quick Launch back, but unlike with previous versions of Windows, you can't separate the Quick Launch bar from the main Taskbar. That means it takes up precious space on the Taskbar that you might need for open programs, system tray items, etc.

Enter the App Launcher gadget (Figure F). It serves the same purpose as the Quick Launch bar but can be placed anywhere you want on the desktop. You can add whatever programs you want by dragging them to the gadget, configure the number of icons to display per row and whether to center them, and change the background image.

Figure F

App Launcher v3 makes a nice little replacement for the missing Quick Launch toolbar.

7: MiniTV

Want to take a break and catch up on the news? The MiniTV gadget allows you to choose from a number of stations (many of which I've never heard of, as well as familiar ones, such as NBC News and C-SPAN). You can watch the program in the tiny gadget window (Figure G) or you can double-click it to display full screen. Just double-click again to get out of full screen mode.

Figure G

MiniTV lets you watch television in a tiny gadget window or full screen.

8: Traffic by Bing Maps

Traffic is a simple little gadget that can be useful if you're about to head out into the big, bad world. I don't use it as much as some folks would, since I work from home. But I still have to venture onto the major freeways now and then, and it's nice to know in advance if there are going to be problems along a particular route. One caveat is that you need to live in (or be traveling in) a major metro area to use it. You can zoom in or out, and clicking the traffic info button (which is represented by the red light icon in Figure H) will take you to a full sized map of the area on Bing Maps, complete with the traffic data.

Figure H

Traffic by Bing Maps helps you avoid congestion when venturing into metro areas.

9: Magic Folder

Okay, granted, the icon isn't the most professional looking, as you can see in Figure I. And many folks won't like the idea of having a folder make decisions about where to save their files. But for those who always seem to end up with dozens of files sitting on the desktop because they never get around to moving them into appropriate folders, Magic Folder could be a godsend. You just drag your files to the magic folder and it examines the file extensions and sends the files to the "right" folder. For example, .doc files go to the Documents folder; .jpg, .gif, and other image files go to the Pictures folder. The nice thing is that you can add or remove the file extensions recognized by the gadget, change where specific extensions should be put, and you add your own folder locations. If you want to maintain more control, you can set the gadget to prompt you before it moves a file to a folder. Oh, and you can also change the appearance of the folder icon to something a little less...  magical.

Figure I

The Magic Folder gadget might have a goofy looking default icon, but it can help disorganized people get more organized.

10: Open/Close DVD

Open/Close DVD is utterly simple. But it's handy to have if your computer is sitting under your desk like mine, making it difficult to get to the button for opening the DVD drive door. Just click the open button (the down-pointing arrow shown in Figure J) and it opens; click the Close button (the up-pointing arrow) and it shuts. It doesn't get any simpler than that. One thing to watch for: If you have more than one drive attached, it will open/close both of them -- there is no option to select a particular drive.

Figure J

The Open/Close DVD gadget does exactly what its name says, no more and no less.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

34 comments
The Cars Forever
The Cars Forever

If you have Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 8, miss your gadgets and are comfortable with the security issues you can enable gadgets using the info here: http://www.win2008r2workstation.com/sidebar/. Even though the site notes Windows Server 2008 R2, the script works just fine with Windows 8. Just run the script from a administrative command prompt.

Daren Henderson
Daren Henderson

This is a good story... to bad all the links for the Microsoft gadgets are broken.

radrick55
radrick55

I seem to remember Microsoft issuing a security bulletin last year discouraging the use of gadgets. So I am wondering why this article was published now. See Microsoft Knowledge Base Article #2719662

rmazzeo
rmazzeo

...Windows no longer supports desktop gadgets, & hasn't for some time. They cite a "security risk" for 3rd party gadgets & have removed all gadgets from their site. Yes, you can use the original desktop gadgets, & some providers still do updates, but they are hard to find. You can "google" Windows 7/Vista gadgets & you will indeed find some, but not as many as were available originally. In addition, some of the older (original) gadgets no longer work at all, as their site links (to be able to run) are no longer active. Personally, I still use gadgets, some of which I find very useful. I maintain a repository of useful (to me) working gadgets which I install whenever I re-install Windows on my PCs. I also keep those gadgets still available up-to-date whenever possible. Bottom line is - gadgets are still available, but not supported by MS, & some do still work, & some are still updated regularly - you just have to look. The article should make this very clear, but does not, sadly.

rlcohen
rlcohen

Please could we have a link for the Clipboard Manager gadget?

alex125
alex125

I am using this windows 7 Silverlight source code . And I am very happy to use this softwer and this is very easy and comfortable. Seo Training Karachi

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

INFO under story title, " By Debra Littlejohn Shinder June 1, 2010, 9:12 AM PDT" Im going to go jump in a lake somewhere.

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

Yes, it just occured to me I did remove that cool blue neon clock after the security alert,, mostly I use my Window XP and they werent available there. I was thinking in the back of my fried brain that the security issues had been fixed. I forgot all about reinstalling the cool clock.

tomicmasha
tomicmasha

All CPU Meter really matters if your PC is rather slow and you need to control its performance.

basyoz
basyoz

Those just find this page and Download those apps and use this. Windows is very excellent for their update service. The Microsoft Corporation always looking their customer choice.

A-mantra
A-mantra

Hello, I really feel awesome here with these 10 gadgets. Actually i do use of Bing traffic , application launcher, magic folder and mini TV. They helps very much in operating services without opening it from location. All the updates and services is on my desktop. I get real time information and update from relevant field of my interest. They are so many features of these portable gadgets.

NickP2012
NickP2012

what sre some good website i cant get gadgets from?

rpatton
rpatton

Microsoft states that gadgets can ge security risks. I lost mine, so where can i get them now?

ictvacature
ictvacature

Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging! PHP programmeur

Atharton_CB
Atharton_CB

I hardly find some very useful for work. All CPU meter, App Launcher will be great to have but not Facebook launcher and Magic folder. I don't understand how can these be in top ten desktop gadgets?? Athar

daniel#nailbyter.com
daniel#nailbyter.com

MS has found security bugs in gadgets and decied to remove third party gadgets. They were going to remove them from all users desktops by a security update but too many people complained. they still have not said anything about fixing the security bugs so i'm guessing you use them at your own risk. on that note, you can find most of these by searching google. my favorite gadget is... http://csdprojects.co.uk/

russelleeadams
russelleeadams

Clicking on these Apps takes me to a Microsoft Web page where MS says it NO LONGER hosts 3rd party Apps like those reviewed here !

BorsaAli
BorsaAli

Those just find this page and Download those apps and use this. Windows is very excellent for their update service. The Microsoft Corporation always looking their customer choice.

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

I Wish they would make The Icons Small And Unconnected untill you open them to the large window, No slow down, more screen room ???!!!

Seotop
Seotop

To my mind this gadgets are useless and get you PC slow down... I don't use it.

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

I just "Upgraded " from my xp of 10 years and got the shock of my life,, window 7.It took me "awhile" but Ive come to appreciate these Apps, and this list of 10 is just what Ive been looking 4. Oh if you are worried about memory/ Ram, I was having trouble with mine but didnt want to mess with the cards/ slots sruff. So I read that I could add 2 or 3 usb "sticks" (I call them) to extra USP ports, and "Dedicate" all or part of them to RAM. It worked great 4 me on win 7.

justaSeeker
justaSeeker

When I click on the link for this gadget, another tab opens tp the Windows Gadget Site, but Ultimate Explorer is not an option as a Windows 7 Desktop Gadget. Am I doing something wrong?

anjali189
anjali189

Clipboard Manager, MiniTV and Facebook Explorer.... these apps i liked most. I think this list should contain another gadget named Outlook Upcoming Appointments. It is also a very useful gadget for windows lover.

emgub
emgub

don't use gadgets they use up memory on ram staying up all the time

jcwfbi
jcwfbi

Yeah were do you find all these gadgets??

jcwfbi
jcwfbi

Definitely have to check these out!

kameron1210
kameron1210

Where do I find these apps. Mainly the clipboard manager.

stargazer_7
stargazer_7

I really like your site very much. It's uncluttered, crisp and enjoyable to peruse. That said, I also liked the "Top 10 Windows 7 desktop gadgets" but when I select one, I am taken to a Microsoft Windows personalization page which has some nice gadgets, but not the ones listed in your article (examples: App Launcher, Mini TV and Ultimate Explorer. The Microsoft page I'm sent to does not show these. Otherwise, I am very glad I have joined TechRepublic . . . I look forward to going to your site daily!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

They have apparently taken them all down.

THATMANJ
THATMANJ

Love the IT community here!!