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How do I make Windows 7 desktop gadgets visible on mouse-over only?

Jack Wallen shows you how to set Windows desktop gadgets to 0% opacity which will then revert to 100% upon mouse-over.

With Microsoft Windows 7 desktop gadgets, people either love them or hate them. Those who love them feel the various gadgets add features to the desktop that the standard desktop doesn't offer. Those who hate them feel like the gadgets only get in the way of a working desktop. For the latter users, there is a way to use gadgets and keep them out of the way until you mouse-over the area of the gadget. This will allow you to take advantage of gadgets without letting them clutter up your desktop.

By default you can make a Windows desktop gadget visible and you can even change the opacity of a viewable gadget. When you set a gadget to a less-than-100-percent opacity, a mouse-over will bring that gadget back to 100 percent. With that in mind, you would think it would be possible to set a gadget's opacity to 0 percent and then see the gadget with a mouse-over. The problem is that the lowest opacity offered is 20 percent. So how is this done?

In this How do I article, I am going to show you how to get those gadgets to 0-percent opacity, which will then revert to 100 percent upon mouse-over.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

First things first

Just in case you've never used a gadget before, I thought I should first show you how to view and add gadgets to your desktop. To view the gadgets on your desktop, right-click the desktop and then click View | Show Desktop Gadgets (Figure A).

Figure A

This is also the only way you can toggle gadgets on and off. So if you do not want to make all your gadgets set to 0 percent, you can toggle all gadgets off here to hide them (regardless of opacity).
Now that you have your gadgets visible on the desktop, you will have to add gadgets. To do this, right-click on the desktop and click Gadgets. In this new window (Figure B), you can drag and drop gadgets to your desktop.

Figure B

Don't see a gadget you need? Click Get More Gadgets Online in the bottom right corner.

When you add gadgets from the online Web site, know that there are a ton of them. You should scan the downloaded file with your antivirus and/or antimalware before you run the installation. Just because the gadget is on the Windows Live site doesn't guarantee it to be 100 percent free of malicious code.

In order to change the opacity of a gadget, all you have to do is right-click the gadget in question and then click Opacity | X%, where X is a numerical value (Figure C).

Figure C

Why Microsoft doesn't include a 0-percent value here I will never know. Fortunately, there is a way around this.

The configuration

Now it's time to configure gadgets so that they have 0-percent opacity. To do this, set the gadget you want to work with at 20-percent opacity. You will then need to follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Kill the Windows Sidebar Task. Just right-click the Panel, select Start Task Manager, and then kill the process sidebar.exe. If you do not kill this process, you will not be able to make the necessary changes for the next steps. NOTE: When you kill this process, all your gadgets will be removed from your desktop.
  • Step 2: Locate and open the settings file for the desktop gadgets. This file is typically in C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\WindowsSidebar\. The file you are looking for is called settings.ini. Open this file in Notepad and look for the following string:PrivateSetting_GadgetOpacity="{20}"Replace the "20" with the value "1" so that the entry now looks like:

    PrivateSetting_GadgetOpacity="{1}"

    Once you have made that change, save the file and close Notepad.
  • Step 3: Now it's time to restart the process that handles the gadgets. Click on the Start button and then type sidebar.exe and hit Enter. Your gadgets will now reappear, except the one you set at 20 percent is gone! Ah, but it's not. If you hover your mouse over the area where that gadget rests, it will magically appear! Voila! You have now made a gadget visible only via mouse-over.

You can do this with all your gadgets if you like. Continue with this process, setting each gadget at 20-percent opacity and then change the value to "1" in the settings.ini file. Just make sure you kill sidebar.exe before you make any changes in settings.ini and then restart it when you're done.

Final thoughts

I am a fan of using small apps to make the desktop life easier. In Linux, I use Screenlets for the same function. But when you get enough of these tiny apps on your desktop, the desktop can grow to be a cluttered mess. To achieve desktop organization, you often need the ability to control these apps in ways that might not be allowed by default. But, where there is a will, there is a way. Hopefully this little trick allows you to take advantage of desktop gadgets and still have a clutter-free desktop.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

18 comments
QPhysics
QPhysics

So even if you do this, you still can't stack the gadgets to free up space on the desktop. Oh...and you still can't put icons in those areas of the desktop occupied by gadgets. In fact, there's a chance you'll some day want to move a program icon to an area of your desktop that's, unknown to you, occupied by an invisible gadget; who knows what kind of behavior you'll get dropping that icon onto that gadget. Oh...AND...you either have to remember where each gadget is or just move your mouse around until you stumble upon the gadget you wanted. Seems to me there were several very good reasons Microsoft didn't put a 0% opacity option on gadgets. This tip is going to cause many more problems than it solves.

ecoli7
ecoli7

Thanks. One of the first things I do at any new computer is to add the "desktop" toolbar to the status bar, and turn off the icons for a clean desktop. With Win 7 there were a couple gadgets I liked well enough to leave showing and now I can hide them too! Is it possible to give us a registry edit or some other way to permanently add a zero value to the opacity options, making this even easier?

drryanjames
drryanjames

I have no idea where this is or how to find it. I was lost from this step onward. Step 1: Kill the Windows Sidebar Task. Just right-click the Panel, select Start Task Manager, and then kill the process sidebar.exe.

FiOS-Dave
FiOS-Dave

I would like to be able to scale the gadgets so I could make them smaller, thus allowing for more gadgets in the same screen area.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are Windows desktop gadgets more appealing if you can only seem them with a mouse-over?

G3tALif3
G3tALif3

Here is a comment you posted and another topic "RE: Firefox 2.0.0.9 vs Firefox 3.0 b 1 (The memory test - Firefox 2.0.0.9 v I sure hope nobody is paying this guy for his completely useless "evaluation." There's two minutes of my life wasted. " I feel like you really like to waste your time mister "I have no fucking life" I think this is a very usefull tip and I do think its REALY more usefull then your comment here... you made my time wasted... dumbass.

eclypse
eclypse

If this doesn't do what you want, just don't do it. Sounds like someone had a "case of the Mondays"...

ShineCC
ShineCC

I use a 7 Sidebar gadget to keep all my gadgets off to one side like we could in Vista. They have an option to change the width of the column. Not quite making the gadgets smaller but might work for you. It's not in the Windows gallery but can be found here: http://nes.bplaced.net/sidebar7.html I've used it for months with no issues.

QPhysics
QPhysics

No, just don't like wasting a few minutes of my life reading through a post that is completely worthless. It isn't a case of not doing what I want, this tip does nothing useful in any way. As I stated, these invisible gadgets are still taking up desktop space, so why would you want them to be invisible and run the risk of dragging and dropping something onto a gadget when you're trying to put it on the desktop?

fiosdave
fiosdave

I will give it a try, although Win 7 does allow me to place the gadgets wherever I want on the screen. I normally keep them all lined up vertically on the right, but occasionally add a gadget elsewhere on the screen, as well. Dave

electricpower
electricpower

....find the settings.ini file? Not in the location described in the article. I have Win 7 Ultimate, is it in a different location? P.S. I did search numerous times, no luck.

ShineCC
ShineCC

The great thing about 7 Sidebar is that you can still have some gadgets off the sidebar if you prefer. I like to see some gadgets all the time in one quick spot so the sidebar works for me. Also, you can have it on the left or right of the screen.

jkessinger
jkessinger

Found the folder but there was no private setting_gadgetopacity line, any suggestions

electricpower
electricpower

I had to type the path into "RUN" to get the folder to show up. Then I created a shortcut in my user folder for easier future access. I still don't know why it doesn't show up after making the changes in the "folder view" settings???

electricpower
electricpower

I have already made those changes. Still no AppData folder shown.

lilgolferdude
lilgolferdude

Yea, it's kinda different for 7, but look here: C:\Users\[Your Username]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar You should see a Gadgets folder and the Settings.ini

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