Everyone has widgets these days. Or gadgets. Small, lightweight software utilities that do one thing, and one thing only. They try to stay out of your way until you need them, and then they are close at hand and ready to serve. Stock quotes, weather reports, words of the day, dictionaries, notepads. Widgets are the tapas of the software world.
Off the top of my head, I can think of about eight different widget implementations:
- Yahoo! Widgets (formerly known as Konfabulator, possibly the father of the modern widget, and shamelessly nicked by Apple).
- Apple Dashboard Widgets ("inspired" by Konfabulator).
- Windows Vista Gadgets (assuming they don’t get dropped).
- Windows Live Gadgets (now that Microsoft suddenly gets the Internet).
- TypePad Widgets.
- WordPress Widgets.
- Google Desktop Widgets.
- Even Firefox Widgets.
In general, I like widgets. At least in theory. They make a lot of sense when you think about them. The problem is actually remembering to use them. As I see it, these are the main problems with widgets:
- They’re never entirely accessible, or entirely out of your way. When they’re away, I forget about them, and when they’re available, they annoy me and I put them away.
- They aren’t interoperable. Creating and using a Yahoo! Widget is entirely different from a Windows Live Gadget or the next guy’s Whoozit. Nobody wants to make their implementation compatible with anyone else’s implementation because everybody thinks they are going to be the ones to strategically capture the hugely profitable widget market. (Widgets, by the way, are by definition free.)
- Most don’t work together. It would be great if my calendar widget could show weather icons from the weather widget, or I could look up words from my Wikipedia Widget in my Dictionary Widget. And copy and paste doesn’t count as integration.
- Many aren’t cross platform.
- I only need so many Magic Eightballs and Simpsons Random Quote Generators in my life.
The widgets I use most often (or try to, anyway) are Dashboard widgets, and although the majority are pretty useless, there are some really great ones, as well (unit converts, system monitors, web cam mirrors for checking for boogers before meetings). It’s not so much that I don’t like widgets as I just don’t feel like I need them, no matter how badly I want to. Whenever I come across a new widget framework, I install it, download dozens of widgets I’m certain I just can’t live without, then promptly forget about them all. I haven’t given up yet, though. Since everyone’s doing it, they just have to be a good idea.