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Best Widgets for Your Desktop

Illustration: Dan Page
Widgets, gadgets, or gizmos--call these small applications what you like, but they can transform your desktop into a cockpit, complete with analog clocks, performance meters, and calendars. Don't wait for Vista's Sidebar Gadgets, because Google, Opera, and Yahoo already offer excellent, free widget engines.

Few of the 505 available Google Desktop Gadgets are visually stunning, but the low-key approach is perfect for things that are constantly alerting you to messages and meetings. The RAM hit on my PC for the engine with a few gadgets running seemed high at 35MB, but that included desktop search.

Yahoo Widgets offer a much wider selection--nearly 3200 widgets--and many are quite flashy. They can sit under, over, or around other application windows. Pressing <F8> brings them all up in a single pane. Memory usage varies, but you should budget about 12MB per widget.

Opera Widgets require only that the Opera browser be open; you can add widgets straight from the browser's toolbar. The selection is heavy on games and light on productivity tools. RAM usage varies from minuscule to truly obscene, as with some of the widgets that use video.

Here are just a few of the widgets we like:

Google Calendar V2: For Google Calendar users, this gadget with a default monthly view allows you to see your scheduled events for the day, to quickly view another day's appointments, and to create new events. The current version lets you see either personal or work calendars, but it offers no reminder function--a fairly significant omission.

Informer: This Yahoo widget keeps track of 21 key PC performance indicators, including memory, Wi-Fi signal strength, laptop battery life, and number of unread e-mail messages, all in a bar that docks above the taskbar.

PasswordMaker: This cool tool generates secure passwords by combining a Web site's URL and your master password, and then applying a hashing algorithm. While the software doesn't store the password, even if you use the widget on multiple machines, you can re-create each password by reentering the site URL and your master password.

Mini iTunes Remote: Though this handy Yahoo gizmo resembles a silver version of the controls on a Shuffle player, it lets you rate tunes, change songs, and adjust the volume without switching to the full player.

Opera Dotoo: With this simple to-do list creator from Opera's bag, you can create multiple lists and check off items as you finish them in a small panel that adjusts its size according to the number of active lists.

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