My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

Summary:When I first began using Windows Vista, I dismissed the Sidebar as a gimmick. It didn’t help that the default gadgets Microsoft offered were of limited utility and that some early gadgets caused performance problems.

Special Report: Windows 7

When I first began using Windows Vista, I dismissed the Sidebar as a gimmick. It didn’t help that the default gadgets Microsoft offered were of limited utility and that some early gadgets caused performance problems.

Over time, though, I’ve become a Sidebar convert. I haven’t encountered a performance problem with a Vista gadget since SP1 was released. More importantly, the selection of third-party gadgets has grown tremendously, and there are now plenty of good business-focused tools to choose from.

My favorite Windows Vista gadgets
I thought about this the other day when Paul Thurrott mentioned his inability to find any gadgets that made the Sidebar worth using. I understand why he and a lot of other people think that, because Microsoft has done a pretty wretched job of surfacing any good gadgets. In fact, most people see the default collection that comes with Vista and, understandably, yawn.

That’s too bad, because if you know where to look there actually are some excellent gadgets. On my main desktop PC, equipped with two large monitors, I have plenty of room, so I keep the Sidebar permanently open. I have it docked on the left side of a 24-inch widescreen monitor, so that I can have access to the gadgets I use every day.

The clock is the only one of the default collection that I keep. The rest are all available from third-party developers. All of them work on Vista x86 and x64 editions, and I've tested most of them on the PDC build of Windows 7 as well. The full list (with download links) is available after the jump.

Remote Desktop Gadget 2.1

Remote Desktop Gadget
A slightly outdated version of this gadget is available from Microsoft’s gadget gallery. I recommend you steer clear of it and instead download the most recent version from developer Gus Pinto. If you’re using Vista SP1, you’ll need at least version 2.1 of this gadget.

The gadget provides quick access to other machines (XP Professional, Vista Business/Ultimate/Enterprise, Windows Server 2003 or 2008) via Remote Desktop Protocol. When docked to the Sidebar, the gadget provides a barebones box to type the name of a remote server, after which you click the Connect button. If you administer a big network via RDP, drag this gadget off the taskbar and onto the desktop. When you do, you you get this larger gadget with a drop-down history list and the ability to build a list of favorite connections.

App Launcher v3

App Launcher Gadget

Think of this gadget as a Quick Launch toolbar for people who have trouble hitting those tiny icons on the Windows toolbar. The interface for adding new shortcuts is a little on the wonky side, but once you figure it out you’ll be able to quickly and easilybuild a custom collection of icons to launch favorite programs (and open favorite folders and drives or run scripts or batch commands as well.

It supports several background colors and also allows you to group icons using divider lines.

Windows Search Indexer Status Gadget

Indexer Gadget from Brandon Paddock
This tiny gadget, created by Microsoft engineer Brandon Paddock, is an awesome way to keep tabs on the Windows Search service. It provides clear feedback when the Indexer is working and also provides buttons that allow you to pause the Indexer temporarily or temporarily disable the “back off” logic and perform all indexing at full speed. Handy after you’ve just added a few hundred or thousand files to your system.

I've written previously about the Windows Search service and how you can use this gadget to ensure that performance doesn't become a problem.

Hyper-V Monitor Gadget for Windows Sidebar

Hyper-V Monitor Gadget

If you run virtual machines using Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 (I’m looking at you, Paul), this gadget is absolutely indispensable. It gives you quick access to all available VMs on the remote server. Each VM in the list is a live link; click to open the VM in a Virtual Machine Connection window.

The gadget can list multiple servers at once and can save a custom username/password pair so you can log on with something other than your current account credentials.

I wrote about this gadget last July and continue to be impressed. Developer Tore Lervik has more details and the latest downloadable code: Hyper-V Monitor Gadget for Windows Sidebar.

ShareMaster for Home Server Gadget

ShareMaster gadget for Windows Home Server

Do you own a Windows Home Server? If so, you’ll appreciate this gadget, which provides quick access to the default shares on the server. Install it on any PC that's connected to a Windows Home Server. After you enter your server name and user name, the six shortcuts here open their respective targets (Music, Photos, Videos, Software, Public, and the private folder of the logged-on user) in Windows Explorer. Each shortcut is also a drop target, so you can copy files and folders to the server directly.

The ShareMaster gadget is a labor of love from Microsoft MVP Donavon West, whose Home Server Hacks site is also the home of the definitive instructions on how to upgrade memory and other hardware components of an HP MediaSmart Home Server.

Weather Underground Gadget

Windows Vista has its own default weather gadget, but the third-party alternatives are uniformly better. After trying all the alternatives, I settled on the Weather Underground gadget, which shows a three-day forecast, provides direct links to severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service, and generally makes it pretty easy to see the forecast at a glance and get more details with a click.

Others

I’m evaluating several new gadgets at the moment: Chirpr is a Twitter client that works reasonably well. I’ve been disappointed with most of the Twitter clients I’ve tried, often because of performance problems. This one has potential. I’m also evaluating Facebook Sidebar, which is a pretty slick little widget for seeing Facebook messages, friend requests, and so on. And I’ve installed the All CPU Meter from Addgadget.com. It looks promising, as does its companion Wireless Network Meter, which I would probably use if this were a notebook.

So, what's on your gadget list?

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Servers, Software

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.