Widgets, Gadgets and hta Files – Daily Photo Fix right on your desktop

By now most people have seen either MAC Widgets or Vista Sidebar Gadgets. There are also Yahoo Widgets and Google Desktop Gadgets. All told there  are a whole lot of these little applications out and available. On my Vista Sidebar I keep a CPU speedometer, a local weather Gadget (it is 2 degrees C here in Santa Cruz at this moment), and the Daily Dilbert. I did not pay much attention to them until a client asked for a special purpose version, and then began to look around at what is available and how to do our own.

Yahoo Widgets is where we started. They run on XP, Vista, and MAC, and there is a tutorial for getting started. Little did I know about how different the various platform’s apps are. Orly got the assignment to learn enough to build the first app. He quickly moved through the tutorial and needed a real project, so we decided that should be to capture the FeaturePics daily RSS feed and show the new images in the Yahoo Widget.

Orly goes to school all morning and helps his sister with her homework for part of the afternoon, but in a few days he had a functioning FeaturePics Yahoo Widget. The biggest challenge was learning how to tap into an RSS feed using JavaScript as the primary tool. As promised, the Yahoo Gadget works on XP, MAC, and Vista. But it only runs inside the Yahoo Konfabulator, which is a nice enough application, but Konfabulator uses a significant amount of memory, and on Vista and MAC it is not as nice as the native applications, so on to the MAC version.

Some days later there is a functioning MAC Widget and a week or so later one appeared for Vista. We have been running these in house for a few weeks now and every day or two a bug would get fixed and a new feature appear. In appearance all are very similar, but the functionality of each platform is slightly different, and the widget functionality is also slightly different across versions.

hta_widget The Yahoo Konfabulator is freely available and works well, but from the first I thought it might be possible to build an XP widget that would work without the necessity of first installing a container application. The idea was to make use of a .hta, a technology that Microsoft introduced with Internet Explorer 5.0. Here is the MS take on the subject. The short answer, it works fine. This widget has

very similar functionality to the other versions, every few seconds a fresh delight appears on your desktop. And of course, when you click on the widget the page at FeaturePics pops up in your browser of choice.

It turns out that FeaturePics has a whole series of RSS feeds, including separate feeds for each of the FeaturePics author’s collection of photos. So Orly added a widget variation that allows for a custom URL – you can insert the URL of the feed for whichever author you may choose to follow, and the widget will cycle thru that particular set of photos. There is nothing to keep you from having more than one of these open at a time, so you can easily follow your two or three favorite photographers. I have a few photos for sale there myself, many from my several trips to the Galapagos Islands. You can follow the RSS link without the widget, but I suspect you will be more likely to look at them if they appear one at a time on your desktop. Feel free to browse them here.

We will soon be posting a page on FeaturePics that lays out the various versions and their respective functionalities. You will be able to click a button to download the widget of your choice. Stay tuned.

18. December 2008 00:11 by Kal | Comments (0) | Permalink

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