Widgets of the week: July 8, 2005

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In this week’s roundup of useful Dashboard Widgets, I cover ways to find wireless hotspots and keep an eye on system information, and I show you a fun Dashboard crossword puzzle. I also discover a single Widget that obviates the need for any more “countdown” Widgets.

AutoCrossword (   ; free). If you’ve ever used Apple’s Dictionary Widget, or taken advantage of Tiger’s pop-up dictionary feature (for example, by placing the mouse cursor over a mystery word in Safari and then pressing Control+Command+D), you’ve seen OS X’s built-in dictionary in action. AutoCrossword uses this dictionary to create Dashboard-based crossword puzzles: You choose the size (12x12, 16x16, or 20x20) and the level of difficulty (Easy, Medium, or Technology Geek) and the Widget does the rest. Once the puzzle is created, you use the definitions displayed at the bottom of the Widget to fill in the puzzle. If you get stuck, you can get either a letter hint or a word hint, and an error check shows you which of the letters you’ve filled in are correct/incorrect. The Widget even provides you with statistics (total time, number of hints used) once you’ve finished the puzzle. AutoCrossword isn’t as good as some of the commercial puzzle software out there, but it’s free—and perfect for a quick break from work.

AutoCrossword Widget

JiWire (   ; free). Out and about with your PowerBook and looking for a wireless “hotspot"? JiWire’s Widget provides a list of hotspots in the area, including each spot’s address, distance from your “home” address, and cost (free or for-fee). You provide the JiWire Widget with your address when you’re connected to the Internet, and it downloads a listing of hotspots in your area; this list is stored on your computer so you can access it when you’re no longer connected. When viewing the list, you can browse free hotspots, for-fee locations, or both. If you’re still connected to the Internet, you can also click the + button or Map link next to a hotspot to get more information about that location. Granted, only hotspots listed in JiWire’s database are included in the Widget’s list, but that should be enough to find one nearby.

JiWire Widget

Sys Stat (   ; free). I’ve come across many different “system status” Widgets that display various bits of information about your Mac: free hard drive space, memory usage, processor usage, and more. But none shows as much information in as efficient a manner as Sys Stat. It can display all or any combination of the following bits of info: CPU usage (text and graph); memory usage (text and graph, along with virtual memory and page in/out stats); network stats (including internal and external IP addresses); hard drive capacity and free space; CPU load averages; system uptime; and the top four processes from the Unix top command. And since Widgets tend to take up more resources when Dashboard is displayed, you can exclude Widgets from the processes list to get a more accurate display of what your computer is doing when Dashboard isn’t displayed. If you’re the type who likes to keep tabs on your computer’s every move, Sys Stat is the quickest way to do so.

Sys Stat Widget


Widget “Why?” of the Week

Each week, I give a good-natured poke at a Widget that makes me think, “Why was this necessary in life?” But after covering Image Widget—which lets you display any picture you like on your Dashboard, thus eliminating (I hope) the need for anyone to ever design a “picture” Widget ever again—I was inspired to find another “genre killer” Widget. And boy did I ever.

Along with “picture” Widgets, one of the most redundant genres of Widgets I’ve seen is “countdown” Widgets. These Widgets show the number of hours/days/minutes until a particular event occurs; for example, there are Widgets counting down the time until the Superman Returns movie debuts, until the next season of Battlestar Galactica beings, and until Santa Claus arrives. These Widgets raise two questions in my mind: One, is it really that imperative to have a by-the-second countdown to the next Grand Prix qualifying race? And two, doesn’t it seem like a waste of precious Widget-making talent for different people to create separate Widgets that do basically the same thing, just with a different “end date”?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the answers to those questions are (1) perhaps; and (2) definitely. In the spirit of efficiency (and stopping the countdown genre in its growing tracks), I call your attention to FlipCount . Via FlipCount’s configuration screen, you provide the text of the event to which you’re counting down, and then the date and time—to the second—at which it occurs. FlipCount creates your customized countdown Widget, allowing you to count the seconds until the next season of Buffy is released on DVD.

FlipCount Widget

If you want a “customized” countdown Widget, you can even use the aforementioned Image Widget to stick a picture above FlipCount.

And with that, I officially declare all single-purpose countdown Widgets to perpetually be Widget “Whys” of the Week.

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