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Dashboard (software)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Dashboard is an application for Apple's Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger operating system, used for hosting mini-applications known as widgets. It is a semi-transparent layer that is invisible to the user unless activated by a hotkey, which can be set to the user's preference. Microsoft's Gadgets and the Windows Sidebar are similar.

When Dashboard is activated, the user's desktop is dimmed and widgets fade into the foreground. Like application windows, they can be moved around, rearranged, deleted, and recreated (so that more than one of the same Widget is open at the same time, possibly with different settings). New widgets can be opened, via a menu bar, by dragging their icon out into the layer. After loading, the widget is ready for use.

Creation of widgets

Dashboard widget icon
Dashboard widget icon

Dashboard widgets are created using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript. Because the same programming languages are used for creating websites, many web developers can already build them. Widgets themselves are, at the core, simply HTML files that are displayed within the Dashboard layer; they use the WebKit application framework that is also used in Apple's Safari web browser, meaning even users running earlier versions of Mac OS X- where Dashboard is unavailable- can build them.

When a Dashboard widget is built, it usually consists of six files:

  • The widget's HTML file, which is the actual file that will be displayed in the Dashboard layer
  • The widget's CSS file, which is used for styling the widget (but is called on from the HTML file)
  • The widget's JavaScript file, although it may be implemented directly within the HTML file if the developer desires
  • The widget's Property List (called “Info.plist”), which is what Dashboard uses to load the widget’s properties (i.e.: name, version, HTML file, etc.)
  • The background image of the widget, in PNG format
  • The icon that is displayed in the menu bar

Once all of these files are in the root of a directory, it is given a name and the extension ".wdgt", and then it can be opened up in Dashboard as a widget. More complex widgets may also include a Cocoa widget plugin (for platform-specific functionality), one or more JavaScript files (for text scrolling, preferences, etc.) or multiple images (for personalized select menus or buttons).

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple's next operating system, will include an application called Dashcode, which is a more user-friendly way of creating widgets.

Widget functions and capabilities

Dashboard widgets, like web pages, are capable of many different things, oftentimes to perform tasks that would be tedious or complicated for the user to access manually. One example is the Google Search widget, which simply opens up the user's browser and performs a Google search. Other widgets, like Wikipedia, grab the contents of webpages and display them within Dashboard. Some widgets can also serve as games, using Adobe Flash (or another multimedia authoring program) to create games just as if they were in a browser.


With the click of the mouse or the press of a hotkey, the Dashboard is activated and the Widgets "fly" onscreen. They disappear in a similar way.
With the click of the mouse or the press of a hotkey, the Dashboard is activated and the Widgets "fly" onscreen. They disappear in a similar way.

Dashboard uses a variety of graphical effects for displaying, opening, and using widgets. For instance, a 3-D flip effect is used to simulate the widget flipping around (where a user may change the preferences); other effects include cross-fades from icon to body (when opening widgets), or a suck-in effect when they are closed. On sufficiently powered Macs, widgets will produce a ripple effect when they are opened, like a leaf falling onto water. Some users believe that these effects are taxing and superfluous, consuming CPU resources, but with the help of OS X’s Quartz Extreme and Core Image graphics architectures, sufficient computing power to render them in real time is available.

Dashboard vs. Konfabulator

Dashboard has been widely compared to Konfabulator (now Yahoo! Widget Engine) and sometimes called a copy of it, due to the similarities between their graphical aspects and the fact that they both use the term “widgets” to describe the objects in their environments. Konfabulator may in turn have been based on Apple’s Desk Accessories [1], first released in 1984 with the original Macintosh. Desk Accessories, similar to widgets, were small mini-applications that operated on a user’s desktop. After the introduction of System 7 and cooperative multitasking the necessity of creating Desk Accessories was removed and developers were encouraged to create applications instead. The OS continued to support them, for backward compatability, until the switch to Mac OS X (In fact, the Calculator desk accessory remained in the Mac OS up until OS 9, 17 years without an update).

The code bases for Konfabulator and Dashboard are also different: whereas Konfabulator uses XML and JavaScript to generate Widgets, Dashboard uses HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Objective C.

Included widgets

At first, Apple included 14 widgets with Mac OS X 10.4 - 10.4.3. They consisted of:

  • Address Book
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Dictionary
  • Flight Tracker
  • iTunes Controller
  • Phone Book
  • Stickies
  • Stocks
  • Tile Game
  • Translation
  • Unit Converter
  • Weather
  • World Clock

After the Macworld 2006 keynote, however, Steve Jobs also announced four new widgets (Ski Report, People Finder, Google Search, and ESPN), as well as significant updates to the Phone Book and Calendar widgets. All of these are available through the Mac OS X 10.4.4 update.

In addition, the upcoming version of Apple's operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will include new widgets. One of these is WebClip, which will allow any user to turn a rectangular section of any webpage into a widget. The widget updates as the website does, and all links and other interactive material in the widget's selection of the webpage works as if the website is being accessed from Safari.

Apple also highly encourages developers to build their own widgets; many Dashboard-related sites provide downloads to collections of different widgets. Currently, Apple’s own Dashboard page and are the most popular. Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard will also include Dashcode, an application for the easy creation of widgets.

Images from included widgets

Widgets on the desktop

Although by default widgets are confined to the Dashboard layer, a widget can be dragged from the widget bar to the desktop by simply selecting the widget, dragging it, and then switching back to the Desktop, from the Dashboard, before dropping the widget. (The user can switch between the Dashboard and the Desktop by pressing F12 on the keyboard.) The widget will remain floating on the desktop until the next time the Dashboard is opened.

To keep one or more widgets on the desktop in a more permanent fashion, the Dashboard "devmode" must be activated. Enter the following into the Terminal, or (/Applications/Utilities/

defaults write devmode YES

and then restart the Dock (and Dashboard):

killall Dock

Once this option has been set, widgets dragged from the Dashboard will remain floating on the desktop, even after log out or shutdown. To move a desktop widget back to the Dashboard, simply reverse the process used to move it onto the desktop.

Another option for widgets on the desktop is to use the shareware utility Amnesty Widget Browser, a dashboard emulator that also allows the user to select which level (desktop, standard or floating) a widget occupies while it resides on the desktop.

See also

  • Comparison of widget engines

Similar Software

  • adesklets (X11)
  • Amazing Brass
  • AveDesk Small and memory efficient widgets engine for windows
  • DesktopX (Windows)
  • dotWidget Free and opensource 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
  • Yahoo! Widget Engine Windows and Macintosh compatible widgets engine.(formally known as Konfabulator) List of Yahoo! Widget Engine widgets


  • "Desk Ornaments" by Andy Hertzfeld,, October, 1981, retrieved July 11, 2006

External links

  • Apple's Dashboard page
  • Apple's Dashboard Developer page
  • Apple's Dashboard video
  • Apple's Dashboard widget download page
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