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Is there a good dashboard-like app for Windows?

I mean the functionality that exists in for example MacOS or KDE, where you press a button, and a fullscreen window appears, on which you can manually define gadgets/elements. When you press the button again, the window dissapears, and you return to the exact state you were before.

You can kind-of achieve the same functionality by simply placing gadgets on the desktop and then Win+D each time you want to get to it, but seems way too slow (if there are many programs open that will require swapping when minimizing them). Also, it automatically displays the desktop icons, which might not always be desirable (you can hide them completely with a desktop option, but what if you want to see them when you do open the desktop?), and having a dedicated dashboard would be the best anyway.

Also it would be very nice if this dashboard program would support showing a contents of a specific directory (I know for example KDE can do that). (Not the shortcut to the directory, which can be done on the desktop.)

Some options that I have discovered: (maybe there are plugins to them which will make the needed functionality?)

  • Stardock Fences: It only modifies the desktop, you still have to minimize all windows to get to it. It lets you group your shortcuts into rectangles, but there isn't even an option to have a rectangle that will display a certain directory. You have to place shortucts into the rectangle one by one then.

  • Rainmeter: A great app for widgets, but 1) you still have to minimize everything to get to it and 2) there does not seem to be a plugin/skin to display a directory's contents... UPD: There is a way fix 1). You can run the rainmeter .exe with some command line options (while the host rainmeter app already running), which will cause all the existing rainmeter gadgets to become always-on-top, effectively making them into a dashboard. With a shortcut app one could make a keyboard shortcut which would call the rainmeter .exe with those parameters, achieving the exact needed functionality. (There are other parameters to un-always-on-top them of course.) Now if only there was a clickable directory list plugin...

  • Simply going with native Windows Gadgets. But there are no gadgets to display specific directory contents either?

update: new info: there are some command line commands in rain meter which can be used to bring all the widgets to top, and they will display on top of everthing. So that's good, but I still don't know how to display a directory listing.

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Which version of Windows? –  Geoff Apr 25 '12 at 13:09
    
Any solutions that work with some version(s) are welcome, but I would like to use it with 7. –  Cray Apr 25 '12 at 13:19
    
Have you found the Win-Space keyboard shortcut? It displays your desktop without actually minimising running applications, so may avoid paging (haven't checked). It's not actually a dashboard app, and doesn't show the folder contents you're looking for, so I'm not proposing it as an answer - more as a possible workaround. –  Geoff Apr 25 '12 at 13:27
    
Win-Space may do that, I have to test. However, Win-Space does not seem to work if Aero is not running. (for example on lower-end computers, if it notices that there is too little memory or something, it turns off aero (all transparency effects dissapear)). It's the same with Win+Tab, it depends on Aero as well. But thanks anyway, Geoffrey Peterson :P (that's where your name is from, right? :P) –  Cray Apr 26 '12 at 8:27
    
After testing, when Aero is on, Win-Space does hide all windows and leaves desktop gadgets on, but they can't be clicked, only viewed. –  Cray May 4 '12 at 20:22
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4 Answers

WinLaunch sounds like it may do what you want. It's a Mac OS X style launchpad: http://winlaunch.bplaced.net/

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Launch pad is for launching full applications from shortcuts/icons. OP wants an app that holds widgets. –  xdumaine Apr 25 '12 at 14:05
    
Just to clarify why this answer is not accepted, winlaunch does not have widgets nor (which is the main point) the custom-chosen directory listing widget. (As far as I could see.) –  Cray Apr 27 '12 at 16:09
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The free and ultra-customizable RocketDock might be a solution.
It is a Mac-style dock that can also contain programs and windows as elements.

It also supports add-ons, also called docklets, which are user-programmable applets, that allow you to write your own widgets. A large gallery of contributed add-ons is available here.

Another similar possibility is ObjectDock, of which there are free and commercial versions.
(RocketDock also supports ObjectDock docklets.)

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This isn't the exact thing you asked for.

but still, try xwindowsdock.

yes, i know it's a dock not dashboard.

but, configure it to autohide, just like windows taskbar. And, it sports stacks and jumplists that can browse inside folders. That pretty much satisfies your requirements i guess. Added bonus is it is exactly like OS X dock.

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I would like to confirm: with this you can make an icon, upon clicking on which it will display an arbitrary directory list. This is better than the startmenu alternative in a sense that you can choose any directory, but this is obviously a dock, and the startmenu is "more like a dashboard" (comes out with a shortcut) than this :P –  Cray May 4 '12 at 20:19
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Maybe i'm just being stupid (i'm not familiar with Mac dashboard, i've used Mac's but nothing more)... But doesn't Windows 8 do what you require?

The interface you've been linked (or apps to achieve it) all look similar to the Metro interface (within Windows 8).

Also could'nt you just use the Start Menu to achieve what you want?


Edit:

I was able to add a 'folder' to the start menu (and accessable from) by including the folder in my user area (i.e. C:\Users\Haydn) and turning on the option in Start Menu Properties, Customise, Personal folder, View as menu as follows:

Which gives you something like the following:

Instead of the Desktop (as in my example) you could use any folder of your choosing, all of it's contents will then be viewable from a few clicks of the Start Menu.

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I am not sure about Windows 8, and while yes, technically solutions for any versions of windows are welcome, W8 is not even out yet. To test this functionality one would have to switch to a beta/preview OS. How do you mean with start menu? If I pin a folder there, the shortcut just opens a new window with that folder upon clicking. (it won't display the file list inside that folder directly) –  Cray May 3 '12 at 14:51
    
You're right, Microsoft removed the functionality from Windows 7 (possibly Vista too) of being able to display a folders contents from the Start Menu. I have found a way around this - I use it for opening files from my desktop without interrupting what i'm doing; details above. –  HaydnWVN May 4 '12 at 14:48
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Now I see what you mean. This is not the answer I was looking for (it isn't a dashboard, as it can't have other widgets, and the directory listing functionality is only sort-of right (you can only list folders inside your user folder (you can mess around with symlinks of course), and you have to mouseover/click to get there. A true widget would display file list directly.), but this is the "least wrong" answer (being built-into windows and sort of working best of all other answers), so since SO forces me to give bounty to someone, you get it :P –  Cray May 4 '12 at 20:15
    
Thanks! Rather surprising that Microsoft actually removed some functionality from Windows as this was much easier on XP lol :) –  HaydnWVN May 8 '12 at 7:25
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