We wouldn’t claim that the Sidebar is a ‘secret’ feature of Windows Vista — after all it’s usually the first thing that people notice about the new operating system. What’s less well known, however, is that Vista allows you to customise the Sidebar and the Gadgets it contains. Gadgets aremini programs that live in the Sidebar. They can connect to web services to deliver weather information, news updates, traffic maps and slideshows of photo albums. You don’t need to stick to the Gadgets provided in Vista by default, either. With many more Gadgets available free of charge, you can choose from an almost limitless selection of useful tools, such as calculators, games, news, weather, media and communication applications. Follow the tips below to find out how you can put your Sidebar to better use.
Windows Sidebar is a pane that runs down one side of the Microsoft Windows Vista Desktop (usually the right-hand side), where you can keep your Gadgets organised and always accessible. If the Sidebar is not displayed, you can open it by going to Start > All programs > Accessories and clicking on the Windows Sidebar option. Depending on how you work, you can choose to keep the Sidebar sitting behind any applications you have open or set it to be visible at all times. To do this, click the Start button then Control Panel. Choose Appearance and Personalisation, and then click Windows Sidebar Properties. Choose the ‘Sidebar is always on top of other windows’ check box and click OK.
Windows Vista comes with a basic set of Gadgets that appear by default, to get you started. These include the clock, RSS news feeds and the picture slideshow. You can hoose to keep these visible or remove them by hovering your mouse over each icon, which will bring up either one or two buttons in the upper right corner. This includes the close button — depicted by an (‘X’) — and the options button (shaped like a spanner), which only comes up if the Gadget has settings that can be changed. Clicking on the (‘X’) will remove the Gadget from the Sidebar. Click on the spanner to personalise the Gadget. For example, clicking on the spanner button for the clock Gadget will let you name it, change its time zone, and set it to show its second hand.
You can add more Gadgets to the Sidebar in a variety of ways. You can, for example, add some of the hidden Gadgets installed on your PC. To do this, move your mouse over the Sidebar and click on the big plus (‘+’) sign in the top right-hand corner. This will bring up a Gadget Gallery that will list a range of mini-apps that can be added. This includes a calendar, a currency converter and a CPUmeter reader. Right-click on the Gadget you wish to add to the Sidebar. This will bring up an uninstall option for those featured on the Sidebar and an Add option for any Gadgets that are hidden. Click Add to make the Gadget available in the Sidebar.
You are not limited to the pre-installed Gadgets, however, and you’ll find many more online. To search for something, open the Gadget Gallery as described above and then click on the ‘Get More Gadgets Online’ option found at the bottom. Alternatively, right-click in the Sidebar, select Add Gadgets and click on ‘Select more Gadgets online’. This will take you to the Vista Gadget home page, which lists and rates more than 2,645 Gadgets that can be downloaded for nothing to the Sidebar, including a Google Search tool. To download one,
click on the Download tab underneath each icon. This will bring up awarning advising you to be cautious of third-party material.
A number of third-party sites offer Gadgets. Gadgets for Vista (www.gadgetsforvista.net), for example, offers MSN music downloads, and a weather Gadget fromthe Met Office (www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/ uk/Gadgets/vista.html) provides detailed weather reports. Alternatively, you could switch to using Yahoo’s equivalent to Vista’s Gadgets. Go to Yahoo Widgets (http://widgets.yahoo.com) and browse through the selection of more than 4,000 Widgets. You’ll also need to download Yahoo’s alternative to the Sidebar. Click the Get Started link on the Widgets home page to find out more.
Back in Vista’s Sidebar, you can customise the Sidebar itself. Options range from moving the Gadgets around to changing the opacity of the icons displayed. To do this rightclick on the Gadget you wish to edit, then select fromthe following options; selecting ‘Move’ will let you drag and drop the Gadgets into the order you wish to have them on the Sidebar. Selecting ‘Detach Gadget’ will move it off the Sidebar and onto the Desktop. You can also use the options here to remove a Gadget by selecting the ‘Close Gadget’ option. And, if you don’t want or need the Sidebar or any of its Gadgets, then right-click on the Sidebar itself and select the ‘Close Sidebar’ option to get rid of it.