The Tiger Report: All Right, Still More to Say

September 28th, 2006

When I wrote yesterday’s commentary on the subject, a few folks felt it was just another Mac OS versus Windows Vista comparison, but it’s easy to pluck a paragraph or two out of anything, and make a few pithy comments about it. That’s going on now in Washington, but I’m definitely not going there.

Instead, I’ll just talk about one more Tiger element, and that is Dashboard. Yes, those little widgets that can fill your screen with the appropriate keyboard shortcut, and may actually provide some useful added functionality, or a little eye-candy.

The issues on this software’s origins as a Mac shareware product called Konfabulator and the fact that Apple came up with its own variation on the theme without giving credit or cash to the original creators is yesterday’s news. Of course, I will say that Apple messed up not making some sort of deal, but who listens to me anyway?

In case you’ve just tuned in, Dashboard is a collection of tiny programs, widgets, that resemble those old Mac OS desk accessories in some respects. They are single-purpose applications, and can provide such services as looking up a word, a phone number, or checking news at your favorite information site.

Opinions on Dashboard are rather polarized. Some just adore them, and stock up with abandon. And with several thousand to choose from, there’s apt to be something that suits your fancy.

In my case, I’m rather conservative in my choices. I use iStat Pro to monitor all the things my desktop Mac, a Power Mac G5 Quad, is doing at any particular moment, such as the amount of resources an application is hogging, the temperature of the processors and other components, and the speed of the eight cooling fans.

Perhaps the most ego-satisfying component of iStat Pro displays your uptime, which is how long your Mac has been running continuously since the last restart. Once this figure hits a few days, you gain a great feeling of confidence about your computer’s ongoing reliability. Of course, the fact that I put my G5 to sleep when not in use, rather than shut it down, is sure to put my numbers in a higher tier than some of you.

Another widget that I find mostly useful is Package Tracker, which is designed to keep tabs of the items you’re expecting or shipping via Federal Express, DHL and UPS. Alas, the latest version, 2.1.9, seems to have troubles with UPS and it would be nice to be able to display multiple packages without having to create multiple instances of the widget, but it holds promise.

Being able to check the current temperature and forecast in your city, or selected city, is also a neat idea. I could, of course, go on. There’s a widget that lets you search for the special T-shirt of your choice. Another, called Calorie Tracker, displays nutritional information for many foods. And if you don’t care about your diet, there’s a Krispy Kreme Widget that lets you locate the nearest source of your favorite donuts.

Now Dashboard does have its detractors. The fact that widgets exist on a separate layer, and don’t remain on your screen when you’re working in a regular Mac application, can seem limiting at times. Of course, if you want that, you can always use a shareware utility, Amnesty Widget Browser, which allows the little devils to exist on your desktop.

Even Microsoft has been influenced by the concept. Windows Vista has its own variation on the theme, only the tiny applications are called Gadgets. How original! The implementation does leave something to be desired, but I’ll set that aside, since this isn’t a Vista-bashing commentary.

For Leopard, Apple has new developer’s tools to simplify widget creation. You’ll even be able to take a page in Safari and build it into a simple widget known as a “web clip,” essentially a live Web page. The 10.5 version of Dashboard will even include a handful of themes with which to customize your creation.

As for me, I find myself mostly ignoring Dashboard; that is, until I need to call up my favorite widgets for one purpose or another.

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7 Responses to “The Tiger Report: All Right, Still More to Say”

  1. Malcolm Gardner says:

    I think what Gene meant in this interesting article is that some people felt Dashboard to be a clone of “Konfabulator,” rather than “Kaleidoscope.” Also, there is an informative debunking of this myth at Daring Fireball.

    PS- I use and appreciate OS X widgets in almost exactly the same way that Gene does–right down to having the latest version of iStat pro permanently set in my Dashboard lineup!

  2. Keith says:

    I use widgets sparingly, usually Calculator and a Gmail widget to glance at my Gmail inbox, plus a few others. I admit that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but I personally feel Apple’s implementation of Dashboard is just right. I wouldn’t want widgets cluttering up my desktop and I feel having a separate layer you can call up and dismiss is the perfect solution for these little apps.

  3. …there is an informative debunking of this myth at Daring Fireball.

    I read it, but it’s also a matter of being politically correct here. I think Apple might have handled this better.


  4. David says:

    Maybe if I had more time I could research the thousands of widgets out there and find a few to convince me that running Dashboard would be worthwhile. iStat Pro, nice as it is, is a troubleshooting tool. I might use it if I discover a problem with my Mac that its data might help me with, but the last one I can remember was a couple of years ago.

    Regarding Konfabulator and other products people feel Apple copied without credit, I think the English band Chumbawamba said it best in their song Nothing That’s New: “everyone’s stealing from someone”. While the song specifically refers to musicians and songwriters, the same holds true in every other creative endeavor including computer software design.

  5. Dana Sutton says:

    Part of what Dashboard is all about is that it’s Apple’s belated way of making up for the loss of the old Apple Menu in Classics. Now we can have our calculators, calendars and so forth back in a handy place. I’m also a fan of Expose, it really helps me do some tasks more efficiently. One of my problems with Leopard, which I find a LOT less than exciting, is that, based on what Steve has told us about it there isn’t going to be any similarly useful interface innovation. Again, Apple could be giving us back some of the things they took away from Classic, such as the ability to user-program function keys, play sounds when certain commands are executed, and change themes. Yes, I know there are third-party utilities that do all these things, but 1.) why should we have to pay to get things Apple used to give us for free? and 2.) the use of third-party “haxies” and so forth may have unpleasant consequences for stability or processor/memory usage.

  6. Terrin says:

    I disagree with this. Apple generally is pretty good about paying developers who actually come up with original ideas that it later wants to use. The whole Cover Art idea for the recent iTunes is a great example. Heck, so is iTunes.

    Apple should not have to ask permission to incorporate one of its own ideas into the OS. I can understand the creator of Konfabulator being disappointed with Apple re-entering the field, but such a risk should be expected when you yourself are merely borrowing an idea.

    The same goes with the creator of Watson complaining that Apple was copying his ideas with Sherlock. Sherlock came out first. ANybody with common sense is going to understand that Apple is going to enhance the application with updates to its OS.

    For what it is worth, I use Dashboard to easily access my various Gmail accounts, check the weather, and print a quick envelop.


    I read it, but it’s also a matter of being politically correct here. I think Apple might have handled this better.


  7. Matthew Treder says:

    After I drank the Kool-Aid and recovered from the hangover, I realized that Widgets were tying up my system resources. I had plenty of RAM (1 GB), but was always running out. My apps would spool from the hard drive after about 15 minutes of uptime. A peek at Activity Monitor was horrifying. I was running maybe six or eight apps, but meanwhile (and 24/7), Dashboard was running a couple dozen apps silently in the background.

    I disabled Dashboard, and it was like buying a new computer.

    So I got a new computer, and now I run Dashboard into the ground sixty feet and back again. Ain’t life sweet.

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