I saw "sidebar" demonstrations from Yahoo and Microsoft this week, and this is shaping up to be the new battleground for the hearts and minds of the Net-surfing public. For those of you who are not familiar, sidebars are always-present Web services positioned on your PC screen no matter what other application you're using. They can be in a vertical stack on the side of the screen or in discrete pieces called gadgets or widgets. People expect common services to include search, RSS news feeds, e-mail, IM, weather, stock tickers, and photo slide shows. Google's sidebar is already out in beta. Yahoo's goes into beta in June. And Microsoft's is in the Windows Vista mass beta, due out later this month.
All three will work about the same. Microsoft will have the advantage of easy links to Outlook and other applications, but Yahoo, at least, is busy producing software patches that will sync its Web services with Microsoft's applications and other popular apps. Yahoo also plans mini versions of its sidebar technology on mobile phones and other mobile devices.
It seems to me that many consumers will live their digital lives in their sidebars--especially teen-agers and people in their 20s. You'll only pick one, so, in each individual case, it's winner take all. So the race is on to produce the sidebar technology that's easiest to use and modify and that has the most compelling features.
The Search battle is important, to be sure, but search is just one of many things consumers want to do on othe Web. Sidebars? Now that's the ticket. This battle brings to mind the head-to-head fight between Netscape and Microsoft--only, this time, Microsoft won't be able to leverage its Windows monopoly quite as much.
Let the contest begin.