Widgets of the week: October 28, 2005

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In this week’s Dashboard roundup, I cover ways to keep your Widgets up to date, see your iTunes stats, quickly find fraction/decimal equivalents, and preview snippets of HTML. And, of course, there’s a Widget “why?”of the week.

Widget Update (   ; free). If you’re reading this column, chances are you’re a fan of widgets, and you’ve probably got more than a few installed. To make sure you’re always running the latest versions, check out Widget Update. After configuring Widget Update via its settings screen (for example, you can tell it which update sites it should check: Apple, Dashboard Widgets, Mac Update, and/or VersionTracker), click the refresh button and Widget Update will compare the versions of all your installed widgets against the latest versions as reported by the update site(s). Those widgets that are out of date are listed along with version details. Clicking the orange site name next to a version opens your Web browser to that widget’s page on the site so you can download the newer version.

Widget Update results

iTunes Stats (   ; free). Ever wonder how many songs you’ve listened to in iTunes? Or how much time you’ve spent listening? iTunes Stats gives you all that and more: total number of songs, total play count, average plays per track, even the total hours you’ve listened. You can also see how many tracks have never been listened to, how many haven’t been rated, and other interesting tidbits. (Clicking an applicable number shows its percentage. For example, 24% of my iTunes Library hasn’t yet been rated—I’ve got some work to do.) Sure, some of this information could be culled using various Smart Playlists and a spreadsheet, but it’s neat to have it all right there at a glance. And iTunes Stats updates whenever Dashboard is displayed (or you can click its refresh button to update it at any time).

iTunes Stats widget

Decimator (   ; free). I’ve generally shied away from widgets that don’t “do” anything—for example, widgets that are just an image. But I’m willing to overlook this limitation if the content displayed by a static widget is useful, and that’s the case with Decimator, which is simply a table of common fractions and their decimal equivalents (for example, 7/16 = .4375). Silly? Perhaps to some, but I’ve known enough designers and production people (and even architects and engineers) who regularly use a calculator or paper table to find these equivalents to realize that Decimator could be quite handy: Just press a button and up pops Dashboard with the table in clear view. And if you click on a value in the table, its decimal value is copied to the Clipboard for easy pasting.

Decimator widget

SnippetComposer (   ; free). There are many great tools on the Mac for creating HTML documents. But sometimes I just want to quickly type up a snippet of HTML for pasting elsewhere—for example, for a blog or a Web forum—and see how it’s going to look. SnippetComposer lets me do just that, displaying a live preview of the HTML directly below it; clicking the C button copies the code to the Clipboard for pasting. However, this is still very much a 1.0 product: You can’t resize the Widget, so it’s not great for longer batches of HTML, and it doesn’t currently support image tags (likely because of the size limitation—an image would use up the entire preview box). I’d also like to see support for common Web forum tags such as [i], [b], and [URL]. But SnippetComposer still useful for its intended purpose: quickly typing up short snippets of HTML. Hopefully it will pick up more handy features as the developer releases new versions.



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 LocationWidget , which lets you quickly switch between Network Locations via Dashboard. That actually sounds like a convenient feature, except for one thing: You can already do the same thing with fewer actions, and without having to invoke Dashboard, via the Apple Menu’s Location submenu. One of my personal rules for what makes a good widget is that it helps you do something more easily or more conveniently than you can do otherwise, so if a widget is less convenient than OS X’s own functionality, it’s prime “why” fodder. (There’s also the fact that the widget is too small to display all but the shortest Location names.)


To be fair to the developer of LocationWidget, according to comments on the widget's DashboardWidgets.com page, he apparently didn’t realize that this feature was available via the Apple Menu; that said, I would encourage developers to fully check out OS X’s own features before spending their time and talent working on a widget :-)

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