Tech for all: Gidgets, gadgets and widgets: Tools for your computer

Earlier this year when my father asked me if I’d be interested in getting a new laptop, I told him an Apple iBook would really suit my needs. After chuckling to himself, he informed me that “we’re a PC family,” quashing my hopes for anything Apple. But thanks to Konfabulator, PC users can enjoy the sleek, colorful desktop tools, called Widgets, which are prevalent on the desktops of Mac users.

Konfabulator is a JavaScript program that allows users to place tools, called Widgets, anywhere on the desktop of their computers. First released in February 2003, Konfabulator originally cost about $25 and was available only on Mac OS X, but a Windows version was released in late 2004. In May, Konfabulator underwent a major overhaul and released version 2.0, and the program became freeware this July when Yahoo! purchased Konfabulator, making Widgets more readily accessibly to computer users.

But what exactly is a Widget? They’re desktop tools that can perform a variety of functions. For example, one of the most popular Konfabulator Widgets is a weather.com Widget, which displays weather information, moon phases and a weather map right on your desktop. Also available for download on the Konfabulator Web site are dozens of digital clock Widgets, which allow users to place a large, bright clock on their desktops so they can see the time from across the room. For a retro look, you can download an analog clock. Countdown timers, search engine tools, RSS news readers and pretty much any type of tool you can imagine is available on konfabulator.com.

One helpful aspect of Konfabulator is a feature called Konspos?. By hitting F8, users can dim the rest of their desktop and bring forward their Widgets, allowing for quick, easy-to-read access to any Widget information. Hitting F8 twice will make all the Widgets disappear. Additionally, users can set up their Widgets so that they remain hidden until Konspos? is activated, keeping their desktops free from clutter.

My desktop features a handful of Widgets, including “Clarus Clock,” a large, translucent analog clock featuring a moving dog for a second hand. Additionally, I use “CNN Top Stories,” “The Weather” and a search tool called “Where is it?”

On a PC, the Konfabulator application runs in the system tray. From here you can manage your Widgets and download new ones. What makes Konfabulator so effective, though, is that each Widget can be customized to suit your needs. For example, “Where is it?” allows you to search more than a dozen Web sites, but I have it customized so that it only searches Google, Amazon.com and eBay, the sites I frequent most when I’m online. “Picture Frame,” a Widget I sometimes use, shows a random photo stored somewhere on my computer every minute inside a small one inch by two inch frame on my desktop. You can customize which folder it pulls images from (right now it’s cycling through photos of my spring break), or you can have it pull images from the photo site Flickr.

Konfabulator Widget’s run independently of one another, so if one Widget is experiencing problems, the Konfabulator application and the other Widgets running at the time remain unscathed. This requires additional memory usage, a concern some users have about Konfabulator.

There’s been some debate in the online community revolving around the use of widgets in the new Mac OS X Tiger, released in the spring – the operating system features Dashboard, another program that uses widgets. Konfabulator supporters say Apple essentially copied Konfabulator with the creation of Dashboard, but Apple loyalists say the company was developing the idea of desktop accessories in the 1980s, well before Konfabulator was around.

Do they make using your computer easier? Probably not. Do they help simplify your life? Not really – if anything they clutter up your desktop. But Widgets can be fun, and they look pretty sleek. If you’re looking for an interesting program to spice up your desktop, Konfabulator, available at konfabulator.com, could be for you.

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