4 years ago, Arlo Rose released his shareware application Konfabulator. That’s when Mac users started installing little mini self-contained applications on their OS X desktop to do all sorts of interesting things. No need to switch out of the active application, as these mini-apps were accessible with a single click or mouse gesture. A windows version of Konfabulator soon followed. At around the same time, Apple introduced similar Dashboard Widgets built right in the operating system. Later, Rose sold Konfabulator to Yahoo. Then, Google got into the game with their Desktop Plug-Ins and now Vista ships with its Sidebar, which users can fill with gadgets. That’s a lot of clocks and battery meters!
Regardless of your platform and whether you call them dashboard or desktop widgets, gadgets or plug-ins, new desktop mini-applications are added to directory sites all the time by 3rd party developers. Frankly, most are eye candy and distractions. There are way too many mindless games, media players and countdown clocks to suck our attention. However, buried under all that there are some interesting ones that can help make the web worker more productive. Let’s take a look at a few.
Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for desktop widgets. A widget designed for Apple’s Dashboard won’t work in Google Desktop or Vista, or visa versa. However, there are options for converting Google gadgets to Apple Dashboard or Vista Sidebar formats. Learn more about that here.
Here are some interesting widgets/gadgets to try with productivity in mind. All downloads are freeware, and aren’t tied to having a paid account or license for software elsewhere. So I have not included widgets that work with Basecamp Tick, or Salesforce for example.
Mac OS X Dashboard Widgets
The biggest, and most interesting selection comes from Apple’s site. Makes sense given how long the built-into-the-OS feature has been available compared to Google or Microsoft’s alternatives.
Easy Envelopes – Print off a quick envelope in a variety of sizes without launching Word. Include USPS barcodes and search for addresses from Address Book.
PDF + PDF – Assemble multiple PDFs together without the full version of Acrobat or another utility. Would be ideal if it also worked to break PDFs apart.
Word Counter – Copy & paste any amount of text and get a quick count of characters or words.
These gadgets require Google Desktop, which may be a deterrent if you don’t want to have your drive indexed. But if you’re already a Google Desktop user, these gadgets are worth checking out. Note, the Mac version of Google Desktop, just in beta, does not include this functionality.
RSI Reminder – Lose track of time while you’re working? You know that’s not good for your health. This gadget will pop up and let you know when you need to take a break.
World Clock – There are many gadgets for showing the time. Too many. This one shows multiple time zones simply and clearly.
Vista gadgets are still brand new, so the pickings are on the slim side. This will improve as Vista is more widely adopted.
Systran Dictionary – Translate over 52 language pair combinations and consult bilingual dictionaries.
Traffic by Live Search Maps – If you live near a major city, get real-time traffic updates before you head out to that client meeting.
The widgets that started it all, and now the only cross platform widgets.
Full Year Calendar – This one is particularly nice to see the entire year at quick glance.
Clipboard Washer – Quick and easy way to remove text formatting. Especially helpful if you cut & paste from Word.
Do you use widgets as part of your web working day? If so, which ones do you find particularly useful without being time wasters?