For those of you unfamiliar with Windows Vista, we have a great feature reference called the Windows Vista Product Guide. My team has recorded over fifty demos of those features and we have every inclination to do the whole guide. That’s about 200+ demos we’ll deliver via screencasting. To kick this off, I thought I’d do something fun and kewl that is immediately noticeable when you install Windows Vista.
The Windows Sidebar is a pane or dock for applications known at Gadgets. This surface by default sits on the right hand side of your screen and is a container that developers can use for mini applications. The Windows Sidebar is a cousin to the Windows SideShow. For those of you using wide screen monitors, this is a nice location for those applications. In a multimon configuration, you could also set the location of the Sidebar to be on a particular monitor.
Gadgets are mini applications with a variety of possible uses. They can connect to web services to deliver business data, weather information, news updates, traffic maps, Internet radio streams, and even slide shows of online photo albums. Gadgets can also integrate with other programs to provide streamlined interaction. For example, a gadget can give you an at-a-glance view of all your online instant messaging contacts, the day view from your calendar, or an easy way to control your media player. Gadgets can also have any number of dedicated purposes. They can be calculators, games, sticky notes, and more.
Where do I get them?
Gadgets can be added by right mouse clicking the Sidebar and selecting the “Add Gadget” menu item. When you do, you’ll see the mini gadget gallery depicted in the screenshot on the right. This is a small subset of the gadgets that have been developed. In fact, there are over 1100 at the time of this writing.
If you want to see all of the available gadgets, click the link in the bottom right hand corner of the gadget listings. This will take you to the online gallery at http://vista.gallery.microsoft.com/vista/SideBar.aspx?mkt=en-us. Keep in mind I’m in the US so your link will be sightly different depending on your locale. Once there, you can also click a button to “See all gadgets” which takes you to another gallery at http://gallery.live.com/.
What about security?
For those of you wondering about the security of these applications, I invite you to review the documentation at http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa965881.aspx since it discusses the security context applications execute as, UAC interaction, etc. For those of you responsible for managing Windows Vista corporate desktops, there are group policies available to control the following:
- Turn off Windows Sidebar- this policy allows administrators to completely disable the Windows Sidebar. The user cannot start the Windows Sidebar if this policy is enabled.
- Disable unpacking and installation of gadgets that are not digitally signed. This policy allows an administrator to require that all gadgets installed by a user are digitally signed. This policy only affects gadgets that are downloaded and then run, such as double-clicking on a gadget package. All previously or manually installed gadgets will still function.
- Turn off user-installed Windows Sidebar gadgets. This policy provides administrators with the ability to block all gadgets not placed into the Shared Gadgets or Gadgets folders (in the Sidebar Program Files folder), both of which can only be modified by a user in the administrator group. Gadgets in the user’s directory will not display in the Gadget Gallery dialog box or be allowed to run.
- Override the more gadgets link. By default, this link points to an online Microsoft website; however, administrators can specify that this link point to another website. Administrators can then more easily distribute gadgets that are approved for use within their organization.
While gadgets would appear to be “cute” at first glance, don’t underestimate their power. During my research, I stumbled across a very creative PowerShell gadget from Mindscape developed by Andrew Peters. This means you don’t have to fire up your command shell all the time. Instead, just type your command into the sidebar to execute it. If you need data displayed, the fly-out mode displays the output for the command. Scary huh?
I also just noticed Michael Murphy has a blog post about a wine gadget. Michael is the team wine connoisseur so it didn’t surprise me to see him locate such a mission critical app. 🙂
Matt Hester will be posting the next screencast on a feature in the Windows Vista Product Guide. Matt will be writing and demonstrating the Shadow Copy technologies so stay tuned for that. I’ll post a link when he has it online.