Gadgets: Widgets anyone can use
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 by Istari | Discussion: Software Development
In the last couple of years computer users have heard a great deal desktop mini-applications called "widgets". These mini-applications come in all shapes and sizes. They come with the ability to both jazz up the user's desktop and make it more functional at the same time. Many a desktop screenshot these days is littered with calendars, clocks, stock tickers, and more all thanks to the popularity of widgets. Even Apple jumped into the act with its release of MacOS "Tiger" which comes with "Dashboard", a new layer that lets users run widgets as part of the OS.
So it's probably not surprising that Stardock, the developers of DesktopX, would be the first to take the widget-concept to the next level with gadgets. Gadgets are identical to widgets in every way except for one critical difference: unlike widgets, gadgets are truly stand-alone. They don't require the user have DesktopX or Konfabulator or any other "parent" program installed first. They run just like any other program. Gadgets also maintain all the advantages of widgets -- low resource usage, easy creation, visually exciting. Gadget creation is easy, developers simply export as a "gadget" instead of as a "widget".
With gadgets, the creator is in the driver's seat. For all the attention widgets have received over the past couple of years, the various galleries of widgets seem filled with little more than clocks, web-cam updates, weather monitors and other simple things. The usefulness of widgets isn't lost on companies but the licensing issues involved are. Consider this: Someone makes a fantastically useful widget that took a lot of time to create. But before they can get users to even try it out, they have to send them over to some other website and download a 10+ megabyte widget-enabler such as the DesktopX run-time or Konfabulator. The user is then expected to pay $15 to $20 for the enabler and they haven't even got to try out the widget. Such licensing issues create significant barriers to widget adoption.
"We've had a resistance in companies adopting widget technologies because companies don't want to have to license hundreds or thousands of copies of the widget enabler," said Larry Kuperman, Director of Sales at Stardock Corp. "If some company creates, for example, an internal messaging widget, they don't want to also have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to use it. That's where gadgets come in. They buy one copy of DesktopX Pro for $69.95 and then create as many gadgets as they want."
DesktopX was originally released in 2000 and has been on CNET's Download.com's most popular file download list for 240 consecutive weeks (nearly 5 years straight) and now has nearly 3 million downloads on that site alone. DesktopX was the first program of its kind to be released on any platform. Despite this, many users were unfamiliar with DesktopX or of the benefits of extending the computer desktop to support rich content until a Macintosh program was released and popularized the term "widget" to describe this rich content. With the release of DesktopX 3.1 Pro, Stardock hopes that gadgets will resonate with both users and independent observers as solving the licensing problem widgets have faced.
"There does occasionally seem to be a certain 'Invented on the Mac' mentality out there," said Brad Wardell, President of Stardock Corp. "We've seen cases where it is assumed that if something is released for the Mac, either by Apple or a third party that it couldn't have been already availabl on the PC. Even as movie studios were using DesktopX to create computer screens in movies or companies were building kiosks and custom environments with DesktopX for years, the wider world didn't seem to know about cool-looking, easy to create, end-user desktop content until Macintosh users and developers 'discovered' and coined the term 'widget' . But we think gadgets are a logical next step -- people make their cool and useful stuff and then export them to be used by anyone without having to download anything extra."
To help encourage gadget creation, Stardock is about to launch a website called DesktopGadgets.com. This website will enable gadget makers to submit their creations to freely distribute or sell. If they choose to sell their works, they simply name a price and if it passes moderation, sales are split 50/50 between the site and the developer. Since developers now have a stake in their creations rather than having to send users to some other site to download a widget enabler, Stardock hopes that more sophisticated and varied mini-applications will start to be created. Stardock has been using gadgets for sometime such as the auto-start programs on its software.
Moreover, since DesktopX is Windows-centric, Stardock has been aggressive about incorporating Windows-specific technologies into DesktopX. For example, future versions can be expected to leverage Microsoft's XAML as the underlying language to describe gadgets. Thus gadget creation has many advantages for ambitious software developers looking to create state-of-the-art software quickly and easily.
So will gadgets trump widgets in the long-run? Only time will tell. If Stardock has its way, gadgets will become the premiere way for developers to distribute their mini-applications.