Your widget to the world

Your widget to the world
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First Published: Thu, Apr 26 2007. 02 21 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Apr 26 2007. 02 21 PM IST
Do you want information at your fingertips but aren’t sure how to get it? Widgets are here to help you and, like the name indicates, they are little packages that bring all the information to you at the touch of a button.
What are widgets?
Widgets are small windows of programmes that are designed to give access to necessary functions and information more easily.
Widgets are normally stored in a ‘dashboard’ area where they are accessible at the press of a key. They are meant for a variety of functions and purposes, ranging from CPU (central processing unit of the computer) information, RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds that are used to publish frequently updated digital content such as blogs, nd notepad features to the more mundane and less-functional “Coffee Alarm” types! Essentially, a widget can be created to execute just about any action.
How are they useful?
Widgets bring forward information you normally cannot access easily. By definition, a widget makes the internal functioning of a computer programme or feature comprehensible to the user. That is, it makes it easier for a user to work on a computer.
So, even a document window that you may be working on is technically a widget. As is a browser window. But, since these are commonly used and well-known to the user without offering any extra functionality or fun, they aren’t termed so. The widgets we are looking at are to be added separately to enhance functionality or recreation on your computer.
Where does one get them?
Widgets are not available from too many sources. The most popular ones are from Yahoo!, which offers all sorts of widgets. Moreover, almost all widgets are created by users (i.e. the community) and hence, there is always a good amount of variety available.
Apple offers the ‘dashboard’ option bundled with widgets on all the computers running OS X.
They also follow the community approach and offer free widgets that can be downloaded from their website.
Apple was perhaps the pioneer in the field, but when Yahoo! bought over ‘Konfabulator’, the underlying technology for Windows-based widgets, they took the lead.
Opera, the browser company, is another avenue where widgets are available. However, the general lack of popularity and the issues Opera browser have make it tougher for most to go this way.
Of course, widgets are not a deciding factor when someone is switching over to a new browser and hence, Opera is not a common choice.
Wordpress offers widgets in a slightly different format to bloggers. A widget on a Wordpress blog is a plug-and-play unit where you can add text, Flickr photos, URLs or even RSS feeds, among many other display things.
You can get widgets from all the above sources but they all demand an ‘engine’ to run it. For Windows computers, it’s best to go with Yahoo! (http://widgets.yahoo.com).
All you need to do is download and install an engine to run all the widgets. The download is a substantial 11MB-plus but when running it doesn’t take up too much memory. It also comes bundled with a couple of widgets like the calendar one and there are many more available at http://widgets.yahoo.com/gallery/.
For users on Windows Vista, there is the ‘sidebar’ that is pre-loaded and has a few widgets. Again, more are available through communities and, as Vista gets more popular, there will be plenty more coming up.
In case of Mac users, a new computer running OS X comes loaded with the dashboard with a few widgets (calendar, calculator, weather, clock and even search). More of these are available from the Apple website (http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/).
If you are going to experiment with Opera and their widgets, head over to http:// widgets.opera.com/ and get all you need.
Widgetbox (http://widgetbox.com) is a place where you can get widgets for most blogging platforms, including Wordpress, Blogger and even Typepad. For Wordpress widgets, though, there is also the official address http://widgets.wordpress.com/ where you can get plenty of help and information.
Creating Widgets
If you have some programming knowledge and a sense of aesthetics, you can create and develop your own widgets. You can also put them up for download on all the above sites, depending on the platform you choose.
Ready developer kits are available from most of the ‘publishers’ of widgets and this is an easy way to get started. To create some of your own, go to http://widgets.yahoo.com/workshop/ and get started. There are plenty of tools and guides to help you out.
On Opera, lay users can define the functionality of a widget and let the engine create it.
One of the key advantages of widgets is that it isn’t necessarily supposed to work only online.
Of course, widgets like search and others that are linked to online presence will work only when connected to the Internet, but the effort being made is to allow widgets to work even when the user is offline.
In fact, widgets can be extremely local and specific and appeal to a small audience, yet be successful. If you know programming, you could even come up with a widget for your office holidays or birthdays! You’ll be quite the star!
Widgetising your webpage
Google, Yahoo! and MSN offer widgets for use on your desktop but, in addition, they also offer widgets to their personalised home page offerings. Personalising the search home pages of all these services is being touted as the next big thing and a part of the Web 2.0 movement.
On these services, you can choose to display any piece of information through RSS feeds and move around the various boxes to create a layout that suits your needs.
The widgets (or tools or gadgets) are varied and work on an ‘always on’ mode where you just stay logged in and the information keeps coming to your page.
Netvibes.com, a web-based RSS reader, is working along similar lines where you can plug an RSS feed into a box and move it around freely.
In case of Google, though, the information is beyond just RSS News feeds. Weather, mail and, of course, search form the key components. You can add content to either the same page and make the scroll longer or add more tabs to your page and create more and more pages sorting the content more efficiently.
The usefulness of this, of course, depends on whether you are logged in or not and, unlike some of the desktop widgets, these widgets won’t work if you are offline.
But having all the information come to you through different boxes on the same page remains the dominant theme. Give it a shot. You may just get hooked!
(Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com)
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First Published: Thu, Apr 26 2007. 02 21 PM IST
More Topics: Business of Life | Gadgets |