Whither widgets?

by Robert Daeley

I just noticed that in the Unit Converter Dashboard Widget (the default one that comes with Tiger), there's a little band across the top of its window that changes depending on what you've chosen from the popup. So Area has a grid pattern, Currency has what looks like a border pattern from paper money, Energy is a row of batteries, etc.

I've found my usage of Dashboard has fallen off lately. The four widgets I leave open are the Calculator, the Unit Converter, the Weather with the forecast exposed (important prior to hikes and bike rides ;), and a Calendar. I don't truly have a need for much else that I don't get elsewhere.

If I want to look up a Wikipedia article, I'll probably shift to Firefox if I'm not already there, Command-L to the Location field, and type wiki foobar which will in a moment bring up the fine Foobar article.

The standalone Dictionary.app (under /Applications) works great as well and stays open in the background if I want to head back to the terminal window for a moment. Same goes for iTunes, Address Book, and Stickies.

On the other hand, a set of World Clock instances works great if I'm trying to figure out what time it is for my various friends scattered over the globe. I just don't usually have them open constantly.

So the ballyhooed* return of Desk Accessories to the Mac is hit or miss, but there are niches where it is good to have, at least for me. What about y'all? Are you still using Dashboard?


A bonus hint I mentioned in the comments of another article here... using Spotlight is a great way to quickly open a desired Dashboard widget without all of the usual steps (especially one that isn't already open). Just hit Command-Space, then start typing the name of the widget -- for example, U-N-I-T. The Unit Converter widget will show up under Applications. Best of all, if the one you choose isn't open already, it will pop it into existence in Dashboard automatically.


* from Dictionary: verb ( -hoos , -hooed ) [ trans. ] praise or publicize extravagantly : [as adj. ] ( ballyhooed) a much-ballyhooed musical extravaganza. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: American coinage of unknown origin.

What about y'all? Are you still using Dashboard?


2005-11-03 10:35:08
i use widgets all the time
i have calculator, address book, css reference, php reference, log viewer, and wiki widgets. i use them often throughout the day.
2005-11-03 10:43:53
Use them too!
Especially the stock watcher to track Apple's ascent past the $60 mark :)
2005-11-03 10:51:22
I like 'em, but I'm still looking for that killer widget
Hi Robert,

I can honestly say that I definitely still use the widgets. Some of my favorites are the iTunes widget (I hate having the entire iTunes app open), a Ruby documentation widget, and of course I absolutely love the Peal Lyrics widget (I'm always checking it to find out the lyrics to a song I'm currently playing).

Nevertheless, I am still searching for that one widget I can't live without, or if nothing else, it would be nice if Apple could find a way to reduce the time it takes for the widgets to start up. That's really annoying and quite often it is enough of an incentive for me to use another application rather than use Dashboard.

Bottom line--give me a faster startup time and one widget that I can't live without, and I'll never use anything else.

2005-11-03 11:33:04
I don't
I tried using Dashboard right when I installed Tiger. It drove me nuts. I then figured out how to put widgets on the Desktop, which I used for a while.

After a while though, the difference in window and display behavior between widgets and regular programs drove me nuts.

Why can't Apple just give us real virtual desktops? That would be so much more useful to me in my workflow than Dashboard.

I have Dashboard out of my dock now and I don't even think about it. Spotlight is a much more useful tool to me, especially the integration with Mail.


2005-11-03 11:36:25
I think the best widget is SysStat, which is a nice, compact system monitor. The dashboard is ideal for these sorts of tools; I find the desktop monitors very intrusive.
2005-11-03 12:02:07
I still use them
Weather, of course, I use daily. Particularly with our changeable Colorado weather.

I use the IMDB widget multiple times per day to look up actors, movies, TV shows. This helps eliminate that nagging "where have I seen that guy before" feeling I get a lot when watching TV. (Also my wife has this thing about how tall people are so I look that up as well. Don't ask.)

Dashflix comes in handy when tracking my queue.

So while Dashboard might not have been the Second Coming (in a secular sense, of course), they're still quite useful for some of us. The trick that seems to bug most folks at first is integrating them with your workflow.

2005-11-03 12:04:33
I don't
It's funny you mention virtual desktops, as the idea for this article came whilst I was surfing info on those. Have you tried Desktop Manager? Open source and highly regarded.


2005-11-03 12:07:01
I still use them
Heh, I use the same trick for IMDB as for wikipedia that I mentioned in the post:

imdb house of wax

Which we just got from netflix ourselves. :) Dashflix I'll have to check out.

2005-11-03 12:10:47
I use Dashboard daily. My favorite is definitely Wimic. Since I don't get the newspaper anymore, I haven't really read many comic strips for the past couple of years. Since getting Wimic, I've started reading a bunch of old favorites again, in addition to some new ones that never appeared in my local paper. On top of that, the Gas Widget is great, and Panic's Transmit widget is nice for a quick file upload.

Wimic - http://www.dashboardwidgets.com/showcase/details.php?wid=525

Gas - http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/transportation/gas.html

2005-11-03 14:32:43
Definitely in use here
Calculator is a must, as is Google Page Rank Search, the PHP reference, Package tracker and a couple I've built myself to monitor certain variables on a bunch of sites I've built/run.

The hand built ones are the most useful, as without them, I would have to log in to the admin area of the sites,one by one, and navigate to the area in there that had the info I was after.

Hitting one key and seeing it all, for a bunch of sites at once is a *huge* bonus.

2005-11-03 17:48:57
Not useful..
The only dashboard widget I use is "Stop Dashboard" which takes Dashboard out of use to save memory.

Seriously folks - widgets are much better implemented on Konfabulator - which I also stopped using.

2005-11-03 18:35:33
Yup, still using 'em
I have almost 30 widgets running at any one time, but the most useful ones are:

iClip lite

Percount Nano




These i check constantly and i agree, wimic is really a great widget, but i sure dont have the time anymore to check my favorite comics. =P

2005-11-03 18:37:07
Not useful..
There is a really great System preference plugin called DashOnOff. Really simple, does what it says; nothing more, nothing less.


2005-11-04 08:13:01
don't touch it
I killed Dashboard as soon as I figured out how to. I wanted to like it--really--but the way it works just annoys me.

There are two uses for widgets: passive display of information created elsewhere (like the weather widget) and active manipulation of data (like a calculator or dictionary interface).

For the former, I'd rather have the information always be visible in some kind of minimal or ghosted (and less gimmicky) form on my desktop. Sort of like Stattoo, although that's a little too constricted.

For the latter there is always another tool that does the same thing, and I've already developed habits centered around those tools.

2005-11-04 09:34:23
But I can't live without the Kanji to Romaji/Hiragana translation Widget from http://www.j-talk.com/nihongo/

Those Japanese mails used to drive me nuts. But that's a pretty obscure one for such a touted system.

2005-11-04 09:39:54
I only use them occasionally
I tend to use apps in a nonmodal, parallel way. That's why I stopped using widgets. Widgets are, and I dare say it, non-Mac-like. Most of them aren't resizable. Standard keyboard shortcuts don't work. Context menus don't work. You can't access other applications when you're in Dashboard. I know there are ways to free widgets from the evil twin Dashboard universe, but I can't be bothered.

Take stock quotes, for example. I can either keep pressing the Dashboard key to check a limited amount of quote info on a tiny square of screen space, or I can just keep a large, spacious, customized, information-filled stock page in a Safari tab. Thanks to OS X shortcuts, no matter what application you are in you can reach any Safari tab in just a couple of keystrokes.

As screens get bigger with higher resolutions, it's now more and more possible to keep relevant information visible, alongside your main applications. Dashboard widgets directly attack this way of working, by forcing you out of your workspace and cramming you into those little tiles of incomplete information. It's extremely ironic that Apple wants to sell us a 30" display and use tiny, limiting Dashboard widgets. I only use widgets for info that I don't need to see all the time and that isn't already available as a web page. But if you need functionality the Web can't provide, why not just quick-open a small standalone utility with Spotlight, a utility that is probably more capable than any 3 widgets put together? For example, I can use one of those wireless-network monitor widgets, or I can Spotlight-launch iStumbler in just a few keystrokes and see much more information.

For all these reasons, Dashboard is hardly ever launched around here.

2005-11-04 09:43:58
In one word, yes.

I have probably, two dozen widgets floating around on my Dashboard. Most I do not use horribly frequently, but I do check my Weather, do my Japanese Homework (thank you wisho), look up Wikipedia articles and dictionary definition, post to LiveJournal, read my web comics, read the lyrics to my music and do all my calculations from my Dashboard (and frequently). The pretty ones like Sunlit Earth and a graffiti art one I have are pretty cool too.

Now, I am well aware that most if not all of the things I do on my Dashboard can be done elsewhere, however, I am a sucker for efficiency. If I can do somethign in one click what used to take three or four, then I will scramble for it, and that is exactly what the Dashboard is. So long as it stays responsive (not always the case unfortunately) it provides me a quicker way to do these things, and I love it. Why open up Dictionary when I can just hit F12?

2005-11-04 13:44:32
I only use them occasionally
You bring up some good realizations for me -- a big part of my problem with the Dashboard experience is that once I hit F12, unless it's a widget that is immediately useful without further interaction (like Weather), the next step is always reaching for the mouse. I hate to reach for the mouse if I don't have to.

If instead I can hit Ctrl-Space, type F for Firefox, then Ctrl-L for the location field and g wiki foobar I am looking at the foobar article much faster than I ever could opening up the Wikipedia widget with Dashboard.

2005-11-06 13:52:26
- For something with a little complexity that I need to use regularly, apps or browser tabs are fine.
- For little scraps of updating info like weather or reminders, menubar items and emails are better.
- For searches (bookmarks, email messages, addresses, etc) I'd rather use Quicksilver or Spotlight.

I just don't see the point of jumping into "Dashboard mode" to use it's phantom second desktop. Everything it can do I already have covered by something better. There really are better things for Apple to work to replace besides Konfabulator (cough.. Excel.. cough).

2005-11-06 23:54:29
I use mine everyday... I *could* open up a Safari window and type "wiki blah blah" or "imdb blah blah" but, that just adds ANOTHER window to my screen that I have to close... I'd much rather just hit a key, type something in the Dictionary Widget, or the IMDB Widget, or Wikipedia widget and bam, then when I'm done, go back to what I was doing. Calculator is very nice, as well as the translator... These are all things I use, but I'd rather not have to tab through, or constantly open new windows to get to all day.


2005-11-07 05:51:22
My candidate for the "Can't live without it" Widget
Due to the rather slow processor and small screen on my 12" PowerBook, I don't use Dashboard as often, and with as many Widgets, as I probably would on a faster machine with more screen real-estate.

However, there is one Widget that I find so amazingly cool and so out-of-the-ordinary, that I use it almost anytime I launch Dashboard: the Oblique Strategies Widget (http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/reference/oblique.html) .

It's hard to describe what it is; I'd call it the premier tool to get out of a creative block. The (unofficial?) "Oblique Strategies" website (http://www.rtqe.net/ObliqueStrategies/OSintro.html) has more information.

2005-11-07 15:43:56
Just try Dasher to enjoy Dashboard passively
I too started off trying hard to like Dashboard, just because it seemed such a great idea when Tiger was launched.

After I while it just didn't add to my experience - mainly because either a browser tab took me to the desired info faster or I had already started an app by entering its nam through Quicksilver.

Then I came across Dasher. This app shows Dashboard after a (user defined) amount of idle time. I have set mine at three minutes (I let the screensaver kick in after ten minutes).

This gives new meaning to weather, icalevents, calendar, my backpackwidget, battery status and heck, even to the Harry Potter Goblet of Fire countdown. I am able to enjoy passive information, without an effort. For instance, this works just great when I return to my desk from getting coffee or when I hang up the phone.

(I have nothing to do with the development of Dasher, in case you were wondering.)