A better weather gadget (and other Vista sidebar tricks)

In a comment to my earlier weather-related post, Chris asks:

Is that a special Vista weather gadget? It looks way better than the default one as it has some forecasting too. I tried looking for it but didn’t find anything. Any pointers?

That’s actually the standard Vista weather gadget. So why does mine look different from yours? There’s a good opportunity to introduce the concept of undocked sidebar gadgets.

By default, adding the weather gadget to the Vista sidebar produces a tiny display like this one:


You get the current temperature, the city name, and an icon indicating the general weather conditions (in this case, clear and daytime – a moon icon would appear if it were after dark). You can’t do anything else with this icon. There’s no easy way to see a more detailed view of current conditions or get to a multi-day forecast.

Unless, of course, you drag the icon off the sidebar. When you release it over the desktop or any running program,, you get a much larger gadget:


This view has a three-day forecast and the day’s high-low range. Most importantly, that city name is a live link that takes you to the MSN weather page for the location. (To reset your default location, let the mouse pointer hover over the gadget until a small toolbar appears in the top left corner. Click the wrench icon and enter your zip code or city.)

Having the weather gadget on the sidebar is convenient because you always see it. By contrast, when the gadget is floating, it is usually covered by open windows. To bring the gadget to the top, press Windows logo key+spacebar.

Once you learn that keystroke combination, it’s usually pretty easy to have the best of both worlds. Keep the gadget on the sidebar to see the small display. Drag it onto the desktop when you want more details, and drag it back onto the sidebar when you’re done.

Update: Another alternative, recommended by Robert in the comments, is the WeatherBug gadget. When I looked at it, I found aWeather Channel gadget, which has a cool fly-out forecast menu.

5 thoughts on “A better weather gadget (and other Vista sidebar tricks)

  1. Yes, that’s far better!

    I’ve worked for Microsoft for about six years, and all the random features in our products trip me out. For some reason, I didn’t know you could undock sidebar gadgets. Thanks for the tip!

    Oh, and for the record, I don’t work on Windows so it’s not like this was a feature that was even hidden from the people who work on the product. I’m just more of a power-user of Windows.

  2. Even better: the Weatherbug gadget. I includes the extra info, even when the gadget is docked.

  3. It seems that many of the sidebar gadgets are way ‘cooler’ when detached from the sidebar.

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