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  105. Yahoo Widget Engine

This article is from:

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License: 

Yahoo! Widget Engine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Yahoo! Widgets is a free JavaScript runtime engine for Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows, previously called Konfabulator, but subsequently bought by computer services company Yahoo!. The runtime engine runs small applications referred to as Widgets, and hence is part of a class of software applications called widget engines. It combines its JavaScript engine with an XML document structure that can be used to author custom Widgets.

Note the uppercase "W" in Widget; this is the proper use of capitalization when referring to the actual applets that Yahoo! Widget Engine runs. The aforementioned use of capitalization is unique to this particular widget engine.


Yahoo! Widgets running under Windows XP with 'Heads Up' enabled.
Yahoo! Widgets running under Windows XP with 'Heads Up' enabled.

The Yahoo! Widget Engine provides a default set of widgets that perform a variety of functions. Some of these include:

  • a weather Widget, which downloads weather forecast information from a selected city and displays the information as photo-realistic weather icons against a translucent glass background (to blend in with Mac OS X's Aqua GUI), along with other information, such as the temperature. The user can also expand the Widget to get weather forecast information for the selected city for up to five days in advance. Weather information is now provided by Yahoo! although previous versions (branded as Konfabulator) used and
  • a digital clock Widget, which shows the current time in digital format. The colour of the Widget can be changed to suit the user's preferences. There is also an additional alarm clock function, which can act either as an alarm at a specified time (which can be set to sound daily), or as a countdown ticker. More than one alarm can be set with the digital clock.
  • a stock ticker Widget, which polls information for selected stock market indices and other traded funds from stock markets around the world (particularly in the United States and Canada), and displays them as a list on the Widget. The user can choose to display which stock indices and traded funds are monitored. Items on the list can be rearranged simply by dragging it to the desired position.
  • a Personal information manager (PIM) overview Widget, which polls scheduled appointments and task lists from Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Sunbird on Windows, and the iCal application on Mac OS X. The appointments or tasks the user had scheduled for today in the polled application is then displayed in the Widget.
Yahoo! Widget

There were two Widgets that made a quiet disappearance after the release of Yahoo! Widget Engine 3.0; that is to say, they were no longer installed with the program itself. However, if you had installed a version of Konfabulator older than 3.0, the Widgets were simply archived. They were:

  • a Web search Widget, called "Where Is It?". This Widget can not only search the Internet using several popular internet search engines (such as Google, Yahoo!, and Lycos), but can also search for online auction listings on eBay and package tracking information for UPS and FedEx. It is notable that, while the Widget has the capability to search the Internet using Yahoo! all along, this capability was expanded when Yahoo! took over Konfabulator. A user can choose exactly what media he or she wants to look for on the Internet via the Yahoo! search engine using just the Widget. This is not possible when searching with other internet search engines.
  • a "What To Do?" Widget, which basically is a task list that is customisable by the user. The user can set the priority of an item on the task list; items that have higher priority are listed nearer to the top of the list.

Konfabulator users may also create Widgets that perform tasks not met by the default set of Widgets. Some of the more popular ones include a world clock, dedicated countdown timers, simple RSS feed readers, and webcam viewers.You can get these wide variety of widgets from their website [1]

Each Widget runs in its own system process, separate from other Widgets and the main Konfabulator system process itself, thus improving the stability of the software application as a whole. Should a problem occur with a Konfabulator Widget requiring it to be shut down, that particular Widget can be shut down without affecting other Widgets or the main Konfabulator application. A disadvantage of doing this, however, is the extra computer memory needed for each process to run. Computer users who are careful about computer memory usage or run computer memory-intensive software applications usually point this out as the main disadvantage or their main concern about Konfabulator.

Heads-Up Display/Konsposé

Konfabulator was the first widget engine to provide a feature that could quickly bring all open Widgets to the top of the desktop. Called Konsposé (alluding to Mac OS X's Exposé), it can be activated by pressing a hotkey (set by the user). This causes all Widgets to be brought to the foreground, and all other applications to be dimmed. Widgets can also be set to be Konsposé-only, meaning that they will only appear when Konsposé is activated.

With the release of Yahoo! Widget Engine, Konsposé was renamed to "Heads-Up Display". It functions just like Konsposé and differs only in name.


Initial development

Yahoo! Widgets was originally developed as Konfabulator, by a core development team consisting of Arlo Rose, Perry Clarke, and Ed Voas. Originally released on February 10, 2003 as a Mac OS X only application which cost US$24.95 (and later, with the release of version 2.0, US$19.95), its Windows version was released on November 8, 2004 with the release of version Konfabulator 1.8, and made freeware with the release of Konfabulator 2.1 on July 25, 2005, when it was sold to Yahoo!. Shortly prior to this, Apple released a similar widget engine, Dashboard, as part of its Mac OS X Tiger operating system. Konfabulator's main commercial competitor on the Windows platform is DesktopX, developed by Stardock. Other programs offering similar functionality include Kapsules and AveDesk (for Windows), gDesklets (for GNOME), and SuperKaramba (for KDE).

The JavaScript engine used by Konfabulator uses the Mozilla SpiderMonkey implementation, and conforms to the Mozilla JavaScript version 1.5 standards (equivalent to ECMAScript 262 edition 3, with Mozilla extensions).

According to the online comic strip depicting Konfabulator's history on Konfabulator's web site ([2]), the idea of Konfabulator originated in 1998 when Arlo Rose saw how he could skin the MP3 media player running on his computer. His idea was to "skin any information you wanted to see on your desktop", to quote the comic strip.

Prior to this, he had experience with Kaleidoscope, a skinning program for the Apple Macintosh operating systems, akin to WindowBlinds. He coined the term "Konfabulator" to describe his idea, and then tried pitching his idea to other software programmers. He was unsuccessful until the year 2002, when Perry Clarke (who would later become one of the core developers of Konfabulator) heard about his idea and agreed to work with him on the project.

On February 10, 2003, Arlo and Perry launched version 1.0 of Konfabulator. Before the launch, Arlo created a teaser web site asking visitors what Konfabulator is, while it was still in development. When it was finally released, users of Konfabulator were highly impressed with the idea of Widgets, and its popularity soared as a result, something which surprised the developers of Konfabulator. Due to its popularity, Arlo and Perry had to quit their jobs to work on Konfabulator full-time.

In July 2003, Arlo and Perry started working on a Windows version with another software programmer, but internal differences broke them up and they were forced to scrap the work already done. Later, Arlo persuaded Ed Voas (who was then a friend of Arlo and had 10 years of software programming experience at Apple Computer, and would later become the third member of Konfabulator's core development team) to develop a Windows version for them. Initially he declined, but later he created a working prototype and presented it to the Konfabulator development team within two days.

In November 2004, Konfabulator 1.8, the first cross-platform version of Konfabulator, was released. Windows users were pleased with the fact that most Konfabulator Widgets for the Mac OS X operating system could run seamlessly on their Windows machines, and vice-versa, thus making most Konfabulator Widgets truly cross-platform capable (some Widgets developed later were platform specific, though).

A few months later, on May 18, 2005, the first major release of Konfabulator since version 1.0, Konfabulator 2.0 (sometimes shortened to K:2), was released, along with a visual overhaul of Widgets, improved functionality, and a marked down price of US$19.95 from the previous US$24.95 (this was after many users, especially Windows users used to the idea of freeware and other cheaper widget engines, complained about the high price). The popularity of Konfabulator accelerated soon after that, and companies were seeking to use Konfabulator in their projects. In response to the demand for Konfabulator, and to provide a proper information source for Widget developers (some of whom were scraping web sites for information for their Widgets), the Konfabulator development team decided to sell Konfabulator to Yahoo!.

Yahoo! Acquires Konfabulator

On July 25, 2005 Konfabulator was acquired by Yahoo!, and Yahoo! released Konfabulator for free. Whilst the Konfabulator framework was renamed Yahoo! Widgets, the underlying engine continued to be branded as Konfabulator until December 2005.

Yahoo! said the reason they purchased Konfabulator was that they wanted an easy way to open up its APIs to the Widget developer community and allow them easy access to the information on the Yahoo! Web site. In doing this, Widgets could be built without having to scrape or search web sites in order to get information regarding the APIs for Widget and the Konfabulator framework.

On May 23, 2006, the long-awaited Universal binary of the Yahoo! Widget Engine, version 3.1.4, was made available to users of Intel-based Macintosh computers.

In August of 2006, Perry Clarke, the original engineer of the Mac version of the Widget Engine, left the Widgets team [3].


"Dashboard versus Konfabulator" Debate

Many people have made comparisons between Konfabulator and Apple's Dashboard, especially after Apple announced the feature while Mac OS X v10.4 was in development. It was a subject of debate on the online community following the few months before Mac OS X Tiger's official release.

One school of thought came to the conclusion that Dashboard was a "rip-off" of Konfabulator. They point out the visual and functional similarities between Dashboard and Konfabulator, and the fact that both programs used the term "widgets" to describe the applications they ran. Indeed, Apple was using the term "gadgets" to describe the widgets Dashboard ran before switching to "widgets" during the course of Mac OS X Tiger's development for unknown reasons, and that both have widgets that used several modern Internet technologies.

An opposing group claims that the idea of Konfabulator was actually not new. They point to Desk Accessories, a feature found in early Apple Macintosh operating systems in 1984. They point out that many of the functions the original Desk Accessories had were similar to what Konfabulator provided (or could provide). Among them were things such as a calculator and a clock. Some even draw the conclusion that Konfabulator is ripping off Apple, and not the other way around.

Both claims were refuted by this article. The author of the article points out that none of the Konfabulator developers hold any patents on Konfabulator's implementation. Neither was the idea of an "accessory" application; it had been around for quite some time and has taken on several forms, from the widgets discussed here to full-fledged software applications.

Also, despite the similarities, there are some underlying differences between both programs. The widget engine is different; Konfabulator Widgets use XML and JavaScript. However, Dashboard widgets use HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) along with JavaScript, and can display themselves in the Safari web browser as if they were web pages. The operation of widgets in both environments is also different; Konfabulator Widgets can be set to be visible on the desktop, as well as to appear only when Konsposé is activated. Also, Konfabulator Widget preferences are usually set using a dialog box, accessible by bringing up the context menu of each Widget. However, Dashboard widgets cannot normally stay on the desktop, and the preferences of each widget is set by "flipping" over the widgets and setting any options on the "back" of the widget itself.

See also

  • Widget engine

Similar Software

  • adesklets (X11)
  • Amazing Brass
  • AveDesk Small and memory efficient widgets engine for windows
  • DesktopX (Windows)
  • dotWidget Open source widgets engine done in VB6
  • gDesklets (GNOME)
  • Google Desktop
  • Kapsules Widget engine done in C#
  • Litestep Freeform GUI for Microsoft Windows
  • Microsoft gadgets
  • Samurize
  • SuperKaramba (KDE)
  • Windows Sidebar
  • Desktop Sidebar (Windows)

External links

  • Yahoo! Widgets official website
  • Unofficial Konfabulator (Yahoo! Widget Engine) Wiki
  • Yahoo! Widgets gallery
  • Why Yahoo! Bought Konfabulator
  • DesktopX/Konfabulator comparison
  • A simple list of most popular Yahoo Widgets

Dashboard and Konfabulator comparisons

  • Comparison of Dashboard and Konfabulator from John Siracusa's review of Mac OS X v10.4 for Ars Technica
  • Comparison of Dashboard and Konfabulator from Daring Fireball's John Gruber
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