Desktop gadgets were useful widgets that could be added to the Windows Vista and Windows 7 desktop to improve productivity. They’re long gone, but don’t worry—you can add desktop widgets to Windows 10 using these third-party tools.
Hold On, What Are Windows Gadgets?
It might seem difficult to appreciate ten years later, but desktop gadgets were popular at the time. Capable of displaying the time, weather, sticky notes, and even CPU speed, these widgets were essentially mini apps that could be positioned around the desktop (mostly down the right-hand side, however). They would also hide behind your main apps, acting as if part of the desktop background.
Pretty useful, right?
Unfortunately, with the arrival of Windows 8, these widgets were abandoned. Suddenly, you couldn’t instantly see what time it was in your Hong Kong office, or get RSS feeds on the desktop. Instead, this sort of information was combined into live tiles on Windows 8, and to a lesser extent, Windows 10.
Fortunately, with the return to a dominant desktop on Windows 10 (as opposed to the Start Screen-first approach of Windows 8), gadgets and similar tools can be restored.
Security Vulnerabilities Killed Windows Gadgets
A key reason why Microsoft opted to drop Gadgets from later versions of Windows was security related.
In 2012, Microsoft announced that vulnerabilities in its Gadgets could allow the running of Remote Code Execution, in which a remote attacker can gain access to your PC. They noted that:
- “Some legitimate Gadgets… could contain vulnerabilities”
- You could be tricked into installing a “malicious Gadget.”
Using both of these attacks, the hacker could run code under your account profile (potentially opening backdoors for other malware) or even hijack your entire PC. A fix was released to disable the Windows Sidebar and the Gadgets in Windows Vista and Windows 7. A few weeks later, Windows 8 was released, and the Gadgets were no more.
There’s no reason to let hackers limit your productivity, however. It’s time to bring some new widgets onto your Windows 10 desktop.
Get New Gadgets in Windows 10 With Widgets HD
Available from the Microsoft Store, Widgets HD lets you put widgets on the Windows 10 desktop. Simply install the app, run it, and click the widget that you want to see. Once loaded, widgets can be repositioned on the Windows 10 desktop, and the main app “closed” (although it remains in your system tray).
As with the Windows Vista widgets, hovering your mouse over the widgets reveals an X button to close it. You may even see a Settings cog, for making customizations. For instance, the weather and clock widgets let you select your location; the weather widget also lets you choose Fahrenheit or Celcius.
While free, the app offers in-app purchases of additional widget types. These include a news feed, picture gallery, internet speed test, and more.
(Note that earlier versions of the app didn’t allow individual widgets to be placed on the desktop, accounting for some poor review scores.)
Download: Widgets HD (Free, with in-app purchases)
Windows Desktop Gadgets
Probably my favorite solution, if only because it is so straightforward and light on resources, is Windows Desktop Gadgets. This solution is designed to work with multiple languages, which can be added in the installation wizard.
The DesktopgadgetsRevived-2.0.exe must be extracted from the downloaded ZIP file before running, and once installed, traditional Windows Vista/7 style gadgets can be accessed by right-clicking your desktop and selecting Gadgets.
You’ll see that gadgets have been added to Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization (see our guide to Windows 10 settings for more information on personalization settings), and you can add them to the desktop by clicking-and-dragging them into place.
Once installed, you’ll see that this is essentially a replacement for the original gadgets. As you’d expect, clicking the cog icon in the corner accesses settings, enabling you to resize and configure each gadget. It’s essentially the original Windows Desktop Gadgets, repackaged to run with Windows 10 (and Windows 8).
Download: Windows Desktop Gadgets (Free)
Another lightweight option, 8GadgetPack is free and enables users to run gadgets in Windows 8.x and Windows 10.
To use 8GadgetPack, visit the link and download the MSI file via the link on the right-side of the page, and install it. Once open, simply click the + button to open the list of gadgets and drag these to your desktop. Although a Windows Vista-style sidebar is included, the gadgets are not limited to this location.
Again, each gadget features an options screen. Here, you can set colors, location, and other data to configure the gadget to your purposes. Once you’re done, you should end up with a selection of useful gadgets to boost your productivity!
Download: 8GadgetPack (Free)
Get Contemporary Desktop Gadgets With Rainmeter
If those screenshots of the old-style desktop gadgets aren’t exactly floating your boat, you have another option. Rainmeter is a tool for customizing the Windows desktop.
Among its features is the ability to introduce information to the desktop, such as a clock, live hardware statistics, current and forecast weather, and more. You can basically use Rainmeter to display everything that gadgets do, but with considerable style.
Now, if you’re happy with the gadgets options above, then by all means stick with them. Rainmeter opens a whole new world of stuff to install and tweak, and if you’re purely looking for gadgets to improve productivity you need to be aware. Configuring Rainmeter can be a massive time sink, so keep things as simple as possible.
You can start with our guide on installing and using Rainmeter. If you’re looking for results as in the image above, however, you’re in luck. Rainmeter installs with a default theme, illustro, which gives you those widgets and a few more.
Download: Rainmeter for Windows 10 (Free)
Will You Use These New Desktop Gadget Apps?
Each of these solutions is worth trying and can help improve productivity. For instance, using a clock set to a foreign time zone can be invaluable when collaborating with people overseas, or just checking that your aunt in New Zealand is awake before you call.
So, desktop gadgets can still be added to Windows 10. Who knew? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, though. Various “lost” features can be reinstated thanks to third-party apps. For example, the Aero Glass software brings restores the glass effect in Windows 10. Want more customizations? Find out how to set animated backgrounds in Windows 10.