Desktop Sidebar: access the information you need straight from your desktop

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Desktop Sidebar is a Vista-style sidebar widgets engine with minimal system resource consumption.

It supports a wide range of applets/widgets that can give you access to a wide variety of information from your PC or from the internet straight on your desktop. Works on Windows 2000, 2003, XP and Vista.

There are a number of free sidebar/widgets programs out there, of which I will mention my favorite, Klipfolio, and the well-known Yahoo widgets.

Desktop Sidebar is another free option that has a number of really good reasons why you should use it; here are the top 5 reasons I could think of (in ascending order):

  • Reason#1: Desktop Sidebar’s Outlook widget. If you use Outlook, you will find this widget really useful as it will display your Outlook info (received emails, calendar, tasks, notes, etc.) on the desktop without having Outlook open in the background and hogging system resources. I have tried a number of Outlook-on-desktop programs and the couple or so I tried require Outlook in the background, so this is good news indeed. (Klipfolio, in contrast, does not have a good Outlook widget).
  • Reason#2: the range of available applets. Is really excellent. Aside from the usual staples (such as image display, clock, weather, stock tickers, google, desktop search etc.) it has some sophisticated applets such as a clipboard viewer, an FTP uploader, Miranda IM, a website-monitoring thumbnail applet, media player contol (including Itunes), desktop search, a POP3 email checker, a gmail plugin, and a good number of others.
  • Reason#3: the “Capture Panel” plugin. This applet allows you to take any program that may be running on your desktop and “widgetize” it. For example, I was able to imbed Pidgin (my freeware IM client of choice) into Desktop Sidebar, although admittedly it did look crowded and out of place, but you see my point.
  • Reason#4: memory consumption is generally low (approx 19 megs upon installation with the default plugins running). However, note that with every plugin installed the memory use will go higher, so remove all plugins that you do not care for or particularly need.
  • Reason#5: skinnable. Or I should say has a wide variety of skins available, some of which look very nice indeed.

More info on this program:

  • The user interface: widgets can be can “stacked” (i.e. minimized) and expanded, and can even be “undocked” and floated anywhere on the desktop area. If undocked, they can be draggable or “locked” in place, the level of transparency can be adjusted. Hovering over any widget for a few seconds will automatically prompt a larger display to the left of the sidebar.
  • Browser integration: the Newsroom widget (RSS reader) adds a button to the Internet Explorer toolbar that allows you to simply press a button in order to subscribe to any page that offers an RSS feed.

The negatives (reasons why you might NOT want to use this program, in ascending order):

  • Reason#1: some of the plugins do not seem to work when installed, including some interesting ones that attracted me to the program to begin with (virtual desktop, torrent control plugin,and others)
  • Reason#2: Interacting with the different panels can be less than intuitive at first. I spent a lot more time than I should have trying to figure out how to customize the RSS feeds (the Newsroom widget) and how to customize the stock tickers. Rule of thumb: all you have to do is right click on a widget and select ’panel properties’.
  • Reason#3: manipulating the panels is less than smooth at times; undocked panels are not very responsive when being resized, and can be somewhat frustrating to manage.
  • Reason#4: the RSS (Newsroom) widget does not support importing OPML files, which at the very least is a barrier to my actually bothering to use it.

The verdict: this is a very good free option if you want a good-looking sidebar with some very useful widgets. Although I still prefer Klipfolio for desktop RSS displays and overall user experience, I will be using Desktop Sidebar to take advantage of the Outlook panel and a couple of other widgets. If you are going to use this my advice is to strip it down to the bare minimum applets that you need.

Version Tested: 1.05 build 116 (beta version)

Compatibility: Windows 2000, 2003, XP and Vista.

Go to the download page to download the latest version (approx 10.8 megs). Also visit the Desktop Siderbar home page.