SideBar Gadgets are just darn easy.

I couldn't think of a catchy title, so I went with the above (its late, and I'm in a silly mood).

So, I've been tinkering around in SideBar Gadget Land during breaks between my Microsoft Induction training(s) and am amazed each time I dig deeper as to how much mischief one is able to get up to, armed with a little old SideBar Gadget housed within Vista's SideBar (Drag and Drop files?).

I mention this as I was just talking to a developer online then about SideBar Gadgets. Now, this person gave me quite a confused look regarding "SideBar Gadgets" and mentioned that not only had he not heard of them, but dropped the one-liner that i've been finding common in discussions.

"... I'd love to play with them, but yeah, don't know DotNet! - So teach me Barnesy! or else!..."

DotNet? Its ok, I should also point out that this person sits inside the Coldfusion/Java realm (all the power to him I say). It's not an isolated remark, and I've seen it quite a lot. It's the fear that somehow SideBar Gadgets mean "DotNET" development, or that we (Microsoft) have served up some sort of C#, .NET Framework ball of code that all must bow before and embrace.

Thankfully, we haven't and heres a secret most of the folks on Gadget Gallery already know.

It's just HTML + JavaScript. Yes folks, for those of you who are still skating around the notion that SideBar Gadgets are a custom driven solution, its in fact plain old HTML mixed with some JavaScript, nothing hard or complex and relatively quite simple to bake some code around.

So, if you are keen to jump into SideBar Gadgets, please drop me a line as I want to hear your war stories going forward. In fact, I want any war stories, comments, criticism (hatemail included, but watch the F and S bombs, as it may get Filtered out) on anything regarding SideBar Gadgets. So if you're a SideBar Gadget Designer / Coder, drop me a line with your pain points in developing them.

Here's a great Link to help you get your head into the SideBar Gadget space (all the kids are doing it, its the fashion accessory of 2007):


Comments (14)
  1. alex says:


    I’ve been working on gadgets since a while from now, experiencing many things on it. The most difficult point was transparency … and the information lack. You’ll found some informations on my blog about this (in french, tell me if you want it in english).

    Today, we’re working with some isv’s and giving some workshop on the subject …

    you can contact me on my ms alias by searching "alexandre decaesteker" on outlook if you want to know more šŸ˜‰

  2. JW says:

    we dont have vista rolled out here at work but i’d like to get a bit of a headstart, before banging my head against a wall..can you tell me if vista will operate in virtualpc mode (prolly without the funky gfraphics id guess)

  3. Good to see the new guy getting into the swing of things : SideBar Gadgets are just darn easy. Now, I

  4. Jessica says:

    That’s one of the best secrets I’ve heard in a long time. Now it’s only my lack of vista holding me back, certainly sounds like something I could have fun with.

  5. Alex says:

    My biggest pain point with Gadgets is debugging them.

    At the moment you either have to:

    *  develop a web page and include the javascript (which doesn’t always work if you have sidebar specific things in it)

    * add statements to the gadget to do variable inspection

    Some form of emulator would be great to enable you to debug them without having to install them onto the sidebar.

    The other thing that would be cool would be an extension to that would allow a forum around each gadget so the developer could be contacted with bugs / issues and converse with the users, announce updates etc.  

  6. Garry Trinder says:

    Hi Alex,

    I’ve noted the above and am going to email this off to the relevant folks for comment as I also share your pain.

    I have thought about a Virtual SideBar approach, something in which the non-Vista generation or Vista-Generation can show off living breathing Gadgets housed inside the browser.

    Granted, there are going to be some creative ways to work around the System.Gadget API and various Vista Specific API’s the one has available to them (mainly for the Non-Vista Folk).

    A Gallery is a great idea, as yes in a sense each Gadget Author is in fact a Software Vendor (sure a gadget won’t balance an enterprise companys general ledger – but it is sofware, and folks will want to comment on improvements and what not). I’ll do what I can from inside the Microsoft Firewall to get that happening and I’ll get back to you on that (its now marked as a followup post emails being fired off).

    Appreciate the feedback and Keep the above ideas coming as this should be fun piece of technology to play with!

  7. Clarke Scott says:

    Expect something from me really soon šŸ™‚

  8. Garry Trinder says:

    Ok, but now you’ve built up the suspense so it better be a killer Gadget (hehehehe).

    Ping me once you’ve done it! šŸ˜‰

  9. Clarke says:

    dont get too excited it’s nothing special!

  10. Yep, they’re really quite straight-forward to work with – the hardest part is coming up with some IDEAS !!

    Have posted some more links about developing gadgets – have a look :

  11. Alex says:

    One thing that has hit me this past week is how easy they are to copy. As they are essentially Javascript and a bit of HTML, people can come along and rip off your code pretty easily. In my particular case, the code I wrote has been copied including comments / variables / function names and copyright statements into three seperate gadgets.

    Now, I don’t mind people looking at how you went about something by checking out the source code, but it’s important to credit those people. Simply cutting and pasting code is wrong.

    It would be nice if there was a way of compiling the gadgets so only the sidebar could execute them and reduce the ease of accessing the source. If an author wants to share the code, stick it up on gotdotnet or sourceforge.  However I guess that would hinder the simplicity of the platform.

    Moving on, I will be mindful of what I am publishing, basically if you put it up on gallery, expect it to be copied. From my initial investigations, obfustication doesn’t seem to work (but that could be me) and compiling it into ActiveX is outside of my current skill levels.

  12. Garry Trinder says:

    Alex: I agree, I love playing around with SideBar Gadgets but I can see from a commercial standpoint that it may be cause for concern.

    I thought for a while there that it was possible to encrypt the .zip (using a password like you would with zip files) but I just did a test and doesn’t appear to be so.

    (I’m sure I’ve downloaded one before with a password required prompt showing up).

    Obsfucating code can work at times. I know I’ve seen JavaScript that has had its passover with it, and to pick at it’s innerworkings afterwards is quite frustrating.

  13. Cameron says:

    Iā€™m developing a Microsoft Outlook gadget to show read and unread emails, a bit like the RSS reader.

    The problem I am having is that I cannot find any easy way to debug gadgets, as I cannot afford Visual Studio.

    It would be great if we could use alert boxes. Could there be an option of the sidebar to allow alert boxes for debugging reasons, it could be disabled by default.

    Or a virtual environment for debugging would also be a bonus as mentioned by a poster above.

    Dave do you have any immediate tips to make debugging gadgets possible without VS?

  14. Cameron says:

    Sorry, correction on above post, not sure where I got the name Dave from, this was actually directed towards Scott.

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