Go, go, gadget widgets!
This must be what Inspector Gadget would say if he had Yahoo! Widgets–formerly known as Konfabulator–installed on his system. But, alas! It’s Google that uses the term “gadgets” to call its, err, widgets, with its own collection of applets called Google Gadgets, part of the Google Desktop Search.
Somewhat confusing, eh?
You’re probably aware of these two nifty ways to make our lives more cluttered than they already are, but for the benefit of non-ForeverGeek regulars or non-geeks (n00bs!), here’s a brief history and a comparison between the two.
In 2003 Konfabulator, a startup, released a paid software that consisted of cool standalone applets that did all sorts of stuff from telling the time, to monitoring stock market prices, to displaying your iCal calendar. This was originally for the Mac OS, and then a Windows port was released late 2004. Apparently, Apple also had plans for a widget system built-in to its then-upcoming Tiger variant of OS X, which was called Dashboard. Tiger was released early 2005, along with Dashboard, amid controversy that Dashboard was a rip-off of Konfabulator.
Mid-2005, Yahoo! acquired the startup, and then offered Konfabulator as freeware, both for Mac OS X and Windows. Everyone’s happy. The Konfabulator people get their millions (okay, speculating here), Apple users get a choice between Dashboard and Konfabulator, Windows users get to utter theirs oohs and ahhs over the OS X-like tools they can leave cluttered around their desktops, and for everyone else, finally, cross-platform apps that actually work!
Yahoo! later had the great idea of renaming Konfabultaor to (surprise!) the Yahoo! Widget Engine.
Google Gadgets are a recent addition to the Google Desktop Search package. Google Desktop Search is a local, desktop-based search technology made available to the public by Google in late 2004. This software basically indexes a user’s local files and dcuments for keywords, which would then appear on relevant searches when one does a local query.
Google Desktop featured a new addition in version 2, the gadgets-precursor, Sidebar panels, which had the ability to display and aggregate bits of information from other sites. Version 3 improved on the search aspect of Desktop, as the search could span several computers owned by a Google account.
Need I mention that Google Desktop Search was also subject to controversy because of privacy issues?
Google Gadgets, as it is now known, debuted with the release of Google Desktop 4 just this month. Functionality-wise Gadgets is similar to its previous Sidebar plugins incarnation, doing anything that the old Sidebar plugins did. Hey, it looks very much like the Sidebar we know all too well. Ah, the power of re-branding.
How they fare against each other
Having been a Konfabulator fan since it came out free, and being an avid Google user (junkie, if you will), I can say I’ve tried both Yahoo Widgets and Google Gadgets, and I’m quite in favor of one over the other. Here are some areas of comparison.
Google Desktop Sidebar
Yahoo! Widgets will blow Google Gadgets away if the battle were only in the Aesthetics arena. Yes, Google goes for the minimalist approach, but Yahoo! Widgets are more visually appealing. You have to understand that these are desktop objects and you won’t necessarily have speed or bandwidth considerations to worry about. Translucency works for me too, especially since I sometimes choose to have some Widgets (like clock and CPU monitor) hover over main applications. My Gadgets only stay on the sidebar, though. I can detach them, but they’d remain regular windows hidden from view. So great styling is good. Yahoo! gets the point here.
Functionality. Both Widgets and Gadgets offer a strong suite of free third-party applications that offer anything from productivity tools to time-wasting oddities. Widgets, having been in the market longer, has an advantage in terms of the number of applets one can download and install. However, Google Gadgets’ parent application, Google Desktop Search extends the functionality well over the perceived productivity increases that Widgets! can give, because users can search for information within their local computers, and across other computers they own. Yahoo! Widget Engine only serves as that–a Widget engine.
So it’s a tie in this area.
Ease of use. Both require the base applications to be installed before applets can be installed and run. However, with Widgets, the .widget files become executable applications in themselves, while with Google, you have to go through an installation process each time you download a new Gadget. You can store Yahoo! Widgets anywhere and activate that widget just be executing the file–sort of like the elegance of the Mac OS X’s application structure (all files under one folder, and an app can run from anywhere its folder structures are stored) versus Windows’ clunky install-files-in-various places methodology. Yahoo! gets the point on this one.
Interface. Google goes for the simple-but-usable approach. But Konfabulator pulled off all stops to make it the interface as elegant (and as OS X-like?) as possible. You can run Widgets and have the applets float just about anywhere you like, whether on top of other windows, underneath, as regular Windows, or hidden until called for.
Widgets’ heads-up-display (HUD, formerly known as KonsposÃ©, actually a play on Mac’s “ExposÃ©” functionality) shows you all your running and background Widgets at a press of a button. Gadgets can only be docked on the Google Desktop Sidebar, and you’d have to select them one by one to display.
Yahoo! gets the point on this one, too.
So for me, I would go all out for Yahoo! Widgets if only I weren’t overly dependent on Google applications in my everyday life (I use Gmail, Gtalk, Gcalendar, Gnotebook, G everything, and the only Yahoo! services I use are YM and Flickr). So I usually run both, system resources permitting. I tend to use Widgets more frequently, as they are more easily accessible. But really, after the novelty has worn out, these usually tend to serve only as eye candy, unless you have some compulsive need to have your information available on hand all the time.
Considering that both Yahoo! Widget Engine and Google Desktop Search are quite the memory- and resource-hogs, I usually relegate these for working on my dekstop. On my laptop, where every bit of extra system resource is precious, I’d rather use my Web browser to access all of these information otherwise also accessible via Widgets or Gadgets (hey, isn’t Firefox a resource hog, too? Exactly!).