Atma Xplorer

Xploring Games, Computing, Photography

Are sidebars really useful?

When it was first introduced as a feature of Windows™ Vista, I was one of many who dismissed it as another marketing ploy to lure tech savvy individuals to the new OS.

Thumbnail of Sidebar

For the first few months, that initial outlook was right as most of the time, sidebars generally were just there to make your Vista desktop look a little more attractive. When a few innovative minds decided to try and created their own version of the sidebar, here’s the result:

Current sidebar programs (both 3rd party and proprietary) are now so useful that you simply can’t do without them. For instance, on my Desktop Sidebar (as you can see in the pic above) I have:

  • Sticky notes – a place to jot down ideas I forget them
  • An RSS reader – now I don’t need to open Firefox to see what’s hot
  • A Google searchbar – for those impromptu searches
  • Quck launch icons – got to love them when you have many applications
  • utorrent status – I usually download with torrents so this is a must to me
  • Free Space info – if you download regularly, you should keep a good eye on your disk space

Like all applications, there are some cons to having a sidebar installed.

  • Medium resource requirement – this is specially true if you wish to add a media player (winamp or WMP) to the sidebar or a photo slideshow.
  • Less deskspace – If your using a 15″ screen with a 1024 x 768 resolution (or lower) you usually want to get the most out of your monitor. Sidebars can generally “hide” but when they’re there everything shrinks horizontally.
  • A sea of plugins – Although it’s not really an issue but just like firefox’s multitude of add-ons, you might find youself lost when looking for a plugin that you need.

The pros are obvious but to save time arguing whether they’re worth it or not I’ll list them anyway/

  • Sidebars are fully customizable – add plugins like calculators, calendars or even an addressbook.
  • Sidebars are skinnable – far from looking generic, you can make your sidebar blend with your wallpaper or your theme (if you’re using a skinning application like Windowsblinds)
  • Sidebars are generally lightweight – although it contrary to what I’ve posted in the top of the con list, sidebars consume about 10Mb of memory which is quite small.
  • Sidebars can increase productivity – since you’ve got everything in one place (calcu, notes, quick launch to everything) you spend less time search for what you need and more time working.

Now if I’ve gotten you sold on using sidebars, head over to Desktop Sidebar if you’re on XP or you can download an installer here. If you wish to check out something similar:

  • Yahoo Widget Engine – has tons of gadgets called Widgets and formerly known as Konfabulator. Note that most of the widgets do not conform to the “sidebar” look so if you see a widget pop in the middle of the screen, don’t be alarmed.
  • Google Sidebar – Part of the Google Desktop Pack, you need to install everything to get the sidebar though
  • Thoosje’s Sidebar – almost the same as Desktop sidebar but the current release doesn’t seem to support installing plugins so what you get is the default ones only.

If you’re interested in what plugins are available, check out the Extras page. If you’re on vista and you wish to exted the functionality of your current sidebar, the Windows Live Gallery is for you.

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