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August 11, 2020

Toolkit Item: 8GadgetPack

Supposedly, Windows Gadgets came in with Vista and went with Windows 7. Even before Windows 8 came along, MS decided to retire Windows Gadgets in 2011 (see this Spiceworks Community post that quotes the MS info from the time). This post states that the decision lets the company “focus support on the much richer set of opportunities available for the newest version of Windows” (that was 7). Later on (August 15, 2016) MS published a security advisory that stated it was disabling the sidebar and gadgets because some gadgets “could contain vulnerabilities” and that gadgets could be leveraged “to execute arbitrary code.” However, I am unaware of any such exploit reported from the wild. My fellow security expert, Deb Shinder, also uses Gadgets and says the same. I figure it was political and financial, because free gadgets could (and still can) do what other developers charge for.

Gadgets: Discontinued but Not Unusable

Thanks to the heroic efforts of German developer Helmut Buhler (the man behind 8GadgetPack.net where you can download the program), you can still install and run Gadgets on all current versions of Windows, including the latest Fast Ring Insider Preview. WARNING: The Windows Installer will cheerfully disable and uninstall Gadgets each time a feature upgrade is installed. Buhler keeps track of that, and automatically drops a “Repair Gadgets” shortcut on the desktop of any such affected PCs. Double-click the shortcut (or run Gadgets from the search box) and the program will reinstall itself and put things back the way they were before the Installer removed them. Good stuff!

Given that MS discourages (and seeks to block) their use, why is it that I (and lots of other people) still use gadgets anyway? The screencap to the left of this text makes my case for me, to begin with.

This display shows me what time it is in several formats (the top analog clock also shows me the machine name as its center legend). Gadgets also show me active network traffic, volume, IP addresses and more (Network Meter).

I can use the CPU Usage gadget to see CPU utilization and temps on a per core/hyper-thread basis, along with memory utilization and clock speed. I even have access to a set of visual controls (bottom, in a gadget named “Control System”). It offers Standby, Shut Down, Restart, Log Off, and Hibernate buttons reading left to right. You can even use these in a remote logon session (wherein you normally can’t access Start Menu power options for anything except “Disconnect” and “Lock”).

In more persuasive language, I use gadgets for the following reasons:

+ They’re compact and informative.
+ They give me constant access to immediate status information about my PC and its network status.
+ They don’t impose much system or storage overhead (1-2% of CPU at most, and less than 200 MB for all pieces and parts involved).
+ They’re quick and convenient to set up and use.

In terms of sheer frequency of use and importance in keeping up with my runtime situation, I’ve found it difficult, if not impossible, to live without 8GadgetPack installed on any Windows PC I use regularly. Here at Chez Tittel 7 of 8 computers have them installed. Only my wife’s machine lacks them because she doesn’t want them on her desktop. I use her machine seldom enough that I can run Task Manager’s performance tab to tell me piecemeal what CPU Meter/Usage tells me in a single glance. I can live with that (but if I did use her machine alot, I’d set up a separate login and run 8GadgetPack in that context instead).

It really is that convenient. It does the job. Check it out, and see for yourself.

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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