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Friday, January 27, 2006

Accessorizing the Desktop

A few years ago the popular things was puting trolls on your monitor, years before that I guess people had trendy or useful desk blotters. There's always the various desk plants, trendy calculators, funky space-wasters that people collect for their desks, screens, and walls.

These cluttering objects have made it to your computer screen. It's not like the classic Pop-Up tools like Sidekick, this has become the 'Norm' for computer usage under the Windows operating system. These new items, as in the past, can have some use to us, but there's a few of them, possibly several thousand that are completely useless. The beauty is finding those trinkets and tools that are useful, if not not to anyone else, and having them at mouse's reach on your screen, reducing or interfering with your workspace. Desktop real estate is valuable, that's why I have a 19" monitor, that's why there are bigger and bigger LCD monitors coming out. Not only do we want to see our work (or play) better, but the PC manufacturer's and Bill Gates himself have a desire for the PC to be your world.

The latest trinkets are in nice neat applications as plug-ins or widgets. The two main applications, or platforms, for these trinkets are Yahoo Widgets and Google Desktop. These platforms have different looks and similar intentions. They are very different by design and their behaviour may or may not be to your liking. The nicest thing is they're free and most of the plug-ins are too.

While the Yahoo tool, an acquisition formerly called Konfabulator, is very artistic and soft. The community that build widgets looks for new and interesting ways of giving you some part of the vast information on the Internet through their trinkets. Their trinkets are either on your screen or lurking about, you can invoke the 'Heads Up Display' and a semi-transparent haze brings all of them to the fore-front where you can work with them. They can be above your other applications, behind, or behaving like any other application, but they also have a floating mode. When a widget is floating it is best made mostly transparent so the active windows are visible below it. When it's floating it is also transparent to your interaction, you simply use your application as it it were not there.

Google's application has a different look, while it can be hidden away at the bottom, and easily transitions from sidebar to floating to deskbar (in the task bar). It is more like a typical windows application than Yahoo's graceful presence, but Desktop does reserve it's place on your screen, right or left, so it doesn't interfere aside from the reduction of real estate. It's a decent tool, but the user community is less generous both with the quantity and cost. Many of the contributor's in the Desktop community make their offerings as Shareware rather than Freeware.

I like the spirit of the Yahoo community better.

For your purposes, if you like these trinkets or simply the access to information ('Information at Your Fingertips' was a mission statement for a while at Microsoft Canada) then have a look. Many of the tools are a very helpful, useful, and practical. Sometimes you'll hate them, but there's some adjustment required when you change your habits. Personally, I have the weather, a calendar, a clock, a to do list, a timer, and quick access to the Command Prompt when I use Widgets. The Deskbar is a little more compact but features many of the same things, in a smaller space.

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