Widgets, Gadgets, … You Can Keep’m!

Mattias Geniar, Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - last modified: Saturday, August 14, 2010

Around the same time when "Web 2.0" became (in)famous, there was also the uprising of widgets and gadgets. Meaningless clutter on your desktop/homepage, supposedly to give you "at-a-glance" information about subjects you like (the weather in a country thousands of miles from your location, a largely oversized clock, news tickers, ...). This is a trend that continues to grow, as more and more application go for a "widget"-style display.

So, am I the only one that seriously dislikes this?

When I first saw the screenshots of a Windows Vista desktop, I disliked it. It may have had its improvements graphic-wise, and it may have looked really slick, but the default menu & sidebar were a big no-no for me.

Windows Vista's Sidebar

Windows Vista's Sidebar

Take a look at the screenshot above. You've just lost a big portion of your screen, to a bloated sidebar, filled with information you don't need. See that big-ass clock in the top right corner? Guess what; there's already a clock in the bottom right one. It's been there for at least 10 years.

Those rotating pictures in the sidebar. Do you _really_ need it? You can't live for a day without having seen at least hundreds of your vacation pictures? It's a useless feature, and you're better of removing it -- if only to remove a form of distraction that'll keep you from your what you should be doing -- being productive!

And to that extent, Windows Vista managed to sneak in extremely large desktop icons. I liked the size in Windows XP, why couldn't they just keep it like that, by default? Your desktop looks cluttered if you have more than 10 icons, where this never was an issue before.

But no worries -- they'll get it right with Windows 7. I mean, they have to. Right?

Windows 7 - Gadgets

Windows 7 - Gadgets

Guess again.

"We removed the sidebar to make room for ... gadgets!".

This brings me to my original point: gadgets or widgets are a step back in productivity. They fill up your desktop, makes it look unorganized and distracts you from whatever it is you should be doing. They may have tried to make it look better, but at what cost?

A desktop should be kept for your most used application icons, not for duplicate information (2 clocks, really?). A clean, well-organized desktop is a true haven for productivity. You know every icon by heart, every position. You know where to click. You have your workspace just the way you like it.

Don't spoil it with Gadgets/Widgets. Just don't. I'll stick to my Windows XP with Windows 2000 look for a while, as long as this "evolution" of gadgets continues.

Hi! My name is Mattias Geniar. I'm a Support Manager at Nucleus Hosting in Belgium, a general web geek, public speaker and podcaster. Currently working on DNS Spy. Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar.

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owen Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 02:01

yeah its a pathetic attempt by ms to copy apple’s widgets. but the apple widgets are neatly tucked out of sight until you press F12, not clogging up your desktop at all times. If they really want to copy apple in a helpful way, how about a dock? I never even have to use my desktop because my dock holds all my most used apps.


glenn Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 18:03

I understand your point regarding gadgets however they can play a very important role in aiding your productivity.

Your example of the duplicate clock – well taken, however having a month calendar view available it quite helpful especially if you have multiple screens. That way I don’t have to open up Outlook (or another organizer) to quickly glance at dates of a month.

Additionally I have a market tracker which shows me at a high level quotes on the current market. I don’t have to open a browser and go to a finance site.

I also use R-U-ON with my servers and they have a very handy Alarms gadget that shows you any alarm conditions on your servers and best of all the service is free.

There is also a great Remote Desktop gadget which manages your remote desktop profiles and allows you quickly to select one of your servers and almost immediately jump on to the server.

So there is definitely a place for gadgets and if you use multiple screens it can be a very nice productivity boost.

There is one more gadget that I use and that one displays my instant message contacts so I can quickly click to send someone a message. Personally I think the instant message client address windows take up way too much real estate on the screen. This online messenger gadget is very compact and does its job.

I could think of another good idea for gadgets as well. I think applications should all support a gadget mode, kind of modified “minimized” or “toolbar’d” mode where you can “minimize to gadget” from a main window and your app would turn into a very optimized view of the application. In the case of an instant message client it would only show the address list of people online when in gadget mode, etc.

BTW…Windows 7 has a nice gadget implementation now…unfortunately some of the gadget ui’s are foobar’d under Windows 7 but overall it is pretty nice.

Thanks for accepting my comments.


Adam Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 07:18

Yeah, I know I’m coming in two years later on this – it’s taken me that long to finally get on the Windows 7 wagon. After what they did with Vista, I was quite frankly scared to death of what they would do with Windows 7. There are a few things I actually liked better in Vista, that they’ve reverted back to XP-style in 7, but that doesn’t relate here.

I honestly don’t see the gripe here. As long as you don’t have your gadgets set as always on top, they stay unobtrusively behind your open applications. With Vista, if you wanted to set just one gadget to always on top, you had to detach it from the sidebar, which tended to leave it stranded out in the middle of the screen. At least with Win 7, they’ve done away with the sidebar, so you can put gadgets anywhere, and set them on top if you want. As far as I’m concerned, that was a big improvement. The only gadgets I use are those that give me important information at a glance – things like the weather forecast, a calendar, battery status, and yes, even a big oversized clock. In fact, I have one that fills the entire screen when I go to bed, so if I wake up in the night, I can see instantly how many more hours I get to sleep. I can then shrink it down so it sits quietly in the corner of my screen – on top of everything – so I can keep an eye on the time, and not miss any important appointments. I have my taskbar set on auto-hide, so I don’t lose any desktop real estate to it, so having a clock that can stay on top of my windows without robbing me of space is ideal.

As for the Desktop icons and their size, that’s a non-issue as well. For about 15 years now, I’ve been hiding my desktop icons, and creating a toolbar on my taskbar for my desktop items. But if you really do have an issue with the icons – which by the way are the same size (32px) that they’ve been for many years – you can change their size in the same place it’s also been for years. On the Desktop, right click and select Personalize (formerly Display Properties). At the bottom of the page, click on Window Color, then on Advanced Appearance Settings (formerly Appearance). In the first drop-down box, find Icon – this is where to change the actual size of the icons and their text. Take note: changing the text size here will also change the text size in the address bar and search box in Windows Explorer. Don’t ask me why. Then just below that in the drop-down box you can change the spacing of the icons.

Hey, if desktop gadgets aren’t your cup of tea, no problem, just turn off the sidebar in Vista or just turn off all the gadgets in Win 7. I’m not usually very quick to try new things (my XP machine came with a free upgrade to Vista that I never capitalized on), but it didn’t take me too long to see the value of having certain information available without ever having to move my hands from the keyboard. In fact, I miss my gadgets whenever I work on my XP machine. There are hundreds of gadgets available out there, so you’re sure to find something that will be useful. If you only find one or two, that’s OK. There’s nothing saying you have to fill the entire side of the screen in order to use gadgets. Sure, most gadgets are purely for entertainment – games, music, new wallpapers, etc. – but there are many that have been developed with performance and productivity in mind.


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