Get tooled-up with Desktop Sidebar

desktopsidebarIf you’ve ever thought there must be a better way to organise Windows, then you might find Desktop Sidebar the answer you’ve been waiting for. Desktop Sidebar is a simple but powerful toolbar that integrates with Windows main features, Outlook and offers a whole lot more. If you’ve not been impressed by Yahoo! Widget Engine or Google Toolbar, then it’s definitely worth a try.

One of Desktop Sidebar’s strongest features is its integration with Outlook. It provides instant shortcuts to email overviews, previews, notes and calendar entries. It also provides customisable news headline feeds, access to search engines and even Windows Media Player/Winamp controls. It’s particularly useful if you’ve got several email accounts, as you can set it up to check multiple IMAP and POP accounts including Hotmail. You may find yourself saving a lot of time with this feature alone although unfortunately, it does not seem to support integration with Thunderbird as yet.

Other pre-installed components include the stats bar which shows how much RAM and CPU throughput your PC is experiencing at any one time. This can however get increasingly annoying as the status bars shoot up and down but it can easily be deactivated in the ‘Settings’ tab. Desktop Toolbar need not be intrusive either – it can be displayed permanently on your desktop or set to auto-hide itself when not in use.

To install more components, you can visit the developer website where you’ll find one for just about everything. However, we found that it crashed on more than one occasion when trying to add some of these new components. Among the most popular and useful components are the ‘IP address’ plugin which displays a whole realm of connection statistics and ‘Virtual Desktop Panel’ which allows you to switch between 4 desktop backgrounds at any one time. For those who want to keep track of the latest headlines, the news component is a useful add-on although by default, it’s aimed at a US audience. However, you can add RSS feeds from whichever news sources are more local to you.

On the downside, we found that Desktop Sidebar does tend to consume around 20% of your CPU resources which is quite a lot for such a small app. However, if you use it to check your mail accounts and news reports, you save memory by reducing the number of browser tabs you need open. There are lots of great skins, although it seems the components have peaked at around 70 with not many new recent additions.

In summary, Desktop Sidebar doesn’t offer that much more than the Google Toolbar in terms of ease-of-use and features. However, it certainly offers more email checking options than most similar utilities and has a pretty big choice of components to choose from. If you’re a real toolbar/widget junkie and especially if you use Outlook a lot, then you’ll probably find this app increases your productivity.

Pros: Can check multiple e-mail accounts, Outlook integration excellent, Unobtrusive, Many different components to choose from

Cons: Sometimes crashes when initially adding new components, Development of new components seems limited, Heavy on CPU

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