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Go wild with widgets

How to achieve 'total information awareness' using a new generation of tiny info-applets

By Mike Elgan
October 27, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Have you embraced the widget movement yet? If not, you will.

Widgets are small, often Internet-connected mini-applications that live on your PC, gathering information, keeping you informed and entertaining you.

Widgets -- also called "gadgets," "objects," "desklets," "docklets" and other names -- can bring you TV, RSS feeds, clocks, weather data, financial information, sports scores, music libraries, real-time system information and a huge variety of other content.

The new generation of widgets and widget-engines emerged in 2000, pioneered by start-ups. The widget concept gained widespread attention with its inclusion in an early beta of Windows Vista and a shipping version of the Mac OS.

Widgets typically run on a proprietary "widget engine" application that must be installed and resident in memory. Most widget platforms offer Web sites where builders can upload and users can download free widgets.

Meet the widgets

Yahoo Widgets (called Konfabulator before Yahoo bought Pixoria in July 2005) is a free JavaScript and XML widget engine that runs on both Mac OS X and Windows.

Microsoft Gadgets is a Windows program, the main version of which is designed to run "docked" to the side of the desktop on a "Sidebar" (maximized windows won't cover them) or on the desktop. Gadgets will ship with the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system. A Windows XP version will become available for download around that time as well. Gadgets run on three platforms: Windows, Web sites (live.com, and others) and on mobile devices. Gadgets are created with DHTML or Microsoft.NET-based languages.

Apple Dashboard based on HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), was first bundled with Mac OS X 10.4. Dashboard widgets do not live on the desktop, but come to the foreground en masse with a hotkey.

Google Desktop is a Windows XP and Windows 2000 indexed file-search utility and widget engine. It displays widgets as "panels" that can exist in the Sidebar or removed and placed on the desktop as well as more graphical "gadgets."

Stardock DesktopX is a shareware application that shipped in 2000 for Windows that emphasizes user-built mini-applications called "objects," "widgets" or "gadgets," depending on whether they're designed to run on a running DesktopX instance, DesktopX-dependent executables or as stand-alone applications, respectively.

Kapsules is a freeware, Windows-based widget application based on ActiveScript and the .NET framework. The site was down at deadline.



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