My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

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.

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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 gadgetsI 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Remote Desktop GadgetA slightly outdated version of this gadget is available from Microsoft’s gadget gallery.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 PaddockThis 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

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47 comments
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  • Thanks!

    Great article, nice to see someone on this site doing original research and not just putting their opinion-spin on the news du jour. Keep up the good work!
    Resplendent
  • My gadgets

    I agree with you Ed. The included gadgets are boring, and I think there is a lot of potential for the sidebar. Unfortunately, that potential isn't close to being met.

    I use the Weather Underground weather gadget, the MultiMeter CPU gadget, a wireless Network meter from www.addgadget.com, and the TWiT Live gadget which is in my Sidebar but rarely used.

    What I want to see is a gadget that lets me specify image URLs or RSS feeds and display pictures in the sidebar and when clicked would open that image source in a larger fly-out.

    Have you had problems with any gadgets in Win7?
    Civisi
    • RSS and image gadgets incuded with Vista

      tjee! Aren't they both included with Vista already? I'm using Vista Ultimate and have both requested gadgets on my system.
      1) RSS gadget: i tried it but it's disabled now
      2) image gadget: This is great! It does what you ask. While i'm working i get images from my holiday's in my sidebar. From time to time i open one and can start dreaming about my next holidays...
      p.goovaerts@...
      • Me Too

        I have the Analog clock, RSS feed, and Two Slide Shows and if I what to see the image larger just click and there it is in office Picture manager.

        But I agree we need more good gadgets.
        fwfulton
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    Here are my favorites:

    If you sell things on Ebay, this is a must -
    http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=08755d6e-f55b-4a8d-b0b6-248f63310a7b&bt=1&pl=1

    If you use Health Vault and want to track your weight over time this is a great gadget -
    http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=e7565d22-ae04-4ca3-8307-f51cc4de42bf&bt=1
    kevbar
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    Gmail Checker: http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=0ab7b1be-4f2d-4f30-aa55-f270d53b9c99&bt=1&pl=1

    NetGadget: http://www.systemgadgets.com/NetGadget/Default.aspx

    Multi Meter:http://thehobbylounge.com/forum/index.php?action=tpmod;dl=cat96
    iamdday
  • Must Haves!

    Gmail Checker: http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=0ab7b1be-4f2d-4f30-aa55-f270d53b9c99&bt=1&pl=1

    NetGadget: http://www.systemgadgets.com/NetGadget/Default.aspx

    Multi Meter:http://thehobbylounge.com/forum/index.php?action=tpmod;dl=cat96
    iamdday
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    Also have volumen control reloaded (blog.orbmu2k.de) which gives quick mouse click access to sound volume and muting.
    simon.wilson@...
  • Limited Success with Gadgets

    I am disappointed MS does not make more gadgets. They could make many that are geared toward administration, but I don't see any from them. Some of the gadgets I have installed either didn't work or caused problems with the sidebar (that MS is removing in Windows 7. I like it !). The only 2 I use, other than some that come with Vista , are the Multimeter v1.25 that shows RAM and Core usage. And the FreeDictionary.com gadget. Very useful for quickly looking up words.
    jpr75_z
    • Not exactly

      People are always discussing something they aren't really knowledglbe on, in this case the "sidebar". The "Sidebar" isn't really going away, it's just becoming a little more flexible. Currently you can drag gadgets onto the desktop and many are actually designed more for desktop than than the sidebar. In Win7 the need for the actual sidebar will be gone and gadgets will be able to be placed anywhere but without the actual sidebar still needing to be there.
      zdnet@...
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    I love my XM Radio gadget. I can start listening to music the moment the sidebar appears (I do have to wait for my sidebar to appear a short time after the desktop comes up). This gadget is so much easier than going to the XM sight and having to click through several pages to get to their launch program.
    colaboy29
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    TheFreeDictionary.com is good for quick lookups especially when you have kids and there is a constant need for some word lookup with homework.
    Deangutierrez
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    The other great thing about the Wunderground gadget is that you can set it for a neighborhood weather station, not just the airport, which may not be close by.

    Ed, the link for the App Launcher gadget brings up only an error message on live.com.

    Here is the URL I found for the gaget:
    http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=7eb0c316-b3d1-416e-bff4-5b7ed53ebe11&bt=1&pl=1
    BosqueBill
    • Fixed, thanks (nt)

      ...
      Ed Bott
      • also on WU web site

        The WU gadget is also available on the Weather Underground web site, just look for the "Download" link in the upper right and navigate through a few pages. I don't know if this is the same as the previous responder, but I'll send the personal weather station support, way cool for weather wonks.
        jreuter
  • RE: XM Radio Gadget

    This thing is the slickest. If you are an XM subscriber it will sign you in and allow you to listen to XM's online player all day long. It has a list of all channels with Artist/Song/Album info. Also has a list of favorites that you can set up. It's simply awesome.
    rldawg
    • Agreed

      I just tried it. Very nice. Thanks for bring it up.
      dprozzo
  • My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    1. Drive Info (hard Drive Information and easy access)
    2. CPU Clock Speed Plus (CPU Speed plus 4 core information)
    3. WChannel (Current Temp plus 5 day forecast for your area)
    4. Multimeter 4 cores (4 core plus RAM information)
    5. Calendar with Large Date (easy to read)
    6. Digital Clock (easy to read) (information from system clock)

    I have had others installed at times, but these are ones that provide me the information that I want immediately available. I love the gadgets and have them lined up on the right side of my 24 inch monitor. Would like a gadget that would give me immediate information on what programs are running in background. Hope I can find that one soon.
    rgeiken@...
  • All CPU Meter + Network Meter

    All CPU coupled with SpeedFan even tells you your
    CPU's running temperature. I use both of these gadgets
    to keep tabs on my system at a glance.
    chaiguy1337
  • RE: My favorite Windows Vista gadgets

    I really like a gadget that's since disappeared from the gallery. Back during the Vista beta, someone was offering a voodoo doll - you can give it a name and stick pins in it's virtual hide.

    GREAT stress relief... Especially when you're talking with someone who fits the ID-10-T description...
    Wolfie2K3