Kill those Vista and Win7 gadgets now!

Woody Leonhard

In the unlikely chance that you’re using Windows gadgets, you need to get rid of them — right now!

Those seemingly innocuous accessory apps that you stick onto your desktop, included with Vista and Windows 7, could be used to subvert your system.

Microsoft’s hot new feature that never was

If you paid any attention to the launch of Windows Vista, you might remember Microsoft hyping a fabulous new feature in the newest and greatest version of Windows yet — the Windows we’d all been waiting for to replace XP. It was a magical new technology known as the Windows Sidebar, a place where you could put really cool mini-apps — gadgets — such as stock tickers, clocks (shown in Figure 1), simple games, and weather guides. (If none of this sounds familiar, you’re easily forgiven.)

As an MS Windows Sidebar and gadgets how to states, gadgets “offer information at a glance and provide easy access to frequently used tools. For example, you can use gadgets to display a picture slide show, view continuously updated headlines, or look up contacts.”

My Gadgets

Figure 1. A handful of common Windows gadgets: Clock, Stock Ticker, and System Monitor

Microsoft made it sound as if gadgets were something totally new and different — a feature that would drive power users to upgrade to Vista. But in fact, the new gadgets bore a remarkable resemblance to Konfabulator’s widgets, which were already available to Windows users. (The company was bought out by Yahoo and rebranded in 2005. There’s a fascinating cartoon history of the Konfabulator gadgets — er, widgets — on the old Konfabulator site.) Vista gadgets also looked a lot like Apple’s Dashboard widgets, introduced with OS X Tiger over a year before Vista’s release.

Like widgets, gadgets embodied the trend toward push technology — the ability for outside data sources (such as live stock-market feeds) to continuously stream information onto a PC. Microsoft started experimenting with push techniques in Windows 95 with the Active Desktop, a miserable feature that worked sporadically and often failed without notice. A slimmed-down version of Active Desktop turned into the Vista Sidebar, with the new gadgets acting as the dancing bears. Windows 7 kept gadgets but no longer required the Sidebar stage.

Why gadgets have earned a bad reputation

Gadgets are little snippets of HTML code that work with few rules and no security sandboxing. That’s an open invitation to malicious hackers looking for unguarded entries into Windows.



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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-07-19:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.