My site for talking about the customization of Windows.
DesktopX, Konfabulator, AveDesk, Kapsules, Samurize and more!
Published on September 4, 2004 By Frogboy In

This Fall the widget wars will move into high gear. The battle for the desktop is about to begin. And with Longhorn's XAML technology lurking in the distance (and Apple's Dashboard), widgets are likely to deliver a whole new era of desktop customization.

Widgets are essentially mini-applications that live on your desktop.  What makes widgets different is that they tend to use less overhead by relying on an existing set of libraries that handle the drawing.  As a result, widget developers don't tend to have to worry  much about drawing their their content. This means that widgets are usually irregularly shaped and very cool looking.

The other thing that makes widgets special is that because there is usually an underlying set of libraries that handle a lot of the drawing which enables non-programmers can make them. 

In the "old days" a software developer would create a program that happened to be skinnable and then skinners could come in and create graphics to skin it.  Now, with widgets, the skinners become the developers. 

Widget makers can often use scripting languages such as VB Script or Java script as their language. Others use a programming language (such as C++) to make "plugins" that serve as the widget.  And a few can even do both.

For the purposes of this discussion I'm going to focus on 5 programs. And bear in mind, I work for Stardock which makes one of these (DesktopX) so while I'm trying to be fair to all, I'm more familiar with DesktopX.  It is my hope that users will gain interest in this new evolution of desktop customization (i.e. widgets, no matter whose widgets, are good). It also means I'm going not going to talk about any perceived downsides. I'm going to focus purely on what makes them good.

The 5 programs I'll focus on are DesktopX, AveDesk, Samurize, Konfabulator, and Kapsules.

What's nice about widgets is that they can be used interchangeably. It's not like GUI skinning where you can only be running one at a time. A Samurize widget can be used with an Avedesk widget for instance without any problems. It's not an all or nothing scenario scenario.

DesktopX

DesktopX is the oldest of the group (released around 5 years old) which is both an advantage and disadvantage.  It's an advantage because it has built up the largest user base over the years.  It's a disadvantage because for most of its existence, it targeted Windows 95, 98, and later ME which aren't really suited for having desktop enhancements.  The compromises made in DesktopX 1.x made it unappealing to some people.

DesktopX 2 changed that.  DesktopX 2, which was redesigned for Windows XP, is relatively new and has a lot of cutting edge features.  DesktopX exports its widgets as actual EXEs which makes them the ultimate in ease of use for end users. And widgets can still be imported into a DesktopX environment for modification and tweaking.

DesktopX allows for widgets to be made using VB Script or Javascript. It also supports "plugins" that can be made with most programming languages. The default install includes a dozen or so existing plugins to handle most of the more common types of things people would want to do. And if they haven't thought of a plugin for it, the scripting language is integrated into the GUI allowing users to create their own functionality quite easily.

Some DesktopX widgets.

    

Some of DesktopX's advantages include:

  • Integrated COM/ActiveX support. Your ActiveX controls (browsers, Office apps, Quicktime, Media Player) are treated like any other object.
  • Unique animation engine. Just put a strip of images together, tell DesktopX how many frames there are and the speed and you have a fluid animation.
  • It can be configured from a GUI.
  • It includes a plugin model and a lot of plugins
  • It can export its content as EXEs.
  • It can be used to build desktops (so it competes both as a widget making program as well as a shell enhancer ala Hoverdesk or Talisman).
  • Huge library of objects/widgets to draw on.
  • Very easy to install/use widgets (just double click on them and they will run and add themselves to your widget/object library).

Konfabulator

Konfabulator owns the widget world on the Mac.  It has been out for about a year and a half.  Konfabulator is a Java-runtime engine that enables users to create and run their own Javascript based applets where Konfaublator takes care of all the visual drawing portions. It is the quintessential "widget" enabling program.

Konfabulator widgets are folders that contain a .kon file which is a file that uses XML to encapsulate Javascript and object definitions. The folder would also contain a series of .PNG files that are used for the graphics.

Konfabulator's future on the Mac has been made a bit murky because of Apple's decision to include Dashboard, a similar technology due for release as part of MacOS Tiger. Dashboard, while not quite the same, delivers much the same end result. Most of us who follow this market are convinced Apple saw the popularity of Konfabulator and decided to copy it as a concept.  Apple's defenders have tried to retroactively give credit for widgets to Apple in the form of desktop accessories from 1984. A claim I consider absurd. But no matter what, the net result is that things might get tight for Konfabulator on the Mac. But how it might do on Windows remains unclear with so much entrenched competition.

Konfabulator widget examples:

Konfabulator Advantages:

  • Very straight forward in what it does: It makes widgets. No other focuses.

  • Can sit down and work on a single file (the .kon file) to create the widget.

  • Very high quality widgets included

  • Quality over quantity

  • On the Mac, it's really the only game in town until Tiger.

  • Very good marketing - it gets more press attention than the others combined.

  • Widgets (mac version) easy to use/run, just double click on them and they run.

Samurize

Samurize is a VBScript run-time engine that includes powerful development tools for creating widgets. It also includes a great deal of functionality that can be easily plugged in.  So if Samurize's developers have already thought of a widget feature (such as CPU meters) it becomes very very easy to make that kind of widget. And if they haven't added it, then it's just a matter of writing the VBScript or other code to get the functionality.

This means that Samurize is much easier than most of the other widget making programs to create some of the common widgets. It is really the leading app for creating system monitoring based widgets because it is so good as making such widgets easy for skinners.

Samurize Widget examples:

Advantages of Samurize:

  • The best widget development environment. The result is that it makes it much easier for skinners to create a series of widgets that go together. Note to developers - promote your editor more. This is your ace in the hole.

  • Fairly large library of widgets.

  • Lots of easy, built in system/network monitoring features.

  • No nonsense focus. It's not trying to deliver pretty but useless junk, it is for people who want to put useful monitoring things on their desktop with a minimum of fuss.

AveDesk

AveDesk is best described as docklets on the desktop. In fact, AveDesk doesn't call its widgets widgets but instead "Desklets" which I think is a better name than widgets.   So I should probably explain what the heck a docklet is.

A docklet is typically a plugin for a dock program such as ObjectDock or Y'z dock.  Imagine in a dock sitting at the bottom edge of your desktop with a CPU meter or weather monitor or clock.

AveDesk's author, Andreas, is one of the leading docklet developers out there.  So taking these docklets and making them free-floating on the desktop is a fairly natural move. And best of all, it's compatible with ObjectDock docklets so all those ObjectDock docklets on WinCustomize.com can be used as widgets on your desktop as well. And so ObjectDock's popularity actually feeds into AveDesk's popularity (which is ironic since ObjectDock is made by Stardock who makes DesktopX and DesktopX can't use ObjectDock docklets as widgets at this time).

A lot of AveDesk's content is "borrowed" from Konfabulator graphic-wise (another reason why Konfabulator may have some trouble if there's a Windows version - it's going to be competing with its own content) (dwl: I am going by the screenshots I found on-line of how people are using it when compared to the screenshots of how people are using the others).

AveDesk widget (desklet) examples:

Advantages of AveDesk

  • ObjectDock docklets can be used as desktop widgets

  • Each desklet is essentially a skinnable application in itself (so third parties can actually make skins for existing widgets as opposed to creating a whole new widget).

  • While few widgets, widgets tend to be quite nice looking

  • Cool widget labeling features

Kapsules

Kapsules is the new kid on the block and it makes no bones about being similar to Konfabulator. It is, essentially, Konfabulator for Windows already in terms of functionality.

Kapsules widgets are stored in folders with a .kap file and a config file. Along with a sub-directory with the .PNG files. In my opinion, it is set up better than Konfabulator in this regard because unlike Konfabulator where XML encapsulates the whole thing, with Kapsules, the config file is the XML portion that defines the various objects andthe .KAP file is the Javascript, VB Script or whatever scripting language you choose to use.

Kapsules does require users to download and install the .NET framework which does limit some users from using it. But the .NET libraries allow Kapsules to have more functionality out of the box (since it's being coded by one person, this demonstrates the power of .NET).

Kapsules Widgets:

Advantages of Kapsules:

  • Strong focus: It makes widgets, that's it.

  • Very clean underlying design

  • Relatively simple to add widgets (drag the folders with the .widget extension into the widgets folder)

  • Unusually good documentation

So there you have it. These are the programs that have become popular for making widgets on the desktop. They can be used interchangeably. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  All of them have reasonably low hardware requirements. Widgets almost always use less memory than a stand alone program would. And each has their own loyal following who will tell you that their choice is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Have fun!


Comments (Page 1)
on Sep 04, 2004
Great article Brad. Thanks for posting this rundown for those of us (like myself) who are really interested in this, but not that knowledgeable. I appreciated the explanation of the differences of each program, as well as their strengths. There are a lot of options out there, and I can't help but think that this will increase the public's awareness of these types of programs. And this, in turn, will hopefully help out all the different progams.
on Sep 04, 2004
"While few widgets, widgets tend to be quite nice looking (partially thanks to Konfabulator)" i just had to give u thumbs up for this one.
Just cause users make skins look like those in Kofab, it doesn`t mean that (what ur so subtly implicating) AveDesk is ripping Konfab's images.
You're really unbiased, aren`t you Brad
on Sep 04, 2004

Avedesk itself isn't ripping Konfabulator of course.  But a lot of the widgets for Avedesk are rips of Konfabulator images.

This isn't Avedesk's fault. It's basically the difference between having an official library and not.  WinCustomize.com, for instance, won't allow Konfabulator rips on it.  Early on, there were a bunch of Konfabulator weather widgets that were rips of Konfabulator's images (we didn't know) but when Arlo Rose let us know, we removed them all and then created a set of weather images ourselves that we let others make use of.

Similarly, Kapsules and Samurize have their own libraries too and while the Samurize one does have some rips, it's much lower as a percentage in terms of the screenshots. 

But none of this is meant to reflect on the apps themselves, just in what's currently available in terms of content. And Avedesk is most popular on Aqua-Soft which is a site for making Windows more Mac-like. So it's not surprising that much of the content is from Konfabulator. 

Bear in mind, this is just my opinion, you're free to disagree.

on Sep 04, 2004
I haven't really gotten serious about using widgets and the only two programs I'ved played around with are DX and Samurize. As an end-user I found DX "less technically threatening" than Samurize. Finding DX objects to run is much easier and straight forward when compare to Samurize widgets. Not knocking the Samurize proggie itself, but the organization and display of its library.
on Sep 04, 2004
What a pathetic article. There's a thing called proofreading that you might want to learn in the future. Maybe if you tried that instead of advertising your own software then half the paragraphs wouldn't be repeated over again. Better yet try giving Hooked on Phonics a call.
on Sep 04, 2004
ScottK . . . get a life. If the only thing that you can manage to do with an informing article is criticize minimal typos, find new habit. Better yet, (notice the comma for proper grammar) become an English professor.
Brad, good article. Thanks for the info.
on Sep 04, 2004
You know the article doesn't format properly. While the article itself may be good, Every other line was repeated.

It appears to be a server probelm, you HAVE to go through the main page, and external links will screw it up.

I guess that's a feature of IIS.
on Sep 04, 2004
As previously said the article itself maybe very informative but its the style of writing which by the way looks like a 5 year old stuttering and repeating every sentence is really annoying.
on Sep 04, 2004
There is a server error that seems to cause that to happen. It's not the article itself.
on Sep 04, 2004
I have been around the computer industry for about 20 years. Programming, designing graphics etc etc, and to all my knowledge and in every manual I have read, also programmers I know and so on have refer to Widgets as all the graphics that make up a GUI. Such as buttons, scroll bars, menu bars, drop down boxes etc etc. What this article seems to be referring to were historically called desklets or applets ... I think Steve Jobs refereed to them in his recent keynote as mini apps... Go to any GUI programming book and Widgets are defined as exactly what I said they are. Its not uncommon for obscure little terms to be misunderstood and unfortunately this sometimes catches on as general jargon Anyway where did he get his terms from?
on Sep 04, 2004
Definitions of Widgets:

A data structure that normally includes information about a user-interface component (like a button or an edit box) and has pointers to the code needed to make the component work. Windows are not widgets but widgets have windows in them. Widgets that don't have any windows are called something else (gadgets).
on Sep 04, 2004
The term widget, like skins, has specific meaning in the desktop enhancement community.
on Sep 04, 2004
Good article Brad. I didn't experience the technical issues as some of the other readers, perhaps the issue is resolved. I flipped when I saw the AveDesk images. I didn't think anyone actually read my blog site. It'd be nice to read an article on these products to see a more detailed comparison. One that listed out the pros/cons in detail, but doing so would surely start a flame-fest. It seems there are too many sensitive people reading the boards these days.
on Sep 04, 2004

davidliv: I'd love to see a pro-con one and I'm very familiar with all of them at this point. But it isn't my place to do that.

BTW, if you want to see the database mushed up version of the article just type in this URL: http://www.joeuser.com/articleComments.asp?AID=27014 this is what those people are talking about. I have no idea what the deal is. It has something to do with the way data is fetched from the database. Obviously it's frustrating because like one guy up there wrote, it make sthe article look like I didn't check it over.

on Sep 04, 2004
The term "Widget" is more or less generic.

If you do economics or commerce studies, you'll note that manufacturers also produce "widgets" - it's basically a generic block of *something*, and it might *do something*.

The GUI developer calling a Control/Button/Component a Widget implies he picked up the lingo on a platform other than Windows (I've heard them called that before, just don't know where...)
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