The Windows Sidebar is yet another new feature in Windows Vista. It is basically a container for small applications called gadgets, which perform a similar function as the by now classic Active Desktop items. Gadgets are small HTML-based scripts that are treated similar to regular .exe applications in Internet Explorer. Windows Vista includes several gadgets by default, such as a clock, a CPU and memory status monitor, notes, timer, simple games, and other more or less useful utilities.
You can also download third-party gadgets for a wide range of purposes, from the Windows Vista Gadget Gallery for example. Examples of these default and custom gadgets are shown in the following screenshot. By default, the Sidebar is shown and contains the Clock, SlideShow and RSSFeeds gadgets. You can hide/show the Sidebar by using the sidebar icon in the system tray of the taskbar.
You can add additional gadgets by clicking on the + sign at the top of the Sidebar, or by right-clicking the Sidebar and choosing Add Gadget. This will open the window displayed below. The default gadgets are located in the Program Files\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets folder, which can only be modified by an administrator. User-installed gadgets are installed in the %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets folder.
The Windows Sidebar is partly transparent when the Windows Vista Basic or Aero color scheme is selected. Any open windows overlap the sidebar. You can change the default behavior of the Sidebar by choosing Windows Sidebar Properties in the Appearance and Personalization Control Panel (or simply by right-clicking the Sidebar and choosing Properties). If you enable the option Sidebar is always on top of other windows, the Sidebar will take up space on the side of the screen and reduce the available screen space for windows (e.g. applications).
By default, the Sidebar appears on the right side of the screen, you can set this to left instead. If you have multiple monitors, you can select the monitor on which the Sidebar should appear. The View Gadgets button allows you to view a list of gadgets currently in the Sidebar as well as remove gadgets.
The Aero-like transparency of the Sidebar makes it less intrusive on the user’s screen, but if it is cluttered with gadgets, it can quickly become an annoying distraction. To prevent this, partly, you can set the opacity per gadget. Opacity is simply put the opposite of transparent. The higher the opacity of an object, the less transparent it is. For example, 100% transparent is 0% opacity, and vice versa. You can set the Opacity setting of a gadget to 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, or 100% on the Opacity section of the context menu as depicted in the image on the right. When you move the mouse over a gadget, it will automatically change to 100% opacity, as if it lights up.
Especially on monitors with screen resolutions below 1280x1024, the Sidebar and the gadgets in it take a fair amount of space that can make the sidebar annoying. If you still want to be able to access one or more gadgets in a convenient manner, you can detach them from the Sidebar, and place them on the desktop. You can do this by right-clicking the gadget and choose Attach/Detach, but you can also simply drag the gadget to/from the sidebar/desktop.
Sidebar gadgets, actually called ‘Vista Gadgets’, can also have their own set of properties and settings that influence their functionality and appearance. For example, the default clock gadget can be changed to 7 different clocks, and gadgets that display live information such as stock rates, weather reports, RSS feeds, etc, require a source URL from which it can download the required information. The custom settings are available through the Settings option on the context menu of the gadget.
In domain environments, you can use the following group policy options to control the Sidebar on Windows Vista computers that are joined to the domain:
- Turn off Windows Sidebar.
- Disable unpacking and installation of gadgets that are not digitally signed.
- Turn off user-installed Windows Sidebar gadgets. (allows only gadgets installed by an administrator)
- Override the more gadgets link. (points to Microsoft.com Gadget Gallery by default)
Additionally, you can pre-install gadgets using the Unattend.xml file during the installation of Windows Vista. This is particular useful for corporate gadgets or OEMs who want to provide their own gadgets by default. Developing Vista Gadgets is as easy as developing a web page.