Jun 2

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Apple Wants Your Widgets

Macworld points to Apple's call for submissions of automator actions, spotlight plugins, and dashboard widgets for redistribution from (I didn't expect to love dashboard as much as I do. It's my favorite feature of Tiger -- so many cool and useful add-ins!)

Plug-in architectures are one of the key ways that software companies can create an "architecture of participation." I've long argued that access to source code is only one of the aspects that makes open source software projects tick. The celebrated "right to fork" is a kind of "nuclear option" that protects developers against catastrophic failure in a development ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem, what's important is an architecture that makes it easy for developers to extend your platform, building tools that become first class citizens. Linux is so successful as an extensible, organically growing system because it's a continuation of the original Unix philosophy of cooperating software tools; the internet of cooperating servers is rooted in the same philosophy.

Perl's usefulness exploded with the availability of CPAN; Firefox's plug-in architecture is one of its killer advantages. So I'm glad to see Apple creating some platforms that developers can extend in small ways, and what's more, helping to promote the user-developed extensions by offering them for download from Apple's site.

Self-promotional aside: Some systems that have a lot of extensions, modules and plug-ins don't have a good central repository of the work contributed by a community. That's the idea behind new O'Reilly site CodeZoo. We started by building a component repository, a la CPAN, for open source Java components. As you can imagine, other languages are on the way.

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Comments: 4

  PXLated [06.02.05 12:46 PM]

Seemed to be a lot of ragging on Slashdot how Dashboard was just fluff but I (like you) find it really nifty/usefull :-)

  Ian J Cottee [06.02.05 03:21 PM]

I've been nonplussed by Dashboard. Firstly it seems much heavier on resources compared to Konfabulator. I run a lot of widgets and my CPU usage with Dashboard for a comparable set was enough to make this iBook run a lot hotter. Secondly you can't just have the widgets sitting on the desktop (which is a thing I like about Konfabulator). You have to switch to the Dashboard view.

Finally - why oh why oh why is there no option in both Dashboard and Konfabulator to have your widgets made into part of a screensaver? I know you couldn't use the interactive ones but virtually all the ones I use are not interactive (world clocks, weather, todo list, various system monitors).

  Dori [06.02.05 03:35 PM]

Actually, Ian, there is a way to get Widgets out of the Dashboard layer and onto your desktop. Apple calls it "development mode" and it's documented in this tech note.

To close them again, hold down the option key while moving the mouse over the widget.

Personally, I find doing it ends up being somewhat annoying because widgets hover on top of documents and you have to keep moving them around and out of the way. But it's definitely handy for widget development.

Tim, I'm glad to hear you like widgets! I was beginning to think that I was the only one who thought that they were incredibly cool, fun, and useful.

  Gerald Buckley [06.03.05 06:05 AM]

If Apple wanted to do something insanely great with Widgets and Dashboard... They would give me an Apple Store Widget that let's me monitor my purchases made to/through the Apple Store and then couple that with the existing FedEx widget once stuff ships.

That would be a worthwhile utility in my view and no one can do that outside of Apple as there's no Apple Store SDK that I'm aware of (short of screen scraping).

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