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How do I... Add and customize sidebar gadgets in Microsoft Windows Vista?

<img src="http://t.cbsimg.net/i/z/200606/how_110x85.jpg" align="right" border="0" height="85" hspace="5" vspace="5" width="110" />Microsoft added sidebar gadgets to the <a href="http://www.techrepublic.com/search/index.php?t=1&amp;s=0&amp;o=1&amp;q=microsoft+windows+vista" target="_blank">Windows Vista</a> interface with the intention it would enhance the overall user experience. However, the gadgets that actually ship with Vista do not exactly fill that promise. But, as it happens so often, users, developers, and the generally ingenious have filled the gap with a plethora of gadgets, widgets, and gizmos, one of which, at least, is sure to add a desired function to your desktop. This How do I... shows you how to find and add Windows Vista sidebar gadgets to your desktop interface.

Microsoft added sidebar gadgets to the Windows Vista interface with the intention of enhancing the overall user experience. However, the gadgets that actually ship with Vista do not exactly fill that promise. But, as it happens so often, users, developers, and the generally ingenious have filled the gap with a plethora of gadgets, widgets, and gizmos, one of which, at least, is sure to add a desired function to your desktop. This How do I... shows you how to find and add Windows Vista sidebar gadgets to your desktop interface.

Now, I usually lead the pack in my contempt for anything that further clutters my desktop, but many of these gadgets are actually useful. They provide access to functions that normally remain hidden behind menus and folders. If the objects sitting on my desktop perform a useful function, they cannot really be considered clutter, can they?

This blog post is also available in PDF form as a TechRepublic download and also as a TechRepublic gallery.

Gadget interface

If the Windows Sidebar is not turned on in your installation of Vista, you can activate it by navigating through the Start button and clicking the Accessories folder, as you see in Figure A.

Figure A

Accessories
You could also type "sidebar" into the Desktop Search box to activate the Windows Sidebar. A typical Vista sidebar has a default configuration similar to the one shown in Figure B, which includes a clock, RSS reader, and the image slideshow applet.

Figure B

Typical Windows Sidebar
To adjust the properties of the Windows sidebar, you navigate to the Control Panel and click on the Configure Windows Sidebar icon. The Windows Sidebar Properties screen (Figure C) allows you to configure the sidebar to start when Vista starts, determine to which side it will align, and designate on which monitor it will display if you have a more than one monitor system. You can also see at a glance which gadgets are running currently.

Figure C

Configure Windows sidebar

Add gadgets

To add gadgets to the sidebar, right-click on any empty space on the Windows sidebar and select Add Gadgets... from the context menu. (Figure D)

Figure D

Find and Add Gadgets
That menu choice will take you to the Add Gadgets interface (Figure E). From this window, you can select and install gadgets you have already downloaded into your gadget gallery.

Figure E

Gadget gallery
For most of the gadgets in your gallery, all you need to do to install and activate them is double-click the corresponding icon in this window. For example, in Figure F, you can see I added Weather, Stock, and Media Player gadgets.

Figure F

New gadgets have been added
The Media Player gadget is an example of a third-party created gadget. These gadgets are made available to the public for free download on the Windows Live Web site. The easiest way to get there is to click the Get more gadgets online link at the bottom of you gadget gallery. That link takes you to the page shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Online Vista Sidebar Gallery
If you click the See All Gadgets link near the top of the page, you reach a Web page (Figure H) with a huge list of gadgets (1,355 on this date) you can add free of charge to your personal gadget gallery.

Figure H

All gadgets

The online gadget gallery is broken down into several categories to make items easier to find, and there is also a search box at the top of the page if you want to search for a keyword. To acquire the gadget you want, just click the Download button located underneath it in the list. When asked, say yes to Install and click the Open button in the ensuing dialog box.

Gadget options

Each gadget has options peculiar to it that you can modify. For example, the Weather gadget defaults to showing the temperature in Redmond, WA. On the side of each gadget there is a wrench icon (Figure I).

Figure I

Wrench icon
When you click it you get the options screen for that particular widget. In this case, you get a search box where you can enter a different city; my hometown Louisville, Kentucky. (Figure J)

Figure J

What's the weather like?

Desktop customization

As I said, I am not one to endorse gadgets, widgets, or any other extraneous icon stuff on my desktop, but the Windows sidebar has turned out to be an exception. The gadgets are generally minimalist in design and therefore tend to remain in the background on my desktop until I need them. And with so many choices, there were bound to be a few gadgets that I deemed worthy of desktop space. I suspect that you too will find a few useful gadgets, if you take a few minutes to look them over.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

7 comments
dogknees
dogknees

I agree that there are some useful gadgets, but I have one question. How do I change the width of the sidebar? I've gone through every option and setting I can locate and can't even find a reference to it. Thanks

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I wish I had an answer. There appears to be no conventional way to change the size in the normal options. Which suggests that we may be looking at a Registry hack. Anyone tried such a thing? I'll do some digging to see what I can come up with.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

There are several companies selling applications that change the properties of the Windows Sidebar, so it is definitely possible. I'll give them a try and see how they work.

dogknees
dogknees

It was one of the very first things I went looking for once I figured out that the sidebar and the basic gadgets looked quite useful. I've found a couple of uses for the built in gadgets. Having several different coloured postits located either on the sidebar or on the desktop for those "urgent" jobs from the boss is great. Especially as they stay put on reboot. Also having a couple of clocks set to different timezones is handy when talking to people in other states.