Widgets of the week: August 26, 2005

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In this week’s Dashboard roundup, I cover ways to quickly print envelopes, enable and disable Dashboard development mode, and access OS X utilities. I also pick a “Why” of the week.

Easy Envelopes (   ; free). Are you the type that likes to print addresses on your envelopes rather than scrawl them with a pen? If so, Easy Envelopes is a must—it lets you quickly print envelopes directly from Dashboard. Its interface is dead-simple: Type the name of one of your contacts in the name field; Easy Envelopes searches your Address Book contacts for that person’s address and adds it to the envelope. (You have the option of choosing the home or work address if a contact has both.) Or click the address area to type an address manually. When you’re ready to print, just click the print button (cleverly disguised as a postage stamp with a printer on it), insert a blank envelope into your printer, and voila!

Easy Envelopes Widget

Via the settings on the “back” of the Widget, you can choose the envelope size and fonts; customize your return address (none, text, or an image); choose whether the return address is printed on the front or back of the envelope; and enable USPS barcodes.

Easy Envelopes Widget settings

Easy Envelope has only two flaws of note. The first is that when searching for contacts, the Widget seems to search only names, not companies. [See correction below.] And my biggest complaint (no pun intended) is fairly subjective: I think the Widget is larger than it needs to be. Dashboard real estate is a precious commodity, and although I appreciate the envelope-centric design, it takes up a bit too much space, in my opinion. But overall, Easy Envelopes is an elegant and easy-to-use solution for printing envelopes—even if you don’t need its functionality, you’ve got to agree that it’s one of the best-implemented Widgets yet.

UPDATE 9/2/05: It turns out that Easy Envelopes does indeed search company names; however, since it’s designed to print envelopes, it ignores companies that don’t have a street address in their Address Book record. Unfortunately, in testing two dozen or so company names with Easy Envelopes, it appears that I unintentionally chose companies that had only phone numbers, URLs, and email addresses in their records. I regret this error.

As a side note, earlier this week, one of my colleagues told me they didn’t understand why an “envelope printer” was a Widget instead of an application. My answer is that it all depends on how often you need to print envelopes. Like all Widgets, if you frequently need a particular function, a Widget is a handy way to keep it at your fingertips without having to place it in your Dock and wait for it to launch when you need it. (I’ll be tackling the topic of what makes a good Widget in an upcoming Editors’ Notes Weblog.)

DevMode (   ; free). There have been a good number of articles and tips around the Web about Dashboard’s “development” mode, which lets developers work on Widgets as normal applications outside of Dashboard. (For example, here’s one on our own Mac OS X Hints.) The thing is, to turn development mode on or off requires either a trip to Terminal or a separate utility. If you need to frequently enable and disable this mode, the DevMode Widget is a nifty (and diminutive) addition to your Dashboard. It shows the current development mode status (on or off); clicking the Widget toggles the mode and then relaunches the Dock (a necessary step, since Dashboard runs as part of the Dock).

DevMode Widget

UtilityButton (   ; free). Now here’s a Widget I never would have dreamed up, but I’m glad someone did. All those helpful utilities Apple includes with Mac OS X are buried several layers down into your hard drive at /Applications/Utilities. So unless you use one of the various launcher utilities out there (such as LaunchBar), or in some way use the Dock to launch them, it takes some effort to get to these utilities. UtilityButton puts a (thankfully, small—notice a pattern here?) button on your Dashboard for quick access. Click the button, and you get a pop-up menu of OS X’s built-in utilities; choose an item from the menu to launch it. That’s all it does, but I’m sure to many users, that’s enough to quality as “useful.”

UtilityButton Widget

UtilityButton Widget menu


Widget “Why?” of the Week

Each week, I give a good-natured poke at a Widget that makes me think, “Why was this necessary?” This week’s “why” goes to Pi Viewer . What does it do? Why, it displays the value of pi to 135 decimal places, of course! Few people are likely to need the value of pi to such precision, and those that do probably have it pre-programmed (with even greater precision) into a scientific application or calculator, but hey—for those who want to quiz themselves on the 113th decimal place of pi, now they can.

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