The doghouse: Windows Sidebar

Now, I think Windows Vista is the shiniest and nicest operating system to come out of Redmond so far. I have used it for several months and I'm quite content with the OS overall. I like the infrastructural improvements and wouldn't want to move back to using XP.


Windows Vista comes with this little utility called Sidebar, which is a fancy, largely transparent dock that places itself on the left or right side of your desktop. The sidebar is essentially a platform for smaller programs called gadgets, and it comes with some built-in ones. The built-in gadgets I've tried include a calendar, a to-do note, a weather indicator, a stock indicator, RSS headlines and a CPU meter.

I can confidently say, with the sole exception of the Calendar, all of the gadgets I've tried suck. Here is why.

Notes. The Notes gadget looks nice and all, the way it imitates a post-it note, but:
  • It only fits about two words horizontally and three lines.
  • It looks like it fits a fourth line, but no - that space is for some normally invisible buttons. Try entering a fourth line and it scrolls the first line out of visibility.
  • It's not resizable.
  • You can't change the font either. There is a dialog to change the font, but instead of all the fonts available on the system, you have only three options: Segoe, Segoe, and Segoe.
  • The only font sizes available are 9-18, and they're fixed. You cannot choose any other size than that. And the two words and three lines limitation on the note - that's with size 9.
  • Sometimes when I login the Notes gadgets don't even show properly. I have to lock the computer and unlock it again for the notes to appear.
  • Sometimes one of the Notes gadgets simply disappears in the time between a logoff and login, with no way to recall it or its contents.
Weather. It doesn't work. It says "Service not available". But the service is available - it works on my other machine, which is in the same location. But it doesn't work on my laptop. Online posts suggest that you might need to have a very specific configuration of region and locale settings in order for this gadget to work. I tried, but apparently was unable to hit all the right settings.

Stocks. Shows only three stocks at a time. Want more than three? It's not resizable. You have to manually scroll up and down to see them - which kind of defeats the purpose of a passively observable stocks indicator.

Feeds. Displays only 4 headlines at a time. Not resizable. Cycles through the headlines - which means it distracts you with screen changes when nothing is changed. Can only display 10, 20, 40, or 100 headlines. Want 25? You can pick no number in between.

CPU Meter. I eventually removed it because it was itself consuming too much CPU.

I don't know who signed off on a Sidebar of this quality going into the Vista release, but whoever it was, it must have been the kind of B category employee that Bill Gates supposedly said Microsoft ought not to employ.

The whole Sidebar thing looks like it's been polished by Microsoft, but developed by students. It's just not good enough. Not by a wide margin.


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