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New Features in PowerGadgets build 1.0.2588


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Since our first PowerGadgets public build in November 2006 (1.0.2508), we have made a series of bug fixes and added a number of interesting new features, based on our research and customer feedback. The features we have added since the build 1.0.2508 are:

Support for Drilldown: this is one of the features most often required by our customers. Now PowerGadgets supports drilldown through hierarchical data as well as drilldown to a separate script, allowing for very useful scenarios. Drilldown is available through any of the PowerGadgets display cmdlets.

Creation of native Windows Vista Sidebar gadgets: now the PowerGadgets Creator allows packaging gadgets as native Sidebar gadget files (.gadget) allowing for an even easier deployment. Gadget files are highly customizable and can even be signed through a comprehensive wizard. This option is available through the Creator File menu.

Password Encryption: in order to increase the security of our gadgets, we now support password encryption in the PowerGadgets files created with the PG Creator. Passwords can be stored using any of the following methods:

Saved as Clear Text: passwords are not encrypted.

Encrypted using information from the local computer and current user: passwords are encrypted using DPAPI, which is highly secure but can only be decrypted in the same machine/user in which it was encrypted. This is the default option, useful for personal use.

Encrypted using a Digital Signature: passwords are encrypted using a certificate which must be deployed to any computer in which the gadget plans to run.

Clipboard support: cut/copy/paste is now available in the PowerGadgets Creator and the Template Creator. This allows for an easy duplication of a gadget within a group. This also allows you to copy all the features from a template (created using the -config parameter) to a gadget file, and viceversa. Clipboard support is also available through any gadget created using one of the PowerGadgets cmdlets (out-chart, out-gauge and out-map). Pressing Ctrl-C on a running gadget will copy it to the clipboard, which can be then pasted into the PowerGadgets Creator and the Template Creator. The gadget is also copied as a bitmap, in case you want to paste it into another application, such as Word, Excel or any graphical tool.

Enhancements in Gadget Sizing: besides the basic -size <width,height> option provided initially, we have added some preset sizing options (Larger, Large, Medium, Small, Smaller and Icon). Those options are available through the cmdlets -size parameter (even included in tab completion) as well as the Creator (Edit -> Desktop Settings -> Layout...) and more importantly, as an end-user tool (right-click -> Size). One interesting size option we added is Icon, which minimizes the desktop real estate occupied by the gadgets. In the case of charts and maps, each size option changes font sizes and hides/shows tools automatically in order to maximize data display. For example, the legend box's font size is reduced in the Small size and completely hidden in Smaller and Icon sizes. The Icon size option goes even beyond and applies a minimal-ink algorithm, which we also use in our Vista Sidebar gadgets. The following image shows a chart of the current processes (get-process) in three different sizes: Large, Smaller and Icon:

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Sidebar FlyOut support: Windows Sidebar offers an interesting feature called FlyOut, which is typically used to display further information about a gadget when you click on it. One example of the use of FlyOuts is the Feed Headlines gadget included with Vista, which is used to show the details of a news when you click on it. When you click on any gadget created with PowerGadgets, a details FlyOut appears with detailed information about the gadget. In the case of any of our gauges (vertical, linear or digital), the FlyOut shows the details of the different values shown in it, which are normally just a few. In the case of charts and maps, since the number of values shown may be larger than a gauge, the functionality is even more powerful. You can hover the mouse on any of the data points and the chart will highlight such point on the chart (by dimming the rest of the values) and will display the details on the FlyOut window, such as shown below:

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Resource Optimization when refreshing: this enhancement is not too visible but is very important to improve resource usage. Originally, we maintained an open connection to the data provider (database connection or PowerShell session) for self-refreshing gadgets while the gadget was running, regardless of the refresh timespan. This was useful for small refresh times because we didn't have to pay the price of creating a new connection with every refresh, but on the other hand, it maintained an open connection permanently, which was a waste of resources for larger refresh times. Now, we maintain the connection open only if the refresh time is one minute or less. This default behavior can be overridden in the PowerGadgets Creator (Data -> Keep Connection Open).

Sidebar Visibility Support: now the Sidebar gadgets stop refreshing when they are not visible, thus saving resources. There are different scenarios in which the Sidebar gadgets are not visible, such as when you close the Sidebar. Some other scenarios are shown here:

Enhancements in Group Tabs: this new version supports closable tabs, as well as keyboard support for navigation (Ctrl-<index>, Ctrl-Home, Ctrl-End) and closing (Ctrl-W)

ScriptBlocks support improvements: this version now supports specifying scriptblocks in the -values and -label parameters. For example, we now support this:

ps | out-chart -values {$_.Handles + 10} -label {$_.Name + "-" + $_.Company}

ScriptBlocks are also supported in a special XML file we provide for configuring defaults (DefaultViews.xml). We expect to elaborate on the ScriptBlock support capabilities in a different blog post.

Snapins support in Creator: the PowerGadgets Creator now supports access to cmdlets from other registered snapins when using the PowerShell data option.

ODBC support: now we support ODBC natively through the PowerGadgets Creator. It is also supported via the invoke-sql cmdlet; when the connection string starts with ODBC it will use ODBC for connection.

Error Handling in Desktop gadgets: when there is an error trying to refresh the data for a gadget, an error icon will appear in one of the gadget's corners. Clicking on the icon will show a dialog with error details. This feature was previously supported on Sidebar gadgets only.

Credential support: PowerShell credential objects are now supported in the invoke-sql and send-mail cmdlets.

DataSet support in Web Services: now you can use the invoke-webservice cmdlet returning a DataSet and the out-chart, out-gauge and out-map cmdlets will use it properly.

HideFromAltTab support: showing multiple gadgets on your desktop is very useful since it becomes the desktop an ideal dashboard container. However, it may clutter the dialog when you press Alt-Tab to switch among running windows. To avoid this, you can use the -HideFromAltTab parameter with any of our display cmdlets. This option is also available through the PowerGadgets Creator (Edit -> Desktop Settings -> Hide from Alt-Tab).

In future blogs, we plan to elaborate in some of the features exposed above. Feedback regarding new features is always welcome.


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