Exploring Vista Sidebar Alternatives

Number of Microsoft competitors has created alternatives to Windows Sidebar. These systems are sometimes designed to be cross-platform—that is, they run on non-Windows systems such as Mac OS X. They also run on previous versions of Windows, such as Windows XP. Most of these products are also free, so while they don’t offer the advantage of shipping inside of Windows, they’re easy enough to obtain online.

All of these environments share the same basic principles, although each has its own differences, advantages, and limitations. The question, of course, is whether any of these alternatives outshine Windows Sidebar enough to consider installing them on Windows Vista.

I’ll state right up front that I don’t think so. Assuming you’re even interested in using gadgets, the way that Sidebar integrates into Windows and is supported by such a wideranging set of third-party gadgets outweighs any small advantages that other environments might have. Installing yet another gadget-type environment would bring little advantage, but would clutter up your desktop in an unnecessary way. Chances are good that if you need a particular kind of gadget, there’s one available for Windows Sidebar, and ultimately that is likely the biggest consideration any potential user should entertain. Yet alternatives do have some advantages. I’ve chosen to focus on two here because they’re both widely used and offer deep integration features with the two most popular online services currently available, Google and Yahoo!. If you’re a heavy user of Google products such as Google Search, Gmail, and Google Calendar, Google Desktop may very much be of interest; and if you’re a big Yahoo! fan, that company’s Yahoo! Widgets provides a compelling Sidebar alternative.

Google Desktop
Google Desktop is Google’s desktop search product, but it has evolved over the years to include far more than just desktop search. Indeed, given the integrated Instant Search functionality that’s now available in Windows Vista, desktop search is barely a reason to even consider Google Desktop anymore. Even Google recognizes this reality: By default,
Google Desktop is no longer preconfigured to index the PC when installed on Windows Vista.

What makes Google Desktop special, in my opinion, are its Google Gadgets and Sidebar features. (Sound familiar?) As with Windows Sidebar, Google Desktop provides a very familiar panel, which can be docked to either side of the screen and can hold several gadgets. It’s just like Windows Sidebar from a usability perspective.

However, because this is Google, the Google Desktop Sidebar comes with a host of Googlemade gadgets that integrate with the many Google online services that are currently available. If you’re a big Google user, as I am, this may put Google Desktop over the top; because while it offers clock, calendar, weather, and notes gadgets just like Windows Sidebar, Google also provides gadgets for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Video, Google Talk, and other Google services. There are even gadgets for popular non-Google services such as eBay, Twitter, and Wikipedia. Moreover, in my experience, developers have taken to Google’s gadgets much more obviously than they have to those for Windows Sidebar. That suggests that Google Desktop users may have an easier time finding useful new gadgets in the future than Windows Sidebar users.

Google Desktop can be configured to look and function very much like Windows Sidebar. Google Desktop can be downloaded from the Google Web site at http://desktop.google.com/.

Yahoo! Widgets
Give Yahoo! a bit of credit: Not only is its Yahoo! Widgets tool arguably among the first of the desktop gadget tools—it’s based on the Konfabulator engine that has been around for several years—but it also does things its own way. Unlike Google Desktop, Yahoo! Widgets doesn’t look and act almost exactly like Windows Sidebar. Yes, Yahoo! Widgets offers mini-applications, called widgets instead of gadgets, which can live directly on the desktop or be docked on a sidebar-like panel, called a Widget Dock, on the side of the screen. And yes, these widgets often integrate with online services to provide such things as stock quotes, weather, and other timely information.

The similarities end there, however. Yahoo!’s widgets are unique-looking and, dare I say, are generally better-looking than the gadgets offered by Microsoft and Google. For one thing, they’re more consistent: Unlike Microsoft or Google gadgets, Yahoo! widgets are all sized identically when docked, resulting in a cleaner look. (They are different sizes when undocked, or floating on the desktop, however.) You can also choose between available widgets directly from within the Yahoo! Widget Gallery, part of Yahoo! Widgets. That is, you won’t be shuttled off to your Web browser to find other utilities as you are with both Windows Sidebar and Google Desktop.

I also like how Yahoo! handles widget overflow. If you have too many widgets to fit on the dock, you can scroll down the list to access hidden widgets; with Windows Sidebar you have to switch left to right between entire sets of gadgets. Unlike Windows Sidebar, the Yahoo! Widget Dock can be docked to any edge of the screen, not just the left and
right sides. In addition, if you have two monitors, the Dock can extend across both screens if desired.

Yahoo’s product is, of course, linked heavily to Yahoo’s own online services. So if you’re a Yahoo! kind of person, you’ll appreciate integration with Yahoo! services such as Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Calendar, Yahoo! Finance, and Flickr. In addition, like Google’s service, Yahoo! Widgets seems to be well supported by developers, and you can find a wide range of third-party widgets out there as well. It’s also available for the Mac, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Yahoo! Widgets is like the quirkier, cooler, younger sibling of Windows Sidebar. Yahoo! Widgets can be downloaded from the Yahoo! Web site at http://widgets.yahoo.com/.

Source of Information : Wiley Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition

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