The Great Dashboard Conspiracy

August 21st, 2015

Operating system features are not forever, but sometimes they meet resistance. It’s better, however, when you are told, in advance, what the changes might be and not have them thrust upon you unexpected or unwanted. This peculiarly true when something is removed or switched off.

So when a functional Apple menu was removed in the original OS X Public Beta (it moved to the center of the menu bar), the one you actually had to pay for, there were loads of complaints. Why fix something that worked so well without replacing it with something better? Of course, Apple brought it back for the actual 10.0 release, in March 2001, though it wasn’t nearly as customizable as the previous version, but it least it did something.

More to the point, 14 years have passed and it’s not that a whole lot has changed in the Apple menu beyond the addition of an App Store. The Dock, aside from some changes in its looks, and expanded pop-up menu choices over the years, remains the same sort of app and document launcher people love to hate.

That takes us to Dashboard, which debuted in OS X Tiger 10 years ago. It was presented as a special repository or environment for widgets, or tiny apps, which you could operate separate from your regular software. Consider it a partial successor to the Control Panels of the original Mac OS minus the system enhancements.

Dashboard shipped with a small collection of standard widgets, such as a calendar, a weather widget and a flight tracker. You might even consider this a forerunner of the iOS app scheme, where you have loads of single function apps that run within a far more restricted environment.

It wasn’t hard to create a widget. Apple even added a feature to Safari make a web page into a widget, and there’s still an Open in Dashboard option. Even though Dashboard has fallen more and more into disuse, and new widgets are rarely developed, the app is always working.

Until now.

There’s a published report that the latest OS X El Capitan beta, the one going to developers and public beta testers this week, switches off Dashboard by default. Just to confirm the report, I checked it out, and, sure enough, a common keyboard shortcut used for Dashboard, F12, was non-functional. This came without warning, and, in fact, hardly makes sense from a logical point of view. If you don’t want to use Dashboard, don’t hit the key. Simple as that!

In any case, there are two ways to reenable Dashboard. One is to launch the app itself (in the Applications folder or perhaps in the Dock), or go to System Preferences, under Mission Control, and choose how you want to display Dashboard. You can use “As Space,” which puts it in its own exclusive space as the label implies, or “As Overlay,” which grays out the background, both desktop and app windows, and imposes your widgets above them.

Choose your poison.

Now I continue to use exactly two Dashboard widgets after all these years. One displays the weather, the other, a iStat Pro, lets me check various system-related stats and functions. Although it no longer indicates what system processes are active, I can see if something is dragging down the system. It’s faster than opening Activity Monitor, though I’d still have to use that app in the event I ran into a problem.

I’d miss Dashboard if it went away. It’s convenient to invoke to, say, check the weather, or figure out if something is going on when the system might be sluggish. There are a few other widgets in my collection, and perhaps I’ll find a reason to use some of them from time to time.

Apple’s intended replacement is Notification Center, where widgets made their debut in OS X Yosemite. I sill prefer Dashboard. Worse, there really aren’t all that many widgets listed for Notification Center at the App Store, so even if I preferred it, which I don’t, I have fewer choices. But that’s just me.

Now it may just be that Apple will let Dashboard continue essentially unchanged until people just forget about it. I suspect most Mac users aren’t even aware of its existence unless they just happen to press the keyboard shortcut, and it miraculously appears in front of them.

It may also be that Apple didn’t really intend to turn off Dashboard, but it’s an OS X El Capitan glitch. That seems just as probable, since there doesn’t seem to be a logical purpose in disabling it. Besides, what right do they have to change a setting that you made on your Mac without your knowledge or permission?

Just asking!

In any case, Dashboard had a decent life even if it never quite received the love from Apple and Mac users in the years following its introduction. That it’s hung around this long is actually a pretty good thing, because it continues to have great value — for those who care.

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6 Responses to “The Great Dashboard Conspiracy”

  1. Carl says:

    For me, Dashboard is something I do not use very much, but I have used it and found it useful in the past. The last version of Quicken I installed put a QuickEntry widget in Dashboard, though I never used it. The weather, clock and calculator widgets work well, but when they are hidden, they get forgotten. I did install a password generator widget and I have found that very useful to generate strong passwords.
    As for the keyboard shortcut, I remapped the keystroke to another one because F12 conflicted with the shortcut used in QuarkXPress to hide/show the color palette, which I was accustomed to using a lot.
    I still have my Power Mac G4 with Tiger on it with those widgets installed, so they are there if I need them.

  2. DJ says:

    This is a no brainer. Notification Center offers about 1/6 the width of your screen and is difficult to switch between Today View (which has nothing necessarily to do with Widgets, but hey) and Notifications. The Dashboard uses your whole screen and allows you to see way more at a glance.

    Update Dashboard to reflect the current aesthetic, sure. But Widgets in NC are way, way less usable. It’s a necessity with the limited space on an iPhone, but it shouldn’t be inflicted on OS X.

  3. Matthew says:

    It might just be an error in which your chosen dashboard setting (off, overlay, or its own space) is reset to “off” instead of retaining what you chose before.

  4. DaveD says:

    Thanks for another trip down memory lane.

    Under OS X Tiger, I had the whole page filled with Widgets. iStat Menu was one of them. I haven’t used Dashboard often in OS X Yosemite and my keyboard shortcut is Shift + F4. It has the four default widgets and another one for stock quotes.

    Let me see… Apple “sherlocked” Konfabulator with Dashboard. Konfabulator was purchased by Yahoo! some time later. I am wondering if Dashboard is on the same track of Apple’s other app, Sherlock.

  5. dfs says:

    Problem with Dashboard wasn’t the technology itself, it worked pretty well. But most of the available widgets were pretty uninspiring. As with Safari Extensions, the available repertoire of Dashboard widgets was remarkably meager in number and uninspiring in nature.

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