Today’s Gem falls under the category of “simple functionality that should be a part of Mac OS X.”
If you’re a frequent user of Dashboard, you know that the first time you use it—after restarting, logging in, or just quitting the Dock—you have to wait for all your widgets to load. Even with the most basic widget collection, this can take a while, but if any of your widgets need to go out onto the Internet to retrieve data, the delay can be even longer. (The first time I use Dashboard, it takes a good 10-20 seconds before I can use any of the widgets. Not an eternity, but certainly a long time for a feature that’s supposed to provide “instant access.”)
Here’s a tip: You don’t have to have to be viewing Dashboard for your widgets to load. If you quickly view and then hide Dashboard—for example, when you first log in—your widgets will load and, if necessary, do their Internet business in the background. The next time you activate Dashboard, it will be ready to go immediately. However, this tip depends on you remembering to do the Dashboard two-step. If you log out and then back in and forget to view Dashboard, the first time you try to use it you’ll be back to the waiting game.
I solved my Dashboard delays using Alwin Troost’s free (donations accepted) Dashboard Starter 1.0 ( ). When Dashboard Starter is running—it runs invisibly in the background, using very little processor time—it watches for the Dock to be launched. (The Dock is what actually controls Dashboard.) Whenever the Dock is launched, Dashboard Starter quickly invokes Dashboard and then whisks it away, causing all of your widgets to be loaded and letting them do their initial startup tasks—all in the background. Then when you really want to use Dashboard, it’s ready and waiting.
The first time you launch Dashboard Starter, it will ask you if you’d like it to launch at login; you should allow this—which adds it to your Login Items list in Accounts preferences—as it’s what allows Dashboard Starter to do its job.
Because Dashboard Starter runs perpetually, it doesn’t just work its magic when you log in; it also gives Dashboard that initial push after the Dock has been quit and then relaunched. This is mostly likely to occur after a software installer quits the Dock, but it can also happen if you’ve quit the Dock manually.
Dashboard Starter is one of the simplest utilities I’ve covered in Mac Gems, and one that I forget I’ve installed until I use a computer that doesn’t have it—and have to wait for widgets to load the first time I use Dashboard. In fact, I think Dashboard should do this sort of “pre-loading” of widgets on its own. But until Apple adds such functionality, I’m keeping Dashboard Starter running on all my Macs.