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

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 2)
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on Sep 04, 2004
http://frogboy.joeuser.com/index.asp?c=1&AID=27014

Dude this is a great start but you serisouly need to proof read. "Samurize is a VBScript run-time engine that includes potention than the others combined." what does potention mean? What's with the repeat/rewritten but not deleted lines on that page?

ie: "The other thing that makes widgesult, 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 ets 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. Obe 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."

And you have a few busted tags too dude sry:
ie: Advantages of Samurizdth=173 border=0>
on Sep 05, 2004
Never thought I'd find myself in the position of defending Frogboy (this is Dokt, incidentally), but the article didn't strike me as being particularly biased one way or the other. It gave a good run-down of the widget-like apps that are out there, getting the plus and minus points pretty much correct. Regarding proof-reading, it's just a blog, not a work of literature - yes a quick spell-check would have been nice, but get over it - he's not Tolstoy.
on Sep 05, 2004
Yeah, he wasn't evangelizing one over the other. Plus, Brad has mentioned admiration at AveDesk in the past. It was informative and pointed out the features and positives of each program. If you're interested in it yourself then you can go check it out. It would have been a totally different article if he had pointed out negatives (or "deltas") of the program compared to DX...but he didn't. He simply pointed out things that caught his eye and leaves it up to the individual to discover.
on Sep 05, 2004
Guest: Like I said, the repeating and broken tags are caused by a server error. The original HTML does not have that.
on Sep 06, 2004
Not only are some images duplicated, but the text is inconsistently duplicated (parts of paragraphs repeat).

It might be an interesting article, but not presented like this.
on Sep 07, 2004
Isn't it amazing how many desktop enhancement tools there are available. What I like is how Brad displays them all and even though he has interests in DesktopX, still shows off the power of each one. Very far reporting on Brad's part.
on Sep 07, 2004
Thanks Draginol, I hadn't seen your previous post
on Sep 08, 2004
Hey there,

this article is a great read and a fair feature comparison. As a user of all four excepting Konfabulator, I can largely accept the statements but: Samurize isn't a script runtime - it uses the Microsoft Script Control in a way that it doesn't expose its own object model to a script like DesktopX and Kapsules do - a script to samurize is a read-only data source and can't automate Samurize in any way. It should also be stressed that Konfabulator for Mac is limited to JavaScript only, while all the Windows based competition uses the Windows Scripting Host interfaces so that they are, in theory, open to all available ActiveX script language runtimes.

I have indeed a problem with the terminology here: "Widget Wars" - how much more collateral damage do you want? Didn't Aqua-Soft close down because it refused to become a battleground for the war you were planting everywhere? I hear the victims calling for a cease fire now. I regard your efforts to form a Windows based "anti-Konfabulator-alliance" on the various boards as the main reason for the recent trollings. Why fight Konfabulator when "the rising tide lifts all boats" anyway. Whats wrong with an "Apple ISV" showing us windozers how it is done? Would anyone lose his self esteem if they did? I mean, this widget stuff is for desktop customization: Playing dress up with your PC is the second most queer thing to do to a PC when you're a straight, so why this call to a (platformist) crusade over at Aqua-Soft? You have been spending too much time at the "political machine" so some of the strategies applicable there must have leaked to your other obsessions, my dear man. There is nothing to get pecky about between the above five and, god beware, anything to waste political ammunition on.

My personal favorite is Kapsules because of its superior object model but DesktopX has improved a lot and will regain my #1 place sooner or later as it always does. Yes, I'm a biased scripter.
on Sep 09, 2004

inSight: Wow. You sure read a lot into an article that outlines the strengths of all of them.

If I'm anti-Konfabulator then why did I just do an article promoting it?

What happened on Aqua-Soft was related to Avedesk users trying to take over the site by tearing down everything else.  Blaming me for what happened there would be like blaming someone for getting shot because they war "gang colors" in the wrong part of town.

on Sep 10, 2004
Troll, he have supported pretty much all of Widget programs.

for the war you were planting everywhere?


I agree, his article has a LOT of bad reviews for all widget programs but his own. Wait a minute theres NO bad review here!
on Sep 14, 2004
"My personal favorite is Kapsules because of its superior object model "

You prefer to waste resources on MS .Net crap?
Point and case straight from their FAQ:
• http://kapsules.shellscape.org/content.asp?cat=3&cid=2 - Why does Kapsules use so much memory/resources?
• http://kapsules.shellscape.org/content.asp?cat=3&cid=9 - I suspect a Memory (or Resource) leak!
• http://kapsules.shellscape.org/content.asp?cat=3&cid=17 - CPU Usage is through the roof!

I know those are definately the things I look for when selecting a system monitoring tool.

I know all these tools and their pluses and minuses but it's like they look for the most bloated starting point (.NET Framwork) ouch
on Sep 21, 2004
Very nice overview. I'd not known about Kapsules and I gotta say I like it -- mebbe in a tie with YzDock, but extensibility implied by being built atop .NET probly gives it an edge over even DesktopX. Too bad the developer risks flunking out of college if he develops it further -- that's how Stardock stays alive!
on Sep 28, 2004
Wait a second! Who said I was flunking out?! Kapsules is alive and well baby It's just gotten to the point where the updates take a little longer to iron out because theyre bigger additions is all...
on Sep 29, 2004
I totally agree. Besides, how can anyone possibly flunk out of Central Michigan University. I've heard it's not even an acredited school...
on Sep 29, 2004
ROFL youre going DOWN Froggie.
Kill the horse! Make some glue!
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