Monday, June 29, 2009

Driving with Dashboard Widgets . 1

Dashboard is where widgets park in Apple OS X (pronounced X, as in Malcolm X, not Malcolm 10). It's a transparent layer which floats over all other windows when called with a function key or clicking its icon in the Dock.

Widgets are like a Smart Cars - compact, cute and basic - small apps, or computer applications, that usually perform one specific, simple function. Most work over the Web, acting as their own dedicated browsers. They offer many useful services - checking the weather, tweeting on Twitter, note taking, playing the radio, collecting voice mail and looking up widget on Wikipedia or in the dictionary.

It's very handy to have all these functions gathered together into one piece of screen real estate that can be summoned and dismissed like a genie. Plus widgets are speedy and stable with clean, simple interfaces. Within their intended limited focus, they are also often very deep and powerful tools. And almost addictive.

Apple offers nearly 4,000 Dashboard widgets for downloading, almost all of them for free. Of those, 3,975 are of no general interest, useless, mediocre, unstable or don't work. After extensive testing - admittedly avoiding maybe a thousand Homer Simpson quote machines - we've chosen a Top Ten. Click on any title to go to its download page.

1 - NotePad ... A real notebook, actually.
2 - Dictionary ... The Oxford American (bundled)
3 - Wikipedia ... Now with 10 million encyclopedia entries.
4 - Google ... The premier search engine.
5 - Gmail ... Google's great free email.
6 - AccuWeather ... Weather forecasts (bundled)
7 - RadioTuner ... A Web radio streamer.
8 - Chirp ... To access your Twitter account.
9 - Epicurious ... Recipe search of many sources.
10 - Armillary ... A real-time planetarium.

We'll look at each of our top ten widgets in detail, then discuss downloading and installing them.

... To be continued.