Macworld unveils Dashboard Widget

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To give readers another way to stay on top of all the news, reviews, and features available at Macworld.com, Macworld has released a Widget that delivers the latest headlines directly to the Dashboard of Mac OS X 10.4 users. The Macworld Widget, developed for Macworld by John Casasanta, Phillip Ryu, and other designers at WidgetMachine gives users a simple interface to get just the content you want delivered.

By clicking on the Widget’s info link, users can choose among 10 separate RSS feeds available from Macworld.com. The first choice, “Most Recent Stories,” provides a list of the most recent items posted at Macworld.com, including news, reviews, blog entries, and other articles.

The other choices allow users to mix and match the content any way they want to receive it. For example, just clicking on the Reviews RSS Feed provides only product reviews; clicking on the News feed adds news articles to the mix, and so on.

Download the Macworld Widget by clicking here.

Building the Widget

Ryu and Casasanta began the process of building the Macworld Widget the same way they start with other WidgetMachine projects: lay out the ideas and the design for the proposed Widget.

“Once I have a basic idea of what I’m going to do, I start with the HTML to get things up and running visually early,” said Casasanta, a Mac developer since 1990. “One of the nice things about Widgets is the early payoff—you can get something decent looking early on.”

How important is design to Casasanta? “Very,” he said. “As it should be for all things Mac.” While having an innovative Widget is important, Ryu and Casasanta also believe that design appeals to users so WidgetMachine currently has seven artists that contribute to Widget design.

“I think there definitely has to be a balance [between design and functionality],” said Casasanta, who’s developing Widgets as a break from his own business at Inventive, maker of the iClip multiple clipboard and scrapbooking program. “It varies from project to project, but it’s necessary to always be thinking about design throughout the development process.”

In fact, when putting together the team for WidgetMachine, the first people Ryu contacted were designers. Some of those designers were involved with MacThemes.net, one of Ryu’s previous ventures, so they were aware with the premium Mac users place on look-and-feel.

“Design is a huge, huge part of the Widget and I felt that to succeed developing widgets, we’d need the very best design talent we could get,” Ryu said. “The design is what’s going to lure users to download our Widgets, and install it on the Dashboard. The functionality is what’s going to keep our widgets there.”

As for the coding of the Widget, Casasanta tries to do as much as he can in JavaScript, but he and Ryu have started using Cocoa plug-ins to push the envelope of Widget development. However, the popularity of a Dashboard Widget is not all that dependent on complicated code—sometimes the simplest Widgets are the most popular.

“Our Flip Clock widget… recently hit 80,000 downloads,”Ryu said. “So I would say that’s a good indication of the Dashboard’s popularity and a good sign for its future.”

Another positive sign for Dashboard, as far as Ryu and Casasanta are concerned: it’s a pretty straight-forward environment for building mini-apps. “The ease of development has definitely been a plus,” Ryu said. “Even compared to Konfabulator, Dashboard is in general much easier to develop widgets for, and I think the result is a much more diverse collection of widgets.”

“It depends on the widget, of course, but I think with enough time and patience, even novices can do some amazing things,” Casasanta added. For a detailed look at the coding work that goes into building a Widget—as well as tips for making your own mini-app—check out Dori Smith’s “Whip Up a Widget” Geek Factor column from the October 2005 issue of Macworld .

This story, " Macworld unveils Dashboard Widget " was originally published by PCWorld.

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