Windows 7 tips and tweaks
5 fantastic desktop gadgets
Windows Vista introduced the Sidebar, which is a panel on the right that can display mini applications called gadgets. There are lots of these gadgets and Windows 7 uses them too. In Vista you could choose whether to run the Windows Sidebar and have gadgets on the desktop, but in Windows 7 it has been integrated into the desktop. You don't have to run any program to use gadgets and there's no Sidebar panel on the right. It's much simpler and you just right click the desktop and select Gadgets from the menu. When the gadget gallery appears you just drag the ones you want onto the desktop to enable them. They usually have a configuration menu - look for the spanner icon on the right, or right click the gadget and choose Options.
There are hundreds of gadgets available, but which ones are the best? Do they all work with Windows 7? And what about 64-bit Windows 7, which is becoming increasingly popular? Of course, everyone will have their own favourite gadgets, so any list will be purely personal. However, it is a useful place to start when you are looking for gadgets for your own desktop. Here are some more of my favourite gadgets and they all work in 64-bit Windows 7. Download them, install them, and see if you agree. To uninstall gadgets, right click the desktop and select Gadgets, then right click a gadget and select Uninstall. It's easy.
FB Explorer: Install this handy gadget on your desktop and you no longer need to keep a web browser window open in order to keep up with the latest messages on Facebook. There are two tabs and the Friends tab is basically your news feed. It shows your wall postings and your friends' updates and clicking a posting opens a window at the side that shows it in full, with commends people have added. There are Like and Comment buttons too.
The Me tab provides links to pokes, messages, event invites and so on. Clicking these open a web browser. This is a great little gadget that's just what you need on the desktop and you can choose the frequency of update from 1 to 60 minutes, the font and the font size, and there are two sizes for the gadget. Go and get it now!
Chess: When this is added to the desktop you get a small image of a chess set drawn in 3-D. This is actually just a button and when it is clicked, a larger window opens, Click Play Now and a 2-D chess board is drawn on the screen and you can choose from two difficulty levels.
I'm useless at chess, but even I beat it in half a dozen moves on the easy level. It's more challenging on the hard level, but it probably won't trouble grandmasters. The graphics are good and it's an entertaining game that most people will find fun to play. If you like chess and want a game on your desktop that you can play at any time, then go ahead and download it.
This chess gadget was lost when the Microsoft gadget gallery closed. Here's an alternative.
Traffic by Bing Maps: This gadget is only useful if you live in certain cities in the US, but providing that you do, you'll find it useful to check before you plan a trip. It's handy to keep on your desktop at work so you can plan your journey home, or if you're at home and are planning a trip somewhere. There are two sizes and the small one isn't much use, but switch to the larger size and then use the zoom in button and you'll see a map of the city provided by Bing. Roads marked with red are the ones to avoid unless you like sitting in traffic jams.
There are zoom in and out buttons, and other buttons to access Bing search, Bing maps and get directions from Bing maps. It updates the traffic details automatically, but there's a manual option too and a button to check right now.
Drives Meter: At one time all computers had an LED light on the front of the box that indicated when the hard disk drive was in use. It was helpful because you could easily see if the computer was busy doing something and you could wait until it had finished before trying to do something else, such as shut down or run another program. Not all computers have drive activity lights these days, so this little gadget is quite useful as a replacement. You can see when up to four disk drives or even USB flash memory drives are being read from or written to and you can see the total capacity, the used space and the free space on each one. There are usage bars and also a live scrolling chart showing recent activity too. It's a simple gadget, but it's useful for keeping an eye on the system.
All CPU Meter: This is one of the best CPU meters and it has some very useful features. For a start, it is designed for multi-core processors, such as dual and quad core, and it displays the current workload for each one. This is shown as a percentage and an easy-to-read bar. It also shows a live scrolling CPU activity chart that shows the recent processor activity. What makes this gadget stand out from the rest is the ability to display the temperature of each processor core. You can easily see if one is working too hard and overheating. To enable this feature though, you have to download and install a utility called Core Temp from the developer's website. Another useful feature of the gadget is the memory usage display. It shows the total memory available, the amount free and the amount used.