Windows has a checkered history with widgets.
Vista had the Windows Sidebar, a collection of widgets (then called “gadgets”) that provided visible information on one side of your desktop. Windows 7 allowed you to place these gadgets anywhere you wanted on your desktop, but these were eventually deemed a security risk and eventually discontinued.
Then Windows 8 and Windows 10 ditched traditional widgets in favor of Live Tiles. These were Start menu items that also acted as application launchers and searchable information sources.
With Windows 11, Microsoft returned to traditional widgets and had the chance to make them as useful as they are on our smartphones. Instead, the company has severely limited widgets by consolidating them into a hidden side panel. Since the Widgets Panel is only accessible via a shortcut or taskbar button, it is intended to be ignored by the majority of users.
Admittedly, there are also very few widgets currently available in the first place. But with rumors that Microsoft will soon open the feature to third-party developers, I hope the company will make the feature more convenient. I wish I could quickly check my to-do list information, track my fitness goals, or view the status of my smart devices whenever I visit my computer.
As it stands, Windows 11 widgets fail at what makes them most useful on other platforms: the ability to provide information without requiring you to search for it.
Fortunately, the solution is simple. Although I don’t think the widget panel should go away, Microsoft should give users the ability to pin widgets to the desktop (or start menu) as well.
It all boils down to one bad decision: to view widgets on Windows 11 right now, you either need to use the Win + W shortcut or press a taskbar button. I’d bet most Windows 11 users don’t even know this feature exists. the only way most people know is if they’re a nerd who follows tech news or if they discovered the feature by accident.
But even if you To do know about widgets, the real problem is that Microsoft asks users to change his behavior to use widgets. It’s just something most people won’t do, including many of us who would regularly use widgets.
Compare that to widgets on Android: what makes them so useful is that they allow me to take in information without having to walk around to find it (and without resorting to annoying notifications).
Just visiting my home screen — something I do dozens of times a day — provides a reminder about the weather, today’s date, my remaining calories, and my to-do list. I literally don’t have to do whatever to get information from Android widgets other than using my phone like I already do. And it’s a similar story with iOS, which added widgets in 2020.
There’s no reason I could get more information at a glance on my small phone screen than on my 32-inch desktop screen. It’s even more confusing after learning that Microsoft is planning to introduce “stickers” that can be pinned to the desktop – which apparently offer none of the functionality of widgets.
I understand the concept behind storing widgets in a panel. When the company announced Windows 11, the focus was on the new design promoting a sense of “calmness”. That’s part of the reason the Start menu has been simplified so dramatically, with some of its functionality reduced. This is why Live Thumbnails have been removed. It’s also what informs the overall aesthetic of Windows 11, with its softer edges and multitude of transparencies.
But do something see simpler does not necessarily make life Easier for the user. As I wrote in my Start Menu rant, reducing functionality for aesthetic reasons is ultimately just plain boring, especially for an operating system that prides itself on accommodating its power users.
Pressing a shortcut to access the Widget Panel might not seem like a hindrance, and I’m glad the Widget Panel has remained for those who want to keep all that information in one place. But I suspect for most users this is the equivalent of buying a fancy kitchen appliance but keeping it tucked away in a cupboard. You will never end up using it.
It’s like they say: out of sight, out of mind. Except in this case, it’s not a good thing.