It does not matter what you want to know – the time in Los Angeles, tomorrow’s weather or yesterday’s basketball scores – widgets will give you all the information at a click of the mouse.
Widgets are small desktop elements that provide information at a glance, which takes only a mouse click to call them up on the desktop, enabling quick access to information.
"Widgets are little helpers," explains Georg Albrecht, Apple’s spokesman in Munich.
"Normally, a user has to start up a programme and pick the desired function."
Widgets make all that happen at the push of a button and start up on Apple’s new Powerbook by touching the F12 button.
A widget engine is needed to make sure that one click starts programmes. On Apple computers, the engine is called dashboard and comes pre-installed with Mac OS.
Yahoo offers free downloads of a different engine for Macs and Windows at widget.yahoo.com.
"You can also get different widgets for free there, although only in English. Plans are underway for a German language alternative," says Yahoo spokeswoman Patricia Rohde.
The engine capsules and matching widgets can be found on www.widgetforge.com, www.widgetforge.com.
Apple’s website also has several widgets.
"You should check out other users’ comments there to get an idea of the quality of the contemporary widgets," advises Tobias Weidemann of the Munich-based magazine PC-Welt.
Microsoft does not yet offer widgets or engines, but a system called Sidebar is planned for Vista, the new Windows operating system.
"This function only exists for Windows Vista. There are no downloads for Windows XP," Microsoft in Munich reports.
To make sure the information is only a mouse click away, Windows plans to offer mini applications for Vista called gadgets.
Once the engine has been installed, the user can select and download widgets. There is a large variety available.
According to Weidemann, many of the programmes provide information about the processor on which they run. For example, they can report on processor efficiency or the projected lifespan of a notebook’s battery.
Albrecht says many popular widgets offer calendar or calculator functions or show weather displays, usually personalized to the user’s home.
But widgets like TremorSkimmer show the locations of earthquakes in real time while the widget for Germany’s Football League provides current statistics. Webcam widgets provide constant video feeds of everything from life in US high schools to the Madrid skyline.
A quick glance at the constantly updated Top 50 list shows which widgets are most loved by Apple users. A favourite is the "I love lamp 1.7," which replicates a 1970s era lava lamp on the screen.
Albrecht is a fan of a translation widget called "LanguageTranslator". Weidemann swears by a widget that shows railway delays. "You can set it so that it shows the train station you regularly use."
Other companies usually produce the programmes, offered by Apple. But Apple reserves the right to inspect and reject the widgets.
"A good widget should be visually appealing," says Albrecht. The user should be able to figure out the programme’s function at a glance. "After all, a widget should save time."
Widgets do update themselves automatically with a steady Internet connection and they work without browsers.
But they take a toll on the computer.
Anyone planning to run several of the programmes simultaneously should not attempt to do so on a particularly old computer.
"The computer should not be more than two or three years old," suggests Weidemann. But widgets pose no security risks, say experts.
Well-versed computer users can programme widgets themselves provided they first learn the Java Script computer language.
Multiple websites, including Apple’s and Yahoo’s, have detailed directions on creating widgets. All the user needs to provide is a catchy widget idea.