%HTMLlat1; %HTMLsymbol; %HTMLspecial; ]> Why widgets?
Roland van Ipen­burg
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Why wid­gets?

Thurs­day 18 Fe­bru­ary 2010 16:24

Opera is try­ing it again. Ap­ple has tried with Dash­board. But it still has failed to de­liv­er that killer wid­get. Or am I just to min­i­mal­is­tic to ap­pre­ci­ate wid­gets?

The whole point of wid­gets seems to be that the cre­ator of the wid­get can use round­ed cor­ners, al­pha trans­paren­cy and drop shad­ows in a way that a reg­u­lar be­hav­ing ap­pli­ca­tion isn't al­lowed to have be­cause an ap­pli­ca­tion is sup­posed to fol­low the rules of the graph­i­cal user in­ter­face of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem it is run­ning in. So in­stead of a sin­gle sol­id gen­er­al pur­pose RSS read­er or me­dia play­er we're sup­posed to use half-assed cus­tom brand­ed RSS read­er or skinned me­dia play­er wid­gets for every sin­gle feed? That might be nice for the cre­ator of a wid­get or in a locked down brand­ed en­ter­prise en­vi­ron­ment, but no­body else cares.

But what wid­gets also show is that no­body cares about what the user in­ter­face should be of­fer­ing to ap­pli­ca­tions in terms of func­tion­al­i­ty. Part­ly be­cause it is bro­ken al­ready. If an ap­pli­ca­tion isn't very us­able when it's win­dow is less than 1024 pix­els wide, and makes no sense hav­ing it's win­dow over 1600 pix­els wide, why not just give up that il­lu­sion of flex­i­bil­i­ty and pick a fixed size for the win­dow and op­ti­mize for that sta­t­ic en­vi­ron­ment? And does the graph­i­cal in­ter­face of an ap­pli­ca­tion sur­vive all the cus­tomiza­tion that can be done on fonts, dpi, col­ors or even the win­dow­ing sys­tem it­self? So why keep try­ing to cater for that il­lu­sion of flex­i­bil­i­ty?

Be­cause what I do like could be con­sid­ered full-screen wid­gets: run­ning an ap­pli­ca­tion in full screen mode with­out any graph­i­cal el­e­ments of the in­ter­face vis­i­ble. The brows­er for ex­am­ple is then just the page, with­out tool­bars, scroll bars or any­thing. The in­ter­face is re­duced to key­board short­cuts, just like when run­ning ap­pli­ca­tions in 80x25 text in­ter­faces in the days of MS-DOS. Un­less you have a big screen or sev­er­al screens where it would make sense to view sev­er­al win­dows next to each oth­er, op­ti­miz­ing ap­pli­ca­tions to run full screen - and I don't mean in a win­dow max­i­mized to fill the screen - makes sense. That's why on the tiny screens of mo­bile de­vices that is the way to go. Switch­ing be­tween a cou­ple of ap­pli­ca­tions be­comes a more im­por­tant task for an in­ter­face than of­fer­ing to try to show them run­ning all at the same time. Win­dows as the graph­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a mul­ti-task­ing op­er­at­ing sys­tem is tech­ni­cal­ly more ad­vanced then what users can han­dle. They just get con­fused when you can in­sert any ap­pli­ca­tion win­dow­less in­side a doc­u­ment in an­oth­er ap­pli­ca­tion.

The log­i­cal com­pan­ion to a full screen ap­pli­ca­tion are small al­pha trans­par­ent pop-ups to re­ceive no­ti­fi­ca­tions from oth­er ap­pli­ca­tions, in a Growl like way, but they should be more wid­get like so they can con­tain more in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments. A win­dows sys­tem and ap­pli­ca­tions that are aimed at pro­vid­ing this func­tion­al­i­ty, com­bined with strict guide­lines so the pop-ups don't grow into ap­pli­ca­tions them­selves and you end up with the same is­sues would be nice to have. While I don't like the iPad as it's cur­rent­ly pro­posed, it could be the first step to­wards sys­tems that lever­age full-screen fixed mode ap­pli­ca­tion de­sign for some­what big­ger screens. Ap­ple has the track record pull some­thing like that off, and else Steve has to do it like with the NeXT.

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