Thursday, December 28, 2006

The beauty of widgetry...

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog concerning desktop enhancement: Rocketdocking.... This time, I'll be disussing about widgets. This is the first entry that I will be writing first in Multiply (Perelandran Frontier), and cross-post it to Blogger (Perelandran Chronicles). Sometimes, importing blogs from Blogger ends up with a messed up format in Multiply.

While exploring the features of Rocketdock, I came to understand that it has limitations in integrating widget functions in its dock interface. If you were able to read my previous blog, you would have seen how barren my desktop looks like. It begs to be cluttered and endowed with functionality! So I have to look for another program to populate my desktop real estate property with bustling tennants known as widgets. What the hell are widgets in the first place?

Widget/s are not the midget-like people in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or the name of a character in the Marvel Universe. Here is a little background as to the source of the word widget: (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Some say that the word "widget" is derived from the combination of "window" and "gadget". This is unlikely. The earliest known occurrence of the word "widget" is in Beggar on Horseback (1924), a comedy play written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. The hero of this play is a struggling composer who must choose between creating music that stimulates his soul (but earns no money) or earning a living by accepting a soul-deadening job in a factory that makes "widgets". The text of the play intentionally refrains from revealing what "widgets" are; clearly, they represent any purely mercantile commodity that has no artistic or spiritual value.

Widgets in the world of desktop enhancements are small independently running programs with graphical interfaces that are physically inspired (depending on their function). They are run on the desktop and can have virtually any function (be it from telling the time, date and weather, receiving RSS feeds, or direct interaction with a web function). They are managed and executed through a management program or engine. Other names used interchangeably with it are desklets or applets, depending on the engine you are using. I like to use the word widget although I know it is the official term used in Yahoo! Widgets, and Dashboard in MacOS X. The upcoming Windows Vista will call them 'gadgets'. Google Desktop calls them as panels. The list of names may endless and is limited only by the number of engines available out there.

I will be focusing on the widget engine called AveDesk, which is small and most importantly free. I downloaded the program and installed it on my system. It comes prepackaged with widgets such as PidlShortcut which when properly configured gives you access to your folders or applications. I opened 2 instances of PidlShortcut and defined each one to point directly to My Computer and Recycle Bin. What's amazing with these is that you can configure them to show some information about the folder, such as its name, contents, filesize and number of files among others. Through searching, I downloaded the AveScripter and Systats, which are widgets that has their own interface and programming features to define their functionality. If you want to skip the programming part, there are websites offering pre-defined widgets (made by the users themselves) for AveDesk using AveScripter or Systats. provides an extensive library of downloadable widgets (called docklets or desklets).

I wanted the basic widgets on my desktop, so I instructed AveDesk to run the following: a clock, a calendar, a weather bar (informs me not only of the present weather, but also forecasts), 3 RSS feed readers (constantly receives RSS feed from user-defined sources), and the shortcuts I talked about earlier. With AveDesk running, this is how my desktop now looks like:

Pretty isn't it? And it can run together with RocketDock. You can easily drag these widgets wherever you would want them on the desktop or simply lock them in place. The widgets can look pretty stunning especially with their transparency and shadow effects over the desktop, and some like the shortcuts to My Computer and Recycle Bin can be configure to be animated when my mouse pointer hovers over them. I know there are many more widgets out there that offers more novel functions such as a calculator, games, and online picture viewers, but for my present needs, these would be enough.

Why did I choose AveDesk when there are other widget applications out there? I did try Yahoo! Widgets (This was originally called Konfabulator, the mother of all widget applications, which some say was copied by Dashboard in MacOS X. It may not be true that that Mac started the widget revolution.) and it offers a huge library of widgets in their website. It looks very appealing too but one thing I immediately noticed is how it made my computer slow. I noticed that it was eating so much of my onboard memory and I only had 3 widgets running. It took 20-40MB of of memory to run 3 widgets and it was clearly affecting computer performance as I was working on other applications. This was not acceptable. AveDesk only uses 5MB, with all 7 running widgets. Uninstall Yahoo! Widgets... sorry.

Widgets are far from from its namesake and may indeed be of great value in streamlining our computing experience besides just being novelty.

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