Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
No one really liked the Windows Sidebar when it arrived with Windows Vista. Most enthusiasts saw it as nothing more than cheap rip-off of Mac’s Dashboard with less overall functionality. In response, Microsoft polished up the concept and introduced a proper gadgets platform in Windows 7.
Unlike the sidebar, gadgets in Windows 7 are actually very useful. Unfortunately many people overlook this feature, instead going or a platform like Google Desktop. Having used both Google Desktop and Windows 7 Gadgets, I have to say that gadgets have some advantages. They feel much smoother than Google Desktop’s alternative. The selection is more limited, however, so let’s take a look at some great Windows 7 gadgets.
Three Useful Meters
System monitors are nice to have on your desktop. They offer you the ability to keep an eye on your computer’s resources in real time, which lets you keep an eye out for any strange spikes in the usage of your computer’s resources. These spikes are usually no problem, but on occasion they can alert you to the existence of malware or simply a program that you installed and then later forgot about.
There are three great, related system monitor gadgets available for Windows 7. These gadgets are called CPU Meter, Network Meter, and Drive Meter. CPU meter monitors processor usage by displaying a graphic of processor usage and also status bars for each processor core. This gadget also monitors RAM usage. The network monitor displays IP addresses and keeps track of both uploads and downloads. The drives monitor displays all connected hard drive and their capacity.
Of course, there are many system monitor gadgets you can choose from. What makes these things stand out from the crowd, however, is their interface. Each has a very clear, easy to understand aesthetic that conveys maximum information in minimal space. This aesthetic is the same across all three gadgets, as well (the gadgets are made by the same developer) so your desktop doesn’t look like a hodge-podge of unrelated gadgets.
Facebook and Twitter Explorer
Facebook and Twitter Explorer are, like the monitors above, two related gadgets created by the same developer. In this case, however, the gadgets deal with the most popular social networking websites.
The purpose of these two gadgets is the same. Both Facebook and Twitter are frequently updated by users, and you may also add messages to both. Facebook and Twitter explorer act as simple desktop interfaces for this functionality. This means that you don’t have to have a browser window open in order to keep up to date on Facebook and Twitter updates.
The Twitter Explorer is functional enough that you may no longer have much need to visit the Twitter website. The Facebook Explorer gadget is also functional enough when it comes to status updates, but it doesn’t let you browse or add friends, play Facebook games, or access any of Facebook’s other pages.
If you use Skype a great deal you may, like me, become a little bit frustrated with the program’s interface. I personally find Skype’s interface to be far larger than it really needs to be, and while the new ability to access Skype status through a Jumplist in Windows 7 is nice, it doesn’t address the fundamentally bloated interface.
Because of these complaints, I found SkypeGadget to be very useful. SkypeGadget serves as a more compact front end to Skype, making it possible to use Skype without having to deal with the normal Skype interface. SkypeGadget lets you view your contacts, make calls, and begin IM conversations with them. I love having the ability to view my contacts without a huge Skype window on my desktop.
My only complaint with the gadget is the inability to place Skype phone calls to “real” phone numbers due to the lack of a numberpad. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future release.
Weather gadgets are a bit played out, but that is mostly because they all tend to do the same thing, displaying estimated current weather conditions and perhaps a forecast of some kind. That’s alright, but the problem is that the information isn’t always useful. Let’s say, for example, that you want to ride your bike down to a coffee shop. A weather gadget that simply says the forecast is for scattered shows doesn’t help you much because it can’t tell you if a shower is really near your area or not.
For that, you need to take a look at a weather radar, and that is why Doppler RadLoop is so useful. Doppler RadLoop provides real-time radar information for your current location. This lets you actually take a look at the current weather conditions and make a better decision. If a big blob of red is showing up in your area, you best stay home.
There are a few weather gadgets for Windows 7, but Doppler Radloop works the smoothest. IF you need to keep a track on current weather this is the best way to do it.
Get Your Gadget On
I think some people shy away from Windows 7 gadgets because of the poor taste left in their mouth by Vista Sidebar. Give them a second chance! These are some very useful Windows 7 gadgets, and the often times work better than gadgets available on other platforms.
if you know of any other interesting gadgets, please add them in the comments.