Sidebar: Vistas Secret Weapon for the Enterprise?

Microsoft is taking a new approach to giving users fast access to data and application widgets in Windows Vista.

Microsoft hopes to bring business data front and slightly off-center in the new Sidebar tool for Windows Vista.

The new feature, which will provide convenient access to system controls and other kinds of information, was made available to public view on Feb. 22 as part of the Windows Vista February CTP (Community Technology Preview).

The Sidebar is a window that will exist on the side of the screen of a Windows Vista PC. It is essentially an application that allows users to display gadgets on the Sidebar itself and on the Windows desktop.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about the enterprise Vista CTP release.

The Sidebar also supports a number of user configuration options, including remaining behind other windows and being hidden completely. Users can also use it to manage gadgets through a gallery, according to the Microsoft Gadget blog.

"Were looking forward to your feedback on this exciting feature and platform," the blog said. "After you have taken Windows Sidebar and gadgets for a test drive, try your hand at developing your own gadgets. Weve posted the Windows Sidebar SDK and a sample tutorial to help get you started creating your own gadgets. Remember that this is a preliminary release, so the Windows Sidebar APIs are subject to change."

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Brad Goldberg, the general manager of Windows Client Product management, also used a media teleconference on Feb. 23 about the Vista CTP to call out the Sidebar as an area where Microsoft is adding business value for its enterprise customers.

With Vista, Microsoft had made significant investments in connecting people to information so they could work in smarter ways, which is essential for the enterprise, he said.

The Sidebar window will contain gadgets that users can visualize and which will allow them to stay more connected with their information.

"In a business context, an IT administrator can have a gadget that shows the current uptime for their server farm, on their desktop and where they are in their normal Windows view so they can see what is going on with different servers and really stay connected with the information they need to so they can do their job in the most effective way," Goldberg said.

Some in the industry point to the similar functionality between the Vista Sidebar and Apple Computers Dashboard interface introduced in April 2005 with the release of Mac OS X 10.4, aka "Tiger."

The mini applications held in the Dashboard are called "widgets," and can be invoked by a click or by placing the cursor in a user-defined corner of the screen.

Next Page: Sidebar resembles OS X Dashboard.