Saturday, July 28, 2007

Widgets, Gadgets and Applets (oh my!)

I love widgets!
For those who haven't heard of these tiny little helper programs, a widget is an applet (an application running in the context of another application - such as a Java applet running inside a browser) that runs on your desktop.
Widgets will usually show information in a graphical way, or will show data from a web service or an RSS feed.
I usually have at least a calendar available, along with some CPU/memory statistics. Sometimes I add weather, news feed etc.
I'm running 3 operating systems: XP, Vista and Mac OS 10.4. Each has its own widget engine:

Windows XP

XP has many engines available, but the most common by far is Konfabulator (bought by Yahoo and renamed to Yahoo Widgets). A gallery of available widgets can be found here and there are literally thousands available.

PS: each widget runs as a separate process, so you can use task manager or Process Explorer to make sure not too many resources are consumed by your "helper" applications.

Windows Vista

In Vista, these are called "gadgets" and reside in the sidebar - a new Vista feature, that is part of the operating system.
More gadgets for Vista can be found here

Mac OS X

On the Mac, widgets are also part of the operating system and can be shown or hidden quite easily, using a feature called "dashboard".
You can find some mac widgets here.

PS: there's a version of Yahoo Widgets for Mac as well - allowing for cross-platform widgets.


Widgets are usually easy to develop. They are written in a mixture of JavaScript and XML (that means you can use a text editor to write them). It's the task of the engine to parse the file and render the widget - allowing for cross-platform widgets (or easy conversions).
Konfabulator even provides a "my-first-widget" wizard. Think of any information you may want to show on the desktop, and you can develop a widget to show it.

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