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Configuring and Customizing the Windows Vista Desktop : Working with the Sidebar (part 2) - Configuring Gadget Settings & Configuring RSS Feeds

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Configuring Gadget Settings

Most gadgets provide for at least a few configuration options. For example, the Clock gadget that is included with Windows Vista provides several different visual styles. It also provides the ability to name the clock and to specify the time zone. Figure 7 shows these options. Similarly, the Stocks gadget enables users to specify which stocks or indexes they would like to view. There are some gadgets, such as the CPU Meter, that do not provide any configuration options.

Figure 7. Viewing options for the Clock gadget

The process of configuring a gadget is simple and can be done in one of two ways. You can right-click any running gadget and choose Options from the shortcut menu. Another option is to click the Configure icon that appears when you hover the mouse over a portion of the gadget. Both methods will display the properties and options for that gadget. To make any setting changes take effect, click OK.

Downloading and Installing New Gadgets

Although the built-in gadgets for Windows Sidebar that are included with Windows Vista are useful, the real power of Windows Sidebar is that it allows third-party developers to create their own utilities and applications. The easiest method for finding new gadgets is to click Get More Gadgets Online in the Add Gadgets dialog box. This link launches a Web browser and connects you to the Windows Vista Gadgets Web site. You can also visit the site manually by going to http://gallery.microsoft.com.

On the site, you can view the entire list of gadgets for Windows Sidebar, which is always growing as developers add their newest creations. When you choose to download a gadget, you will be prompted for confirmation. After the gadget is downloaded, Windows Vista automatically adds it to Windows Sidebar. The new item now appears in the list of available gadgets when you choose to add a new one to the desktop. It’s helpful to note that this display has multiple “pages” that you can navigate by using the arrows at the top-left corner of the screen. As with the default gadgets, you can configure settings, attach, detach, and remove the gadgets.

Note: Evaluating gadgets

Although the potential for clever and useful gadgets for Windows Sidebar is practically unlimited, users should exercise some caution when choosing what to download. Poorly implemented gadgets might not work as expected or might use a significant amount of computer resources.

One good indicator about the quality of a gadget is other users’ ratings. You can see how other people feel about the gadget and read their comments. Of course, it’s a good idea to return the favor: if there’s a gadget that you like or dislike, post an opinion so others can benefit from your experience.

Configuring RSS Feeds

In the not-too-distant past, tasks such as viewing maps, finding contact information, and keeping up with the news were handled without computers. The popularity of the Internet changed that, and many people now depend on online resources far more than their physical counterparts. Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of the Internet is the ability to find just about any information at any time. In fact, the major problem has become related to having too many different sources of information.

One way to collect information from throughout the Internet is to visit Web sites manually. Although this often provides a good experience, it can be difficult to isolate just the information you need. Often, the presence of numerous ads and inconsistencies in site navigation can result in a less-than-ideal experience.

Understanding RSS

The RSS standard has been created to provide developers of Web-based content with a method for making this information easily available to the user, other sites, and applications. The data itself is made available in Extensible Markup Language (XML) format and can be accessed using any application or service that supports RSS.

The benefit to users is the ability to obtain news and other updates from a large variety of different sites and services and view them all in one place. The RSS data itself is often referred to as a feed because it provides data that can be consumed elsewhere. Feeds are generally updated based on the frequency of Web content updates. Visitors to a Web site or service can usually access RSS-based data by clicking an RSS link or icon. Numerous applications (both GUI-based and Web-based) for reading feed-based information are available on the Internet.

Note: What does RSS stand for?

The RSS acronym is somewhat enigmatic in that it doesn’t represent a single specific term. It has sometimes been expanded to mean Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. Regardless of the terminology, it refers to an XML-based standard that enables content producers to make their information available in a consistent format.

Adding the Feed Headlines Gadget

Windows Vista ships with a gadget for Windows Sidebar that is designed to view RSS feeds within Windows Sidebar. The gadget is called Feed Headlines, and it works like many of the other gadgets. Figure 8 shows a sample view of the Feed Headlines gadget.

Figure 8. Viewing RSS information using the Feed Headlines gadget

The user interface continually shows the latest headlines obtained from RSS feeds. Users can click a link to see details related to that specific headline. In most cases, the content that is included with an RSS feed is limited to a brief summary of the total information. Readers who want the complete content of an article or item will need to visit the provider’s Web site.

Configuring Feed Headlines Options

Users can modify the properties of the Feed Headlines Gadget to display some or all of the information that they’re interested in. Figure 9 shows the available configuration options.

Figure 9. Configuring properties of the Feed Headlines gadget

The top drop-down list includes a list of all of the RSS feeds that are available on the computer. You can add feeds by using compatible applications such as Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft Outlook, or one of several third-party products. This model enables users to subscribe to and view RSS feeds by using several different methods. Because you can add several different instances of the Feed Headlines gadget to Windows Sidebar, a wide variety of information can be made readily available on the Windows desktop.

Overall, the use of the Feed Headlines gadget can help users better manage information from many different sources in a consistent manner.

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