Inspector Gadgets: Windows 7 Gadgets for Monitoring Your PC
Firewall status check
Buried inside the Windows Firewall settings page (accessible via the Control Panel) is the ability to set your firewall profile as Public (for unsecure networks, like café hot spots) or Private (for your secure home or business network). Each profile involves a different mixture of which incoming connections are allowed or blocked.
When connecting a laptop from the road, many travelers move around between secure private connections and public hot spots several times a day. But changing your computer's firewall settings for public or private connections each time you switch networks is a tedious task, and one that's easy to forget. The Windows Firewall Profile gadget assures you that you've made the change properly.
One of the most basic gadgets around, Windows Firewall Profile doesn't actually help you change your profile setting; it just shows you the current status (Private or Public) in a small black rectangle. Its size can't be adjusted, and there isn't much to configure either, aside from how frequently the system's firewall status is checked (from 10 seconds to 5 minutes).
But what this gadget does, it does well. It immediately figured out when I changed my firewall profile from Private to Public settings and back again during a busy road trip.
Ideally, the gadget would provide a way to adjust the firewall settings or at least link to the firewall settings dialog. All the same, it's reassuring to see what the firewall status is at a glance, without having to wade into the system settings to check.
When you're on the road and far from an AC outlet, it's important to know how much power is left in your notebook's battery. Windows 7 includes a battery gauge in the taskbar tray, but it stays hidden during most use; you have to click on it to see the charge level.
That's where 9-skin Battery Meter comes in. It does an excellent job of putting your battery level in your face in an artistic way.
The gadget comes with nine different decorative skins (hence the name) that range from a circular gauge to something that looks like an AA battery. You can either open the gadget's Options to select one or give the gadget a double-click to bring up a new one.
The gadget glows green when the system is charging, and most of the battery gauge designs have eight elements that change color to show that the cells are running down. All turn to orange and then red for the last two segments; some add a triangular caution sign as the end nears.
Unlike many other gadgets, 9-skin Battery Meter can't be resized, although you can choose whether to have the gadget display how much time remains before the system dies.
While the focus of this story is on gadgets that everyone can use to get some insight into how their system is working, I've also included two great gadgets that require specific hardware or software to work: the gadget that's included with Symantec's Norton Internet Security software and the Intel Core Series gadget for looking at certain Intel processors.
Symantec's Norton gadget is among the most colorful. When the software is up to date and Internet bad guys are kept at bay, there's a prominent green banner across the top of the gadget that says "Secure." You'll immediately know that something is amiss if, for instance, your version of the software is out of date, because the banner turns red and says "At Risk."
Below the banner are icons that lead to the four major elements of the security suite. You can see details about the system's current security status, discover what other members of your family have been doing online (the software keeps tabs on other computers on your network that share your Norton Internet Security license), check if your backups are up to date and find out if a website is safe before clicking to it.
There's no download link for the Norton gadget: The only way to get it is to buy Norton Internet Security (regularly $70; now on sale for $50).
By contrast, the Core Series gadget is available online and can tell you a lot about your system's processor -- but only if it's a recent Intel CPU.
The gadget wasn't written by Intel, but it does a great job of interrogating Intel processors. (AMD has a similar system monitoring program, but it's a full Windows 7 application, not a gadget.)
Like System Control A1, the Core Series gadget monitors up to eight processing threads (rather than cores, as it says), but it's valuable information nonetheless. It adds a handy overall CPU Usage rating and a graph below. If you add the WinRing0 software, which Core Series can download for you, the gadget can display the chip's actual clock speed as well.
You can choose a color scheme for the gadget and tell it what to include in the graph along the bottom: individual threads, all the operating threads, core temperature, or temperature and threads together. You can't resize it, though, which is a problem because the graph is rather crowded.
Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.
Read more about Desktop Apps in Computerworld's Desktop Apps Topic Center.