Five Windows 7 gadgets worth sharing with your users

Gadgets offer a simple, friendly way to execute all sorts of tasks -- perfect for nontechnical users (and often handy for power users, too).

If you support Windows 7 users, they may appreciate learning to take advantage of gadgets. Here's a little basic info on where to find gadgets, along with a few good ones to get them started. Just be sure they know to be careful when downloading gadgets. Some sites obscure the actual gadget link and promote download links for other products. The placement of these links is often deceptive. Also keep in mind that Microsoft doesn't support third-party gadgets.


Windows gadgets are specialized tools you can use without opening a separate program or browser. For instance, there are gadgets that let you track the weather or keep up with current events. Windows 7 comes with a small collection of gadgets. Just right-click on the desktop and choose Gadgets (or choose Desktop Gadget Gallery from the Start menu) to open the gallery. If you don't see anything you like there, click the Get More Gadgets Online link at the bottom to go to Microsoft's Desktop Gadgets page. Or just run an Internet search on Windows 7 gadgets. In fact, there's a gadget for that!

1: SearchBud

Thanks to this gadget, searching the Internet is a few clicks quicker. After you download it from Microsoft's Desktop Gadgets page and install it, this little tool sits on the desktop. Simply enter a search string and click the Search button to display a page of links, as shown in Figure A. To change the search engine, click the drop-down arrow (circled in the figure) and choose the one you want.

Figure A

A quick search is as near as your desktop.

2: Homemade world clock

In our shrinking world, many of us interact with people all over the globe, so knowing what time it is in other locations is a must. You don't need a gadget to know world times —the Windows clock will let you configure three time zones. But if you need more than three, you can use the Clock gadget to create as many as you like.

First, open the Gadgets gallery, right-click on the clock, and choose Add to place it on your desktop. Then, right-click on that clock, choose Add Gadgets to reopen the gallery, and add a second clock. Do this as many times as necessary. Now, set the time zone for each one (via the Options) and group them, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Using the Clock gadget, you can display as many time zones as you want.

3: Countdown!

Figure C shows the simple Countdown gadget: 15 days until vacation! What user doesn't need this gadget? Seriously though, the uses are limitless. Anytime you need to keep an eye on an important deadline, you'll be glad you have this gadget on your desktop.

Figure C

Use Countdown when deadlines are too important to let slip.

4: Network Meter

You can download the Network Meter (Figure D) from Microsoft's Desktop Gadgets page. It has a definite IT flavor, but even nontechnical folks will appreciate its wealth of information on wireless and wired networks. For instance, you can use this gadget to track network availability and upload and download usage. Unlike other gadgets, this one has a ton of options, so you'll want to spend a little time getting to know it.

Figure D

Use this gadget to monitor network activity.

5: StopWatch

If you need to track time spent on short tasks, you might benefit from StopWatch. This gadget lets you start and stop a simple timer, the way you would an actual stopwatch. It doesn't have many options. You just click Start to begin the count and click Stop to display the elapsed time, as shown in Figure E. With an hour limit, this particular gadget isn't adequate for serious project management, but it will help you track quick tasks (or time the lengthy orations of colleagues during meetings).

Figure E

Time those quick projects using StopWatch.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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