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Widgets, Gadgets and Goodies

by Wren McMains
(9/25/2009)

This machine came with the Windows Sidebar turned on complete three Gadgets. Widgets or Gadgets are mini-applications that you can put anywhere on your desktop, or they can be lined up along some edge of your screen like they initially are in the Windows Sidebar. Many of them tend to be active and can add a little life to a boring screen. As an alternative to the Windows Sidebar, you can also get Widgets from Yahoo or Gadgets from Google.

When I first turned on this new computer the top right corner of the screen looked like this:

Screen Shot

The gadgets are the clock, calendar and picture you see going down the right side of the screen. The bar with icons across the top is something unique to Acer, we'll talk about it below.

You can change the face of the clock to one that suits your style, add a second hand. If you click on the calendar you see all the days of the month. The picture keeps changing. Sure all this takes some computer resources, but current machines are so fast you'll hardly notice it.

Personally I like the Google Gadgets better, there are a lot more of them and they do more things. They are part of what's called "Google Desktop"; some say the Yahoo ones look even better, but they don't interface with all the Google Tools. The one problem I have with all the Google gadgets I like is they don't work great on a dial-up line, so I usually end up turning them off.

These three gadgets looked like they would all work fine, even when not connected to the internet so I left them on.

I wasn't sure what I thought about Acer's "Empowering Technology" bar, so I left it on too. As you run your cursor across the bar, things pop-up and it tells you what the icons are:

Screen Shot

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One useful thing it does which helps the novice computer user is that it connects automatically to any unsecured wireless network it finds. The downside is when there's no network around messages keep popping up at the bottom of the screen saying your not connected to a network ... even if you dial-up and connect to the internet. For the novice user, there's nothing else here they really need and it's too easy for them to get themselves into trouble as this user did here:

Screen Shot

This is not somewhere you want them clicking around and changing things ... and this user was one who couldn't remember the way to close any window was to click on the X in the top right corner.

Finally decided it was better for her, and probably for most Acer users, to keep this thing off the desktop by not letting it run at system startup ... on the next page we'll look at how we did that.


Many of you will find useful gadgets and there's no reason not to leave them turned on; however, even these seemingly innocent gadgets seem to get this novice user into trouble.

As you run your cursor over a gadget, X's, little wrenches, and a pad appears next to them as you see below. The wrench (if there is one) adjusts the settings for the individual gadget. The X closes that gadget (you have to later add it back if you want it to appear again). The pad is what grab to move the gadget around, either to change its relative position on the sidebar, or you can move it off the sidebar and put it anywhere on the desktop. And as you see, the picture show has even more controls which appear as you hover over it.

Screen Shot

I think what happened to this novice user is that she didn't know what all these things were and started clicking on them ... got into some setting menus and then had no idea what to do next. When I started her computer up later, the setting menu was still open.

To add gadgets, click on the plus sign at the top of the sidebar:

Screen Shot

You'll get choices like this:

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And as you see, there's a choice to find even more gadgets on-line. After you add gadgets, don't be afraid to grab the "pad" and move them around so the order makes sense to you.

To hide the sidebar, right-click on the same plus sign and choose "Close sidebar":

Screen Shot

Note that this only hides the sidebar, it will still load everytime Windows starts. If you don't want to use it at all choose "Properties" on the menu above, which gets you this:

Screen Shot

Uncheck the box which says "Start Sidebar then Windows starts". Note that you can also keep the sidebar on top of other windows, but I don't recommend it.

When the sidebar is running, even if it is hidden, you can right-click on the sidebar icon in the system tray at the bottom right of the screen and get this menu:

Screen Shot

Google gadgets can be found here:

http://www.google.com/ig/directory

But you need to install Google Desktop first which is found here:

http://desktop.google.com

Yahoo widgets can be found here:

http://widgets.yahoo.com/

Having never used them, I'm not sure if you need to install something else first.

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