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Computer Software Widgets


       For most computer users, computer software widgets, or more simply widgets, may be considered as stand-alone simple software applications that allow the user to perform simple task or functions. But to be accurate and more comprehensive, a few related concepts need to be introduced. These are, in addition to software widgets, desktop widgets, Web widgets, and widget toolkit and graphic user interface.

Software widgets: Software widgets are simple, stand-alone, task-oriented applications that provide single-purpose services or functions. It is a generic type of software application comprising portable programming code intended for one or more different software platforms. The term often implies that either the application, user interface, or both, are relatively simple and easy to use as opposed to a more complete software package such as a spreadsheet or word processor. The Web Application Formats Working Group in W3C released W3C standard to standardize some aspects of widgets. By their physical location, software widgets can be divided into two major categories: desktop widgets, and Web widgets.

Desktop widgets (commonly just called widgets):  Desktop widgets are a specialized GUI widget intended to run on a computer desktop for computer users to control simple utility functions such as showing the latest news, the current weather, the time, or a map program; or allowing users to control clocks, a calculator, photo viewers, or even a language translator, among other things. A desktop widget resides on the users desktop but uses little desktop space and computer resources, such as hard-drive device and RAM. Its purpose is to provide relevant information to the user in a non-intrusive manner and using few resources. Basically, desktop widgets enable the user to view on demand, encapsulated information from predetermined data sources. Most of the desktop widgets are available as free downloads from the vendors Web sites.

A closely related concept is mobile widget. A mobile widget is the comparable equivalent for mobile devices (e.g. smart phones).

Web widget: A web widget is a portable application installed and executed, typically by webmasters on HTML-based web pages, to offer site visitors simple functionality such as shopping, advertisements, videos, Web widgets are usually created by third party publishers and are distributed to web page owners who implement the widgets on their web page. In contrast to desktop widgets, web widgets do not reside in the users desktop computer or other mobile device. They are embedded in a web page and reside in the hosting server of the web page instead of the user's computer. Users can only access a web widget by visiting the web page.

Widget toolkit: Desktop widgets can also work in constellation to create sophisticated applications. A set of widgets for use in designing applications with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) is called widget toolkit, or widget library. The toolkit includes a piece of software which is usually built on the top of an operating system, and provides programs with an application programming interface (API), allowing them to make use of widgets. An individual widget in a toolkit provides a single, low level function, and is prepared to communicate with other widgets in the toolkit. Widget toolkits can be either native or cross platform.

       The term, Graphical user interface, is mentioned a few times above. Graphical user interface (or GUI) is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices with images rather than text commands.  It allows a computer user to control and change the appearance of elements for operating a software application. The software widget most commonly encountered by regular users is in the graphical user interface format.  In this context a widget may refer to a generic GUI element such as a check box, to an instance of that element, or to a customized collection of such elements used for a specific function or application.

       In this episode we introduced computer software widgets. They are stand-alone simple software applications that allow the user to perform simple task or functions. Software widgets residing in our personal computer devices are called desktop widgets; whereas those coming along and functioning on a webpage are called web widgets.

As for all other episodes of this podcast, you can view the text summary on your Apple mobile devices or view the entire transcript on the web.

========== Summary =============

Software Widgets

    • Portable, stand-alone, task-oriented software applications
    • Provide single-purpose services or functions
    • Simple and easy to use
    • Embedded in a web page (web widgets) or in users desktop PC (desktop widgets)

       Desktop Widgets

      • Portable software application that controls simple utility functions
      • Are specialized GUI widgets residing in user desktop computer
      • Use little desktop space and computer system resources
      • Most are available as free downloads from Internet

       Web widgets

      • Also portable software applications
      • Allow users to perform simple functions
      • Not reside in user desktop computer
      • Usually embedded in a web page instead
      • Publishers distribute them to web page owners

Widget Toolkits

    • Combine several widgets to form a single application
    • A set of interrelated programming tools
    • Used to design applications with GUI

Reference / Suggested Readings

Wikipedia: Software Widget.  (Accessible: March 2012)

Marta Strickland: Widgets 101 - The Web Beyond The Page.  (Accessible: March 2012)

Wikipedia: WebWidget.  (Accessible: March 2012)