Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Happened To Windows Desktop Gadgets And Why Did Microsoft Abandon Them?

UPDATE (07/05/12): This link all but confirms that Desktop Gadgets will go away as I anticipated in Windows 8: Microsoft reportedly killing off desktop gadget support in Windows 8

A quick opinion entry here post bowling night (Yes I do have other hobbies besides programming!). Anyways back on topic I was quite disappointed to see a Tweet come across a few days ago stating that Windows Gadgets were being retired and the Gallery hosting them was no more. What?!?! I actually have always been a big fan of those things. I mean as a developer that sits in front of a machine with multiple screens for 8+ hours a day, I like all the information those things provide me at quick glance. After all we are in the information overload age (i.e. Smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.) and the gadgets fit right in to that role. Desktop gadgets were 1st made popular on Macs, then Yahoo came out with their "Yahoo Widgets", and finally Windows got in the game to offer support natively in the OS beginning with Windows Vista. However the gallery has been retired and support has quickly shifted away. Here is the official Microsoft Link on the status of the retired gallery and discontinued support:

Looking for gadgets?

Here is an excerpt from the above link stating it all:

"The Windows Live Gallery has been retired. In order to focus support on the much richer set of opportunities available for the newest version of Windows, Microsoft is no longer supporting development or uploading of new Gadgets."

OK I get it. Microsoft is positioning itself for Windows 8 and its new design including a focus on 'Metro Style Apps'. Windows Gadgets don't fit at all into that new design and really hinder in some ways the competing and improved look of Windows 8. You need folks to forget about these little anchored desktop apps and focus on Metro Apps in Windows 8. This could not be as strong of a directive with these 'dead weight' mid 2000 type apps lingering around (not really my thoughts, but probably the view at a meeting at Microsoft when the decision came to retire these widgets). I had already noticed a lack of developer interest and I understand this as well. It's not the sexy thing to spend time on in present day. If you were about to sit down and create a little weather app, would you make a Desktop Gadget or a Windows Phone 7 app for the marketplace? Easy enough answer. But even the minimal support was welcomed and still created a huge portfolio of selectable and free fun, productive, entertaining, and cool apps to have on the desktop. However I think the decision to retire the gallery and discontinue support is a bit premature and let me explain why. It is not often I disagree with Microsoft because I live for the technology they pump out of Redmond, but I am not on the same page with them on this decision.

There was a time from say 1993ish to 2005ish where it was almost a necessity to buy a new computer every few years to keep the hardware up with what the applications could do. Even simple tasks like having a browser open and Microsoft Word could be dauntingly slow on an older machine. So what does one do? Buy a new computer so multitasking became a possibility and didn't drive the user nuts. Also during this time period, the cutting edge industry development and the hardware were not that far apart. Using a Windows 98 box with VB5, Access, C++, etc. and building the best apps (excluding gaming) using the latest technology didn't require any special hardware. Using a standard home PC would allow one to create, build, and deploy these types of apps.

Now we have gotten to a point where I think us in the development community and those in the R&D sector moving the ball forward may not realize the disconnect that is upon us. The cutting edge technology and its expectations in my opinion will not excite a large portion of the market share. Sometime around the mid 2000's, PC hardware began to outpace the software running on it for the 1st time which helped drive costs down on PCs and allowed the consumer to breath a bit and not have to rush out to get the new OS and machine. "Hey if I can run my browser, email my family, and write Word documents, I am set!" Not everyone is 16 years old and rushing out to get the newest piece of hardware that supports the cutting edge technology, which we were all forced to do in years passed. Microsoft could rely on the fact that users would continue to buy newer, faster, smaller PCs and along with that the newest OS too. It was a nice harmony because the software and hardware naturally moved together and everyone (users and developers) had to keep up with the same pace. You didn't find too many Windows 95 users in 2003, 8 years after it came out, but you can certainly find a large portion of home PCs (and businesses too) that are still running Windows XP 10 years after release. This is because that stable, easy to use, machine doesn't warrant being replaced. In current day Microsoft can no longer expect the average user is going to buy a new piece of hardware to support the newest OS; that hand is not naturally being forced as it once was 10-15 years ago. Therefore support of what may be deemed 'legacy' technology or software (even if it is only 5 years old) has to be taken into consideration to keep the masses happy.

So what in the heck does that background have to do with Desktop Gadgets going away you ask? Well, I think for starters a lot of late migrators to Windows Vista or Windows 7 will be disappointed when they buy the computer and see one of the 'neat' features, Gadgets, is retired even before some had a chance to use them. But more prevalent than worrying about people who are behind in technology (hey you snooze you don't get to experience it like those of us that bought it on time, Ha!), is I wonder if Microsoft is going a little hard to place all their eggs in 1 basket with Windows 8. I don't think the masses will move quickly but this is not apparent by those of us in the technical community. We will all have it as soon as it is released to Beta and installed on Day 1. But that is a bad impression for the general use market share. I don't think everyone is going to abandon their PC for a tablet running Windows 8. And don't get me wrong; I don't think Microsoft is thinking this will happen either, but I do think some feel this is what "Everyone will be doing in 5 years..." I am not so convinced. I will be all over Windows 8 because of what I do and how much I like the technology, but I am not sure about Sister, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Friend 1, and Friend 2.

So I liken retiring the Windows Gadgets the start of Microsoft's reposition for its new OS, and is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope Microsoft doesn't continue to make decisions like this to slowly force people into buying Windows 8 because their nice, stable, Windows 7, Vista, or XP machine has 20% of its features retired or not supported. It's an aggressive stance and I get the feeling from the Build conference that Microsoft will be pursuing Windows 8 harder than any OS since maybe Windows 95. I just hope it does not come back to haunt Microsoft by leaving a bad taste in people's mouth by being unwillingly shuffled along faster than they care to. It's a fine line to walk.

This isn't the only instance were they suttly or explicitly phased out technology. For example, VS.NET 2010 will not support Windows CE development. Hold the horses!! I don't recommend making new CE apps at this point in time, but I have 1st hand experience working on a current 3rd party product that uses a propriatary device runnign on Windows CE. Makes total sense why Microsoft would not support CE development in VS.NET 2010: DO WP7 DEVELOPEMENT! But once again it's these decisions that I think don't agree with the masses as evident by the feedback from this Microsoft Connect entry:

No support for Windows CE and Compact Framework development in VS2010

So maybe a bit profound for the analyzation of why the Desktop Gadets went away, but I think there is a bigger picture here. And yes personally I am disappointed and don't think it would have slowed down Windows 8's new sexy features too much. You can still search the net for the individual gadgets if you are looking for a particular one, but they are already difficult to find so zip them up and save off the .gadget files on your machine. It will not matter beyond Windows 7 though because they will not be supported in Windows 8, so enjoy them on your already out-of-date Windows 7 PC (a little tongue-and-cheek there obviously). Or you can still use Yahoo Widgets which you can check out here, and they have a massive widget library:

Yahoo! Widgets

Well the nice thing about this blog is hopefully I can come back in a few years and maybe 'eat crow' showing I was all wrong. But for the time being I am disappointed to see the desktop widgets essentially discontinued, and I feel Microsoft may have missed the bulls-eye a bit on this decision.

Anyone reading this feel free to post links to websites, SkyDrive locations etc, to share .gadget files if you wish.


  1. Agree with what you say, and might even go stronger.

    Perhaps there's news I haven't read yet (!!), but I awoke this morning to find the Euro currency has disappeared from the Windows 7 Currency converter gadget

    On looking for another one I find that as you say, Gadgets are no more for Microsoft. Bad move in my book. As a MS fan since Windows 3.1 days it's not good when they start to actively remove things. Let them die out naturally, or produce a more compelling and relevant product, fine. But effectively crippling a product. VERY BAD business practice. I thought that was Apple's role :-)
    Perhaps this one issue in itself won't change the world but the change of ethos is something they may well live to regret.

  2. I totally agree... just discovered this today and came across this post.

    Sometimes I like having a note storing program off to the edge of the screen that I can use with all programs, not just in my browser. One of the best aspects of having a screen that is a LOT wider than websites are. Hopefully the Yahoo Widgets have something like that.

    Thanks for the link to that btw... didn't know Yahoo had that.

    On a related note... I do love the Metro style... my windows phone is great, and I'm looking forward to Windows 8.

  3. Also fully agree, this is typical MS stupidity. Our company has only just started to move to Win 7 and a great many of our machines still run very satisfactorily on XP. The few who have migrated to Win7 are mightily p*****d off about losing these neat and useful gadgets and the biggest question I'm getting now from my users is not 'why can't we go to Win8' its 'why can't we have Macs...' Redmond be warned...

  4. Thanks for the post, Allen. I stumbled upon this while trying to find some favorite Gadgets after having to reinstall Windows 7 due to a HD crash. Unfortunately not only can I not locate those Gadgets, but it looks like the only way I'll be able to get them is to have my wife email them to me from her PC.

    I work in the medical software industry and I have to tell you that you are spot on in your analysis. The software that I deal with can run on anything from Windows XP on and many of the medical labs and offices that utilize it often do not have an IT department and thus do not upgrade their hardware (and OS) unless the old system dies or unless they're willing to drop lots of money (medical software is extremely expensive) on a new version of their software.

    Add to this the extra time and cost of developing and testing the very specialized software on a new OS every few years and it can be very frustrating.

    IMHO, Microsoft should take a queue from the open source community and simply release the gadget support to the Windows community while leaving the Windows Live space available for the community to share their creations. Web space is cheap, after all.

  5. I might abandom my pc for a tablet, running GOOGLE ANDROID, if ms continues to do this...

  6. It's one thing to stop accepting new gadgets. But to remove access to the whole library of gadgets that have already been developed? Microsoft is starting to act more and more like Apple, and it is sickening.

  7. Yahoo Widgets discontinued now, too, as of April 12, 2012.
    Insert exclamatory expletive here!

  8. Wow. So I wanted to use widgets, gadgets whatever again and I come to discover all of them are pretty much discontinued that are available to Windows users. there is no good reason for this but perhaps they want us to buy something. Wow what a sleazy tactic... Microsoft and Yahoo. And I can't use Apple. anybody have any clue where I can get widgets?

  9. *facepalm*

    What other 'features' could they remove prematurely?

    How about:
    "security updates are no longer available as we're, like, totally busy on this new thing you're going to want to send us money for"

  10. I going back to my palm

  11. I am very annoyed at what has happened to MY gadgets, supplied when I bought the hp6000 running VISTA.

    I had photo's, extracting from my h.d. A NEWS GADGET that displayed blogs from all over the world, and weather gadget, that stopped working some time ago.

    I feel assaulted, becuse having had these gadgets, it has reduced my enjoyment as I proceed with my various files. Where I could monitor world events, from many blogs, as they came up.

    HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT M.S. are offering in replacement, its back to 1995 again. almost ALL the information is MSNBC N, many days old, OR ADVERTS FOR M.S. PRODUCTS.

    When I eventually have to change my system,

    I will strive to find an alternative to MS products.

    Its disgraceful, and what goes around, generally comes around,

    and here is one disallusioned once microsoft fan

  12. @obin McHood said... Yup, that's the exact argument I'm getting at work too. I'm willing to go linux desktops, but not mac.

  13. When my update started this morning, and I realised having lost all my gadgets I wished it never happened, coss all my gadgets had gone. Having lost many information already through Messenger Live and now the gadgets as well, I'm thinking about moving to Lenox

  14. At least addgadget.com are still going strong

    Windows8?? Just download classic shell, follow advice from addgadget.com and you will get back all the XP like functionality and gadgets too!

  15. As anonymous has said above just download classic shell and use addgadget.com to revive the gadgets we love in win 8 and win 10. I know i'm a bit late to the party here but i was off work today due to feeling rather under the weather and did a bit of research into gadgets as i was a bit bored.
    I am on windows 8.1 and love having my 'all cpu meter' and 'clock' gadgets at a glance so i can see exactly how my pc is performing. There is no replacement on win 8 for these little snippets of cool gadgets and info. So i along with many others are very disappointed in MS culling one of the best little side features of their OS. Why do they have to remove things that folk actually like!! Are they always this stupid!

    Anyway i will continue to use gadgets as long as they are still available, love live gadgets!