Introduced with OS X Tiger, Dashboard provides a quick and easy way to do everything from checking the weather forecast to finding a phone number and searching a favorite website. The list is almost endless. Though Dashboard appears in the Applications folder and on the Dock, it’s not really an application as such. In fact, it’s a layer of OS X, and it houses mini applications called widgets.
To quickly summon the widgets currently installed on your Dashboard, which range from a calculator to an international weather tool. Click F12, or click the Dashboard icon in the Dock. To close the Dashboard, click F12 again or click on some empty space between widgets.
The few widgets that are laid out before you when you first call upon Dashboard are not the only ones in your OS X armory. Click the “+” icon in the bottom-left corner to show the Widget Bar along the bottom of the screen.
To add widgets to your Dashboard, drag them out of the Widget Bar and watch as they ripple into life. To remove a widget from the Dashboard, click the “x” icon that is visible at its top-left corner when the Widget Bar is open.
An alternative to the Widget Bar is the Widgets widget. Click the Manage Widgets… button when the Widget Bar is open to reveal a special widget that replicates the functions of the Widget Bar, displaying all your installed widgets. This tool can be used to activate and deactivate widgets and also features a button for accessing More Widgets… online.
Where Widgets Reside
When the mouse pointer hovers over a widget, you may see a little “i”. Click on it to get access to the widget’s settings.
Each individual widget is a little application. Unlike regular apps, which tend to live in your Applications folder, widgets are located in two special locations within your hard disk.
Macintosh HD – Library – Widgets: Widgets in here appear on the Widget Bar or all users on the Mac.
Your home folder – Library – Widgets: In here appear on your Widget Bar only – not those of other users.
In fact, don’t have to be located inside these folders. As with other applications, you can keep them anywhere that’s convenient and open them with a double-click. But if you want them in your Widget Bar, you have to use these folders.
If you have a MobileMe account, you can synchronize your widgets across various Macs registered to your account. It means that you don’t have to download new widgets multiple time to get the, installed on all your machines. To do this, open System Preferences – MobileMe on each machine and then check the Dashboard Widgets box under the Sync tab.
Get More Widgets
The widgets that come with OS X are useful, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, you can find thousands of widgets available online to download. Most of these widgets are free, and if you’d like to find a specific widget, chances are that a developer somewhere has already thought about developing such a widget and developed it.
Anyway, your first port of call should be the Apple site, as their collection is vast and well organized. You can go straight to this site from the More Widgets… option on the Dashboard bar. But it’s not the only widget website, as you can find many other sources of widgets.
Some widgets will automatically appear on your Widget Bar after you’ve downloaded them. Others however may need to be dragged into one of the two widget folders.
Many widgets have fun extra features that aren’t obvious from a first glance. Two examples, from the collection you already have:
- The weather in Nowhere: Open the weather widget, hold down Command key + Option and click the widget a few times. You’ll be taken to a mysterious city called Nowhere and shown all the weather systems the widget can describe.
- Sort yourself out if you’ve played with the Tile Game widget but got bored of the default image, try putting yourself in the picture. Pick an image in Finder and, while dragging the file, click F12, still holding down the mouse button. Keep dragging the image and drop it into the Tile Game.
Roll Your Own Widgets
Over time widgets can hog large amounts of RAM, making your Dashboard and other apps run slower. Don’t forget to close widgets you are not using. Sometimes, you computer will need to be restarted.
Tips about Dashboard
To add the Open in Dashboard button to Safari toolbar, choose Customize Toolbar from the from the Safari View menu.
If you want to make a widget available all the time and not just when Dashboard is open, you can download and use DevMode widget. Once the DevMode widget is up and running, click F12 to reveal dashboard. Next, click and drag the widget you want to keep active, click F12 and you’ll see a floating widget. To put it back on the Dashboard again, click F12 while dragging it.
Many Mac keyboards also feature a dedicated Dashboard key in the F4 position.
To teasingly slow the Dashboard’s animated blitz across the screen, hold down Shift while you click F12.
To close widgets without opening the Widget Bar, hold the Option key as your mouse pointer hovers over the widget. This will reveal the widget closing button.
If an individual widget becomes buggy or freezes, reload it with the keyboard shortcut Command key + R.
You can change the keyboard key and mouse button that reveals your Dashboard in the Exposé & Spaces pane of OS X’s System Preferences.
If you always use the F12 key to access the Dashboard, you have no need to keep its icon in the Dock. Click and hold it and choose Remove from Dock from the menu, if you ever want to put it back, drag the Dashboard icon from Applications onto the Dock.
The whole idea of widgets dates back to Konfabulator, a third-party product available for both Macs and PCs. Since that it has become Yahoo! Widgets which offers thousands of widgets (through the history, many of them have not been compatible with Dashboard, so a separate app must be downloaded to use them). Google Gadgets work in a similar way to Widgets.
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