Desktop gadgets was a great feature of Windows 7 and it enabled small utilities and information panels to be displayed on the desktop. Unfortunately, Microsoft abandoned widgets and they are no longer in Windows 8. In some ways Rainmeter is like desktop gadgets, only more flexible and more powerful.
It is hard to describe Rainmeter and displaying desktop gadgets is just one of its functions. It can actually take over the whole desktop and skin it. Take a look at this:
This is Windows 7 with a Rainmeter skin. Skins provide the widgets that are displayed on the desktop (all those tiles are separate widgets) and the graphics to display them. You can have just one skin in use, but sometimes there can be two or more. It depends on how they work.
Here is another view of the Windows desktop, this time using widgets from a couple of different skins. (Rainmeter works on Windows XP to 8 and I'm just using 7 for screen shots.)
The widgets on the right are from the default skin that is bundled with Rainmeter and they display the time and date, system information such as the CPU, RAM and swap file usage, and the amount of free space on each of the drives in the PC.
The other widgets are from a different theme and this circular dial shows the amount of memory currently being used. It’s like a speedometer dial, with percentages around the outside and the RAM usage displayed in the middle.
There are many skins and many widgets that can be displayed on the desktop.
Rainmeter itself is an open source program and it can be downloaded from rainmeter.net. Install it and run it. There is an option to start it automatically with Windows or run it manually and it is up to you.
Rainmeter adds an icon to the right side of the taskbar and if you cannot see it, click the little triangle to display the hidden notification icons. Click the raindrop.
The left panel shows the skins and the widgets like folders in an Explorer window. Dig down until you get to an xxx.ini item, select it and click the Load button to add it to the desktop. Click Unload to remove it.
That’s basically it. You just select and load the widgets you want on the desktop. If they don’t appear where you want, just click and drag them into position. The Layouts tab enables you to name and save the current desktop layout.
Rainmeter skins containing widgets and graphics are available from several different websites and there are links to them at http://rainmeter.net/discover. For example at Customize.org there are 98 pages of them with 15 to a page. You just download the skin and double click it in the Downloads folder to install it. Afterwards, open the Rainmeter window and browse the widgets in the skins list. Add the ones you want to use.
Rainmeter is a good alternative to desktop gadgets and it pushes the idea much further than Microsoft ever went with it. What’s more, it works on all versions of Windows, from XP up to Windows 8, neither of which were supported by Microsoft desktop gadgets.