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Turbocharge Vista Sidebar Gadget Development with PowerGadgets

PowerGadgets promises to put system and application monitoring at non-coding IT professionals' fingertips.

or IT professionals dealing with multiple, complex applications and systems, monitoring has always had a magical appeal: You flip on the monitoring software, put your feet up on the desk, and wait for the alarms to sound. With the flip of a switch, you can assure your boss that all systems are running as expected.

PowerGadgets offers to help with that—though it's a little more complex than flipping one switch. Targeting non-coding IT professionals, PowerGadgets wraps disparate and complex data with a powerful charting API, making it easy to represent data visually, on the desktop. You can use any SQL Server query, Web service, or Windows PowerShell object as the basis for rendering intuitive charts, maps, and gauges.

A Five-minute Gadget Walkthrough
To put PowerGadgets through a few paces, I've created a quick gadget that shows status information from a defect-tracking system. This saves me from having to log into the defect-tracking system and gives me a nice gestalt to indicate project status. I've relied directly on SQL Server as a data source, because it stores all the data from our defect tracking system. I used the PowerGadgets Creator application that installs with PowerGadgets to build the gadget.

A wizard walked me through the gadget-creation process, which consists of selecting the output type, selecting the data source, and customizing the chart. I had to write one SQL query to retrieve the data—but in less than three minutes, I was designing my gadget's user interface (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. PowerGadgets Creator: The figure shows the Gadget Designer in action.
Figure 2. Vista Sidebar with Custom Gadget: The figure shows the finished gadget running in the Vista Sidebar.
After completing the design, I elected to have the output on the desktop. The output can refresh at a selectable interval—I set the update interval to five minutes. Finally, I saved the design, resulting in a PowerGadget (.pgf) file. I added my new PowerGadget from the Windows Vista sidebar, which prompts me to select the .pgf file generated by the Gadget Creator and give the gadget a name. That's it. You can see the finished sidebar PowerGadget in Figure 2.

PowerGadgets designers intelligently included some nice run-time functionality, including a mouse-over event that provides drill-down detail on the gadget's data (see Figure 3). Much more of that runtime functionality becomes available when you add the toolbar at design-time as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3. Drilldown: When users mouse over a bar on the graph, PowerGadget provides a drill-down data callout using the Gadget Details feature.
Figure 4. Expanding Gadgets: Users aren't limited to the small version in the sidebar. The figure shows the custom PowerGadget expanded onto the desktop.

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