1172 words on Mac OS X
I’ve been told I’m too critical about Dashboard widgets. But of course I am not. Many widgets just look like they’re quickly assembled crap. Pretty quickly assembled crap, if we’re lucky.
Note that I am not saying that the Dashboard per se is bad. It’s not. It’s a good idea to give you ‘information at your fingertips’ without having that information clutter your workspace or even your menu bar. I’d even move rarely used status items like the Bluetooth or Monitors menu to the Dashboard. And with Spotlight turning out to be quite lame in practice despite the cool technology behind it, the Dashboard may well be the new feature in OS X.4 that I use most frequently.
Let me illustrate this on two examples that came to use thanks to the recent OS X.4.4 update. The first is the calculator widget. As discussed in my original Dashboard review the Calculator started off as a heap of crap because you just couldn’t use it with your numerical keypad if you didn’t happen to have a dot as a decimal separator. This may look like a minor point. But for one it isn’t if you are using one of the non-English languages that uses a comma as the decimal separator (particularly as Apple broke the Mac’s ability to set your decimal separator manually).
And secondly, this clearly demonstrates the technical or structural problem I’m seeing with the Dashboard: The number format problem is a well known one. It has been around for decades and it has been solved. Whether you’re entering numbers in Claris Works in 1993 or you’re using any non-broken Cocoa application today – decimal separators are not a problem you need to worry about. Because the System will know about your localisation preferences and interpret your input accordingly. Simple and useful.
Well, for the updated calculator widget in X.4.4 they have – just half a year after the problem became blatantly obvious to thousands of users – added extra code and extra graphics to adjust the calculator to your preferences. Well, sort-of. It seems that the calculator now simply accepts both the comma and the dot key which is a reasonable compromise but doesn’t have the structural clarity you might wish for. Particularly when you observe that only pressing the dot key will be reflected by the comma key on-screen to be updated to its pressed state. Pressing a comma key will not.
The next widget to discuss in this context would be the all new Ski Report widget. It’s a cousin of the weather widget. And the weather widget has been known for its non-existant localisation from day one. In addition it contains so many bugs with finding places (Berlin, CT anyone?) and does neither read your temperature scale preferences from the system nor simply default to °C nor store your choice that it’s downright embarrassing. [fix for the °C problem]
With that background I was particularly curious to see how the Ski widget works. Its code is partly taken from the weather widget (they both use the same web service and both have the odd ‘Celcius’ typo in there) but it seems to have been improved. Most notably it can store your preferred temperature scale. Woot! Of course it’ll still wrongly default to °F because the widget isn’t localised, but the problem just isn’t as bad this way.
But this particular widget introduces another ‘challenge’ which Apple didn’t fail to get wrong. It displays snow heights. And a few people on Earth prefer to express those in inches. The people working at Apple, say. And where in the °C vs. °F case they were aware that there is a choice here, no such choice of measurement unit is offered to the user in the ski widget for the heights it displays. Which would be fine if the widget simply read the users clearly stated preference for metric units from the OS… but of course it doesn’t.
That was the topic of Apple widgets. The majority of widgets, however, aren’t made by Apple. And while I haven’t tried all of them, it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of them is at least one of ugly or superfluous. So to end on a high note let me mention iSlayer widgets. A number of widgets on offer which are reasonably looking and moderately useful. Most notably they have a full set of system stats in a tiny non-technical looking widget (apparently defaulting to °C for temperature display) and a battery indicator using a hen and her eggs as graphics.
Pretty, space-saving, fun. And with a choice of ‘free-range’ or ‘caged’, naturally. Exactly the software I like: Software that’s doing the job without losing its sense of humour. Or software that has a sense of humour without neglecting its job. And while I was at it I also grabbed a prettified old school Mac startup icon for my Dashboard:
Admittedly, that one is useless – but you will understand…
I just tried to configure the Ski Report widget ;-) muahaha
You know I would think this is pretty cool, since I live close to the mountains in central europe and would like to know the condition in e.g. Lech or St.Anton, I would like to be able to choose my favorite Ski-Resort, which might change every couple of years.
Er. Ok. I will just look out of the window to see the conditions. Even that is a lot more accurate than this widget. What a failure …
Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.