A month after Vista was released marked the beginning of an amazing application called Start++. It adds features that make the usefulness of Vista’s Start Menu more than double what it is out-of-the-box. The primary focus of the application is on the “startlets” which helps the Start Menu’s search box perform similarly to keyword searches in Firefox and Opera.
By default, there are several different keyword searches in Start++. Doing things like “g CyberNet News” would perform a Google search for “CyberNet News” in your browser. You can setup and customize which commands are available, or you can download ones that others have made.
It also has some advanced search capabilities that allow you to quickly compile playlists for songs, or search for images. An example of this can be seen by typing “play metallica” into the Vista Start Menu. Start++ will recognize the command, compile a playlist with songs matching “metallica,” and then start playing the playlist in your media player. That’s pretty darn cool!
Now there is a brand new feature in the latest release of Start++ called gadgets. No, this is not exactly like the gadgets on your homepage, nor is it like widgets (which are commonly referred to as gadgets). The Start++ gadgets are actually embedded websites in your Start Menu.
Pictured above is the gadget manager for Start++. By default it comes with 6 different gadgets, and you can create or install more as you wish (in the screenshot the last four that are listed were ones that I added). To install one of the gadgets you just download the one that you want, double-click to run the file, and then you can completely remove the file from the computer. You’re not really “installing” a Gadget when you run it, instead it’s more like you’re importing the information into Start++.
I know I know, I thought this whole thing sounded like a dumb idea at first as well. After all, viewing sites is what a browser is for, not the Start Menu. However, many sites are creating mobile-friendly siblings now, especially for the iPhone, and most of those can be viewed in your Vista Start Menu.
So how do they work, and what do they do? Start++ gadgets are powered by Internet Explorer 7. I was going to take a bunch of screenshots and post them here, but I thought it would be better to run you through a video demonstration of the different functionalities:
- The “ZoomFactor” option in the gadget manager controls how big the text appears when sites are displayed in the Start Menu. Shrinking the text down to a reasonable size may prevent the need for scrolling.
- If a website requires some scrolling you can use Ctrl+Up/Down or Page Up/Down .
This is honestly one of the most impressive add-ons that I’ve seen for Vista. It took an already great feature (Vista’s integrated search) and extended it to the point that it can almost make a power user weep. Okay, it might not make you weep, but I guarantee that any power user will love this.