Gadgets and the Windows Sidebar
Remember the Active Desktop that Windows 98 foisted on an unsuspecting world? If not, don’t worry about it—it was about as forgettable a technology as Microsoft has ever shipped (with the possible exception of Microsoft Bob). The idea wasn’t a terrible one: enable the desktop to support mini-applications downloadable from the Internet. Why not convert the desktop wasteland into something that does more than just provide a home for a few icons? The problem was that the Active Desktop items were ugly, slow, barely functional, and hungry: Their appetite for system resources seemed boundless, and just a few of them running at the same time could bring the most powerful system to its knees. Microsoft quietly dropped the Active Desktop and it sank from view, never to be heard from again.
Now, however, Microsoft seems to be trying again. No, the Active Desktop hasn’t risen from the dead. Instead, Microsoft is touting a new technology called gadgets, which are, once again, mini-applications. The big different between gadgets and Active Desktop items is that gadgets are much more versatile:
- You can run web gadgets from a website, such as Microsoft’s Live.com site, shown in Figure 3.23.
- You can run desktop gadgets in Windows Vista’s new Sidebar or on the desktop itself, as shown in Figure 3.24. (To display the Sidebar, select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Windows Sidebar.) In this example, the Sidebar is running three gadgets (from top to bottom): Slide Show (images from your Pictures folder), Clock, and Feed Viewer (RSS feeds from Internet Explorer). As you can see from the accompanying window, there are a number of other gadgets you can add.
- You can run device gadgets on external devices.
Figure 3.23 Websites can implement gadgets, as shown here on Microsoft’s Live.com site.
Figure 3.24 Gadgets running in the new Windows Sidebar.
Also, gadgets should prove to be far more robust and efficient than their Active Desktop predecessors because developers can build gadgets using either standard DHTML or the Windows Presentation Foundation.