Dashboard Widgets

Jeremy Wagstaff writes about an alternative to RSS:

They’re called widgets, or dashboards, or both, and they do more or less everything RSS feeds do, but they also do a lot of things RSS feeds don’t do, or at least don’t do as simply. Which might make them perfect for you.

One of the downsides, to me, of newsreaders is that they pretty much take up the same amount of desktop space as your browser or your email program: namely, most of it. And you need to switch from what you’re doing in Microsoft Word or Outlook, or wherever you spend most of your day, to see what’s going on in the RSS world. This is OK for folk like me who read RSS feeds like they were my daily newspaper. But what if you just want to check the sports results, any updates to your company Web site, or the weather?

This is where the widget works well. Widgets are basically little jigsaw bits of software that sit anywhere on your desktop, taking up very little space. Once you’ve installed the basic software, you select the widgets you want from the program’s homepage and you’re ready to go. Each widget is a self-contained feed, delivering its own bits of information to that corner of your screen. But what kind of information? Well, depending on what kind of widget you’ve installed, it could be anything from newly arriving emails for you to a video stream from a traffic camera on your route home. It could be any outstanding auctions you’re interested in at eBay or a shipment from FedEx you’re tracking. All of these little slices of data could appear on your screen in separate little unobtrusive windows, placed wherever you want them, updating automatically.

I think of widgets as single-item RSS feeds — where the permalink stays the same and the item gets updated in-place.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.