Vista Sidebar? Do We Love It or Not?

I talked about this to Ian the other day: is the Vista Sidebar system really good or not? Of course there’s no simple answer to this, but I had some thoughts and they’re not all positive. First, let me say that I really like the whole gadget idea. Somehow I was always a fan of that kind of thing – Linux was always strong in this regard, and I used to do a lot of work on Linux. The original announcement about the Vista Sidebar had me rather enthusiastic about it, and the great looks it promised to have were also appreciated. I do use the Sidebar today, and as far as it goes, I really like it. So what’s the problem? Several things about the implementation:

  • The Sidebar is just too damn small for many useful ideas. Simple thing. My laptop screen is 1050 pixels high, and the Sidebar takes up half of that space with four gadgets that actually reproduce standard system tray functionality in a nicer way – clock, calendar, CPU meter and battery monitor. Doesn’t leave a lot of space for all those new gadgets…
  • Sure, the Sidebar has multiple pages. Well, that totally defeats the purpose for me… I don’t want to go hunt for those tiny buttons (top right, in case you’ve never noticed) to switch to another page. They could have done this much better – implement a “drawer” type gadget, for instance, that would extend out horizontally.
  • There’s not even a way, as far as I know, for a gadget running on the second (or any other than the first) page of the Sidebar to say “hey, I’ve got something interesting here that I need the user to know about”. So unless you actively go and switch to the other pages, gadgets running on these are memory hogs, nothing more.
  • You can undock gadgets, which is nice – also visually. But, have you ever tried finding an undocked gadget on your desktop? They get lost behind other windows, and they don’t come back to the foreground when you activate the Sidebar itself. They also don’t have buttons on the taskbar and they don’t appear when switching tasks using Alt/Win-Tab. So the only way to ever get an undocked gadget back is to close windows until you see it. Well.
  • The Sidebar can only dock left and right. Not a problem on my laptop, but on my desktop system (which doesn’t run Vista so far) I have three monitors, two of which are vertical. So I’d want to dock the Sidebar on the top or bottom edge, right? Well, no way. This is actually something that I reported back when Sidebar was first announced, but I never got a reply on the issue.

In the end I still like the Sidebar for what it does. It’s just a real pity it doesn’t go a whole lot further… it would have been great to have a good platform for a unified plugin architecture, but I guess it won’t be long until 3rd party vendors will start creating their own again due to the problems in the standard Sidebar. And there goes – with some probability – the standard plugin architecture…

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