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Windows 7 Gadgets: No Sidebar Required

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Gadgets are small applications that sit directly on your desktop, and Windows 7 has a lot of them. In this article, Windows 7 Your Way author Michael Miller discusses what's new with gadgets in Windows 7, and shows how to find and download new gadgets to your desktop.

What Is a Gadget?

While you might have lots of technological gadgets lying around your house, in the world of Windows a gadget is a small utility application that sits directly on your desktop and performs a single simple function. There are gadgets that display current weather conditions, stock prices, or news headlines; gadgets that monitor your PC's performance, wireless connection, or notebook battery life; gadgets that let you play games, listen to music, or display photo slideshows.

Gadgets are a great way to add functionality to Windows without installing full-blown, resource-intensive software programs. They're easy to find, easy to install, and easy to use—and they're completely free. What's not to like?

Understanding Windows 7 Gadgets

Gadgets are designed to put content, information, and functions at your fingertips. It's handier to have content modules floating on the desktop than to dig through layers of menus to open each application individually (see Figure 1). For that reason, I'm a big fan of gadgets; I think you will be, too.

Figure 1 A variety of gadgets on the Windows 7 desktop.

The concept of gadgets didn't start with Microsoft, however. The first of these small content modules originated with a company called Konfabulator, which created what it called widgets for the desktop. (Widgets are just another name for gadgets.) Konfabulator was subsequently purchased by Yahoo!, resulting in the now-renamed Yahoo! Widgets. You can download a whole variety of Yahoo! Widgets; these widgets operate similarly to Windows gadgets.

In time, other companies embraced the gadgets paradigm. Google Desktop, for example, includes among its many functions a variety of gadgets that dock onto the Desktop's sidebar. And in the world of Apple computers, the Dashboard enables users to add a variety of widgets to the Mac desktop.

With all these competing gadgets, Microsoft actually was a little late to the game. The company first introduced gadgets in Windows Vista, as part of Vista's Sidebar. Windows gadgets proved popular enough to survive the death of the Sidebar, which was removed from Windows 7. Instead, Windows 7 enables you to place gadgets directly on the desktop—no Sidebar required.

Adding New Gadgets to the Desktop

All gadgets sit directly on the Windows 7 desktop. To add a new gadget to your desktop, right-click anywhere on the desktop; then select Gadgets from the pop-up menu. When the Gadgets window appears, double-click the gadget you want to add (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Adding new gadgets in Windows 7.

Only a limited number of gadgets appear in the Gadgets window. Don't fear, however; many more gadgets can be found online. All you have to do is click Get More Gadgets Online at the bottom of the Gadgets window; this action opens your web browser and displays the good old Personalize Your PC page. Click the Desktop Gadgets tab and then click the Get More Desktop Gadgets link.

This action opens the Personalize PC page, with available gadgets sorted by category. At last count, more than 3,000 gadgets were available, so you'll probably be able to find at least one you want to try (see Figure 3). Click the Download button for any gadget you want, and it will be downloaded and installed on your desktop.

Figure 3 Browsing for more gadgets online.

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