NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2011
Free Weather on Your Desktop
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


Regardless of the time of the year, we are always subject to the whims of the weather. Here in southeast Texas, we have a saying, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a few hours and it will change". I am not so geocentric as to think that we are the only ones with rapidly changing weather patterns, as I have heard similar expressions from others all over the country. Some locals think that it is strange to need air conditioning for part of a day, and heat for the other part of the day, but this phenomenon is common everywhere. Between home and work, I almost always have a computer on, and one of my personal idiosyncrasies is that I like to know what is going on meteorologically around me. Back in March 1994, before fancy computers and smart phones were common, I created my own weather website (beaumontweather.com) to track local weather conditions; now I have live weather on the desktop on all of my computers. What is nice about desktop weather is that it is always on while the computer is online, and does not require that a browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) be open or loaded.

On my more modern computers (Vista and Windows 7), my personal favorite is a free sidebar gadget from Weather Underground (wunderground.com/download/vista.asp). This gadget installs on a Windows 7 or Vista desktop in seconds, and can be configured for any part of the country by city or zip code. About the size of a large postage stamp, and consuming negligible processing power, this gadget shows the current temperature (selectable in Fahrenheit or Celsius), current conditions, and the temperature range for the day. Clicking on the arrow on the top left corner opens up a tabbed selection of additional information including live weather radar, detailed local conditions, and local live webcams. For those using Windows XP, Weather Underground offers what it calls a "Weather Sticker" (wunderground.com/index.php/Weather_Stickers) which can be placed on the XP desktop. The process to place a Weather Sticker on your computer is easy, provided the instructions on the Weather Sticker page are followed. Unlike the single Weather Underground gadget for Windows 7 and Vista, there are currently 34 different Weather Stickers available in a variety of sizes, colors, and formats. While not as quick and convenient as a gadget, the Weather Stickers can also be installed on Vista or Windows 7.

Another source of free desktop weather information which works on almost all Windows and Mac computers is the 211 "widgets" available from Yahoo!. The most popular of the Yahoo! weather widgets, "Yahoo! Weather" (http://widgets.yahoo.com/widgets/yahoo-weather), has been downloaded over 6 million times, and is one of the most widely used desktop weather utilities. Yahoo! Weather shows the current conditions and five day forecast for the selected default city, and can easily display multiple cities all over the world. As with all other Yahoo! Widgets, the basic Widget utility (which is free) must be downloaded and installed. Other weather Widgets available from Yahoo! can display current radar images, satellite images, storm warnings, and other weather information.

Microsoft offers 101 weather related Sidebar Gadgets that generally work on Vista and Windows 7. While several of the gadgets are nationally oriented (like Australia or Ireland), most display local weather. Some of the gadgets are from well known sources, such as the Weather Channel, while others utilize information from the National Weather Service. Several of the gadgets display live Doppler or satellite images, but read the description and reviews before installing one or more of them. One proviso that is appropriate for the Microsoft Sidebar Gadgets is to inform the user that many of the gadgets, including some of the most creative gadgets, only display information for a specific city or country, and cannot be readily configured to display more local information. Possibly the most widely used desktop weather gadget of them all is WeatherBug, with over 27 million copies downloaded. According to the Weather Bug listing on the Microsoft gadget website, "(WeatherBug can) Receive live weather conditions for anywhere in the world on your Sidebar. Get detailed forecasts, radar, weather cameras, and severe weather alerts from any of WeatherBug’s 8,000 Tracking Stations." While very popular, some of the reviews posted on the Microsoft Gadget website have been very critical of this gadget, and users should read some of the reviews before installing WeatherBug from Microsoft gadgets, or any other source. Other localized builds of the desktop version of WeatherBug are often available for download from local TV stations, or directly from WeatherBug at weather.weatherbug.com.

While I am not generally a fan of screen savers, there is a very interesting free weather screen saver available from YoWindow (yowindow.com). This screen saver shows detailed current weather information, sky conditions, forecasts, and other information; the image also changes brightness to display the conditions outside, as if you were looking out "Yo Window". The free screen saver displays a three day forecast, and can display up to two cities, while the paid version ($10 for a lifetime subscription) can display multiple cities and longer forecasts. As a screen saver, YoWindow can display any selected image by clicking on "Landscape - Turn your photo into landscape", which will import and convert any compatible image. There are also instructions to make the sky transparent such that YoWindow can show actual current sky conditions rather than the sky in the original image. The YoWindow screensaver, when active, also places the current temperature on the task bar, and moving the mouse over the temperature on the taskbar displays the detailed current weather conditions.

With these, and many other desktop weather utilities available, there is no reason that we should not be aware of what is going on meteorologically around us.

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