Sidebar: Vistas Secret Weapon for the Enterprise?

By David Morgenstern  |  Posted 2006-02-23

Sidebar: Vistas Secret Weapon for the Enterprise?

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.

Read 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."

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.

Sidebar Resembles OS X


Apples Dashboard developer page describes three categories of Dashboard widgets: self-contained Accessory Widgets are similar to traditional desk accessory programs; Application Widgets that provide easy access to a feature of an existing application, such as an iTunes controller; and Information Widgets that present data from the Internet.

Mac OS X programmers report that the widgets are easy to program and use a mix of HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

What do Windows XP, Windows Vista and Apples Mac OS X Tiger have in common? More than you might think. Click here to read more.

Microsoft may also look to the growth of Apples widget platform as a model for Vista Sidebar gadgets. When released last year, there were fewer than 20 widgets. Apples widget page today lists 1773 titles. More are available from third-party download sites.

The February CTP version of Windows Vista includes a number of gadgets, including the feed viewer gadget, which takes advantage of Internet Explorer 7s new RSS Platform.

The gadget allows the user to pick feeds they have already configured using IE 7 and displays items from those feeds.

The launcher gadget allows users to set up shortcuts to applications and files simply by dragging the item to the gadget.

Also included is the world clock gadget, which displays the time and allows the user to configure a time zone. The recycle bin gadget allows users to drag items to the gadget to move them to the Windows Recycle Bin.

The slide show gadget cycles through photos in a folder and lets users personalize their Windows experience from their favorite photographs, the gadgets blog says.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of the Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2.

All the gadgets for Windows Sidebar can be downloaded from a Web site, received via e-mail, or installed with an application.

"When a user encounters a .gadget file, they are able to double-click to install the gadget, a process that informs the user about any risks associated with gadgets and extracts the files for use by the Sidebar. The gadget file remains for the user to archive or delete," the blog states.

Each gadget has the ability to be started multiple times by the user, so that they could have many different clocks for various time zones, or slideshow viewers of different picture collections.

"This is possible because the gadget platform provides methods for developers to store settings, and associates settings with the correct instance of each gadget automatically. The gadgets also run automatically and with the same settings when the user logs out or restarts their computer," the blog said.

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