The cat's mustaches — Of international widgets

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec


The problem

During the Tiger demos, Apple always showed Dashboard under a US-centric light and never really highlighted the international features of this application — well, except for broadcasting a very questionable translation of the words "french fries" that is. Some unfortunate experiences with similar software in the past has led many Mac users to think that Dashboard is, indeed, only useful to users who live in the United States of America — I never thought I'd use that name in full but here it goes.

Luckily, Dashboard is very international-friendly. Indeed, all a widget does is pulling data from a web site so as long as this site can, in some way, provide you with some information about things happening outside the States, you will be able to access that same data from within Mac OS X. Also, contrary to Sherlock channels that required some more involvement from webmasters, releasing a widget for a site is relatively easy.

The Solution

Needless to say, there will be almost one solution per widget. However, the trick, generally speaking, is to understand the format in which the site expects the information to be passed and to translate it. Knowing which site is used as the backend for the widget is usually as easy as «flipping» it by clicking on the little "i" button — normally located in a corner — and looking at any logos or copyright lines that might be included.

Then, by using your web browser of choice, simply have a look at the site and try to find any patterns in the URLs or listings that you can use. Finally, enter your query into the widget exactly as it would appear on the site and it should then be available right from Dashboard.

Said so, that of course sounds like a magistral pain in the port. Luckily, most of the widgets that ship with Mac OS X will automatically adapt to your needs, with no further browsing required. Let's take the weather widget, for example: simply enter the name of your city of residence (in my case "Paris") and press return. The widget will then present you with a list of all the "Paris" it can find worldwide and you will just need to pick the right one in a pop-up menu. Easy, uh? Other widgets like the world clock will not be as lenient in the choice they offer but, in a case as specific as time zones, you are bound, by playing with the pop-up menus, to find a city in the same zone than you — just keep in mind that a city in your vicinity may not be in your time zone.

In some rare instances like with the default Yellow Pages widget, no amount of URL hacking will provide you with the information you are looking for. This is a relatively uncommon situation as more and more large database sites try to get an international reach but it does exist. In that case, a quick trip to the Mac OS X downloads site should get you what you need — keeping in mind all what you learnt about downloading and installing applications from third-parties on the web.

A side note

While Apple did not ignore international users with Dashboard, contrary to what some publications might have said, their marketing department certainly did not do the best of jobs explaining it. You might want to send feedback to the engineering team explaining what would have helped you better find your way around the international features of our beloved operating system.

2 Comments

waynesmallman
2005-05-08 11:58:51
Let your mouse do the walking?
Well, not quite!


I don't bother with the weather, less said about puzzles, clocks, calculators and like, the better.


So not having an Anglicized version of the Yellow Pages really does shoot Dashboard right through the head...

F.J.
2005-05-08 12:48:37
Let your mouse do the walking?
Hi!


First of all, thanks for taking the time to write! :^)


Maybe a widget such as this one would be of help? (Note that I haven't tried it myself.)


Truly yours,
FJ