Widgets are everywhere

An interesting breed of applications is showing up all around these days. Yes, I’m talking about web widgets. Usually these widgets provide an alternative interface for an existing website. Let’s see how this software category emerged.

Widgets exist for a long time now. I dare to say that they exist since the first windowed UI appeared. These were the so called widget toolkits. I’m talking about things like the X Window System (20 years old) and, on a higher level, Motif. How are the new widgets any different from its predecessors?

First, they’re web based. That means that they feed from the web. They use data from public web resources, like RSS based content. Second, they don’t offer basic functionality because that’s already available on the operating system. Instead, they are interfaces to already existent web resources.

These new widgets appear in two styles:

  1. desktop widgets: Yahoo! Widgets and OSX’s Dashboard.
  2. web widgets: Google Gadgets, PageFlakes and Netvibes.

They might look identical in functionality but they run on two very different worlds. The desktop lets you run heavier software (you download and install it once), so you probably have more complex widgets running there. On the web everything has to be light and quick, so you probably have smaller and more specific widgets.

One interesting thing about widgets is that, most of the time, they don’t talk to each other. They let you consume information from the web but don’t interact with each other. Probably because different people develop them and there isn’t yet a standard (the W3C has just published the Widgets 1.0 Working Draft) for widget interaction.

If you’re interested and want to find out more there’s even a Widgipedia.

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