Tag Archives: Dashboard

More Widgets, This Time from Google

This whole widget thing seems to be taking off. Opera has released a preview version with widgets built in, and now Google have offered something. The new beta of the Google Desktop includes what aren’t being called widgets but should be, as described by Mihai Ionescu, one of the engineers behind the Desktop : 

As a Sidebar user, you can now customize and view personalized information anywhere on the the desktop by clicking and dragging your favorite panels wherever you like. Furthermore, you can now easily share information from your Sidebar panels with your contacts by sending it to them through email, chat or directly to their Sidebar. As an added bonus you and your contacts can also play online games through the Sidebar.

I haven’t checked this out yet, but I will.

Opera Gets Widgetized

The Opera browser continues to impress, even as it becomes less and less relevant in the face of the mighty Firefox. This week Opera’s preview puts widgets on stage according to CNET :

Opera Software on Tuesday plans to release a second preview version of Opera 9, the next version of its namesake Web browser. For the first time, the new version will include support for so-called widgets, Opera representative Thomas Ford said. Widgets are essentially small browser windows that display information taken from the Internet on a user’s desktop. The notion is similar in concept to the widget idea that Apple Computer uses in the Dashboard feature of Mac OS X.

“It is really a big jump for us into Web applications,” Ford said. “They give people the information they want right on the desktop. Even if it is a Web page, people don’t have to go to the browser to see it.”

Actually Windows users have had access to widgets for a while, via Klips and Konfabulator, now bought and rebranded by the folks at Yahoo! as straight Widgets. I’m a big fan of widgets but I find I don’t use them as much as I should. It’ll be interesting to see how Opera handles it. The preview version also includes support for BitTorrent, the file distribution protocol.

Yahoo! Follows Loose Wire Advice, Buys Konfabulator

You probably knew this, but the Blessing of Loose Wire strikes again: Yahoo! buys Konfabulator, a widget manufacturer I wrote about in a recent column:

Yahoo! has bought Konfabulator, the software that brought widgets to the Mac and latterly to Windows.

Apple has since developed its own widget environment, Dashboard, and integrated it into the latest version of OS X. It was assumed that Konfabulator would quietly die; instead the developers brought out a Windows version good enough to attract the attention of the Internet search giant.

Widgets are small, floating applications that give access to specific information or tools, and provide easy and quick access to Web-based data without needing to resort to a browser. Popular widgets include weather and stock trackers and a yellow pages search.

Yahoo! are expected to use the technology to make it easier to access its services and, like Apple, is keen for developers to build their own widgets.

‘We are lowering the bar and letting people do a lot more with our material,’ said Toni Schneider, vice president of the company’s developer network.

Avid readers (hi, Mum!) may recall that as soon as I wrote a column about oddPost it was bought by Yahoo!. Then, shortly after I wrote about the email program Bloomba, they bought that. If they like I can suggest some other purchases…

More On Klips

In today’s Asian Wall Street Journal and in WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) I talk about widgets as an alternative, or addition, to RSS. The two widgets, or dashboards, I look at are Klips, just into version 3, and Konfabulator (I know the latest Mac OS has a dashboard, but I don’t have access to a Mac right now, so I’ll take a look at that later).

Here are some of my favorite Klips:

  • Sun Cam: Not a webcam focused on Sun, but on the sun (although it’s throwing up a ‘CDD Bakeout’ message right now)
  • CustomWeather: displays seven-day extended forecasts for any one of over 58,000 locations around the world
  • Google News: gathers stories from more than 4,500 news sources in English worldwide
  • BBC klips: a whole bunch of them, from news to listings
  • TeleTrader Index Monitor: as Allan Wille points out in his interview, Europe is more excited about Klips than North America. This one lets you choose from the list of stock indices provided by (German stock website) TeleTrader AG and monitors each of those indices.

Would love to hear from folk who have their own favorites.

The Buzztracker Widget

Craig Mod of the excellent buzztracker news/map visualizer tells me of a new tool he’s created for Mac Tiger users: the buzztracker widget:

The buzztracker widget allows you to add live buzztracker images and data to your desktop using Apple OS X 10.4’s Dashboard.

The widget features hooks into buzztracker.org, allowing you to instantly access the day’s top location data and newest maps.

Here’s what it looks like:

I am very jealous, and quietly hoping a Windows version is in the offing. If you haven’t tried out buzztracker, I suggest you do. It’s a wonderful mind-opener.

Widgets And The Active Desktop

Steve Rubel tells of the imminent launch of Konfabulator for Windows, “a wildly popular OS X application that lets you run little apps called Widgets“. From what I can see Widgets are small applications that sit on your desktop and do things like collect data, tell you the time, inform you of new email, that kind of thing. It looks great, but I have some reservations about how this might work on Windows.

I’ve noticed how there seems to be one fundamental difference between Windows and Macs: Maximising Windows. Most folk using Windows seem to use their programs so they take up the full screen — indeed, that is the default for many programs. Mac software doesn’t think like that. The key is when you double click the bar along the top of a window: In Windows that will toggle between maximising the window; on a Mac it will hide the window. (Another example of this is difference is that there is no maximise button on a Mac window, while there is on Windows.)

Why is this important? Well, assuming I’m right on this (I’m no Mac expert, and I certainly don’t know the history behind maximising windows on Macs), the desktop (your screen, basically) is a more valuable place for Mac users. It’s unlikely a Mac desktop will be smothered by open programs, because of this lack of maximising. For Windows users, it’s much less likely this is true. For most users, having one or more programs open will usually mean their desktop is hidden from view. The only way to alter that is to reduce the size of open programs, minimize them, or to right click on the Windows taskbar and choose ‘Show Desktop’.

This is why the System Tray — the thing at the right-bottom corner of the screen — is so important in Windows. It serves as a place to collect stuff and to offer at least some information to the user. I’m not going to get into which is the better design here, but to me this is one clear reason why Microsoft’s Active Desktop — the closest forebear to Konfabulation’s Widgets, I’d suggest — never took off. Active Desktop offered a screen alive with information and little widgets keeping you informed of, er, the time, new email arriving and other data. But it never really worked. After all, what’s the point of an active desktop if you can’t see it?

I wish Konfabulation luck, and perhaps they’ve got a way around this problem. I can imagine that if you allow the widgets to sit above existing windows, this argument might be moot. But, once again, I don’t believe many Windows users enjoy having stuff overlapping or sitting atop active windows, which may explain why great products like Klips have only a limited audience. Probably, in the end, it comes down to Microsoft figuring out that as screen sizes grow, the old default maximising approach no longer makes sense.

The Future Of Data – Watch That Dial

Here’s something to separate you from the rest of the boardroom: The Executive Dashboard.

As far as I can work out it’s a three-panel board of dials, upon which you hook prepared overlays of, for example, the countdown to your next sales meeting, the number of emails waiting for you, or how the market is doing. Data is fed to the dashboard through a national radio network, prodding the needles up the dial.

Not a bad idea. The approach is to have information seamless appear in the environment, rather than thrust at you — ‘push’ — or at the end of a long corridor called the Internet — ‘pull’. As the folks at Ambient Devices say, their vision “to embed information representation in everyday objects, making the physical environment a seamless interface to digital information”. (These are the guys who made the Ambient Orb, which “slowly transitions between thousands of colors to show changes in the weather, the health of your stock portfolio, or if your boss or kid is on instant messenger.”)