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October 8, 2006

I’ve been more than a little caught up in my own affairs to do much blogging of late. One of the projects I’ve been working on, building a mini chinese style gazebo to replace my computer desk at home should make for an interesting article once I’ve completed it.

But I digress. I’ve been using Desktop Sidebar for several months now and absolutely love it. I got the idea when all the Longhorn (now Vista) buzz was at it’s hejust kicking off. How could I wait for such a cool gadget in Vista? I dug around and found a few products for XP.

Samurize has a massive following but I found that it seems to be more geared around skinning constantly knowing ones exact hard drive capacity and CPU usage and what percent of that you’re spending to know it.

There was another that Yahoo recently bought but it’s name has escaped me. It was more widgety with the components sort of resting wherever one puts them on the desktop. How often do I even see my desktop with all the windows I have open?

Then I found Desktop Sidebar. Sharp. If you’re using dual 19′ monitors (like me)the extra space won’t even phase you and if not, it has a hide option where it will recede into the side of your screen. It can even dock on your secondary monitor.

Onto the panels. It comes with a pretty complete set of actually useful panels. Clock, weather, all the Outlook items like tasks, mail, etc. but my two favorite features are the RSS reader and the slideshow.

The slideshow is a fully scriptable module that can mine websites photos whether they want to share (via rss) or not. There is a beautiful photo.net slideshow included and perhaps 50 others available off the website. You’ll see the DeviantArt.com slideshows I wrote in less than half an hour there too. I set mine up to save the pictures for a year before overwriting so that I, 1. always have great variety in my slideshows and 2. can forget about one or have one grow on me and still be able to yank it out and use it for a desktop or throw it in my Photoshop later folder.

Then there is the RSS reader. It’s perfect. I’ve used several RSS readers and I don’t think I could bear any one of them after using my sidebar. You set them up and your panel rotates through them on a predefined schedule. Right now I’ve got 2 Something Awful forums, General Bullshit and Serious Hardware and Software Crap, Every front section of Digg with a technology bent like, science, programming, mods, design and so forth, as well as a few of the big tech news sites like neowin, tech dirt (which I’m reconsidering), cnet, forever geek, iHacked, and Scott Hanselman’s blog. 

We also decided that we could rig our error logs to act as rss feeds. With a bit of doing, we now have our sidebars set to update our error log RSS every 30 seconds. We often know when a user encounters an error before they do. (Although I suspect we could update the delay here signifigantly and still make the same claim)

There are a great many other panels, like notes, gmail reader, and system monitors if you really must know how much ram you’re using at this very second. The whole project is open source and from my small dabbling, adding your own panels and plugins is a plesantly simple experience for any developer. Check them out at desktopsidebar.com

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