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:


    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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