- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

There are many advantages to the Apple Macintosh OS X operating system, most recently enhanced by version 10.3, also known as “Panther.” It’s more stable than Windows XP can ever hope to be (sorry, Mr. Gates). Its default Web browser, Safari, is smooth, slick and smart. And Apple’s Mail.app is a very good e-mail client, perhaps one of the best.

A key advantage of the Mac platform is the sheer inventiveness of the people who work with it that are not a part of the Apple empire. Two software experts, Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke, have come up with a little Java application for Mac users that is perhaps the most helpful personal computer development since Philippe Kahn’s famed “Sidekick” of nearly 20 years ago.

The Rose-Clarke product, supported by a $25 registration fee but free to try, is called “Konfabulator,” (www.konfabulator.com) and it allows you to run small applications called “widgets.” Of the ones on my computer desktop, one tells me the weather, another rotates a display of pictures from my photo album, another shows the strength of my wireless network signal and yet another will show a Bible verse of the day. Two other favorites unobtrusively let me know when e-mail has arrived as well as flash headlines from one of the major newspapers in America.

Other widgets will pull down news feeds from various computer sources, list updated Mac software applications, count down the days till your retirement or let you know just how long you have drawn breath on the Earth. There are a couple of games, reference tools such as one to look up dictionary definitions online or display current prices for your stock portfolio. Want to know the time in Timbuktu? There’s a widget that’ll show a world clock just the way you’d want it.

How many of these widgets exist? A check of www.widgetgallery.com reveals a total of 490 different mini-applications to use. That should be enough to meet just about any need that you might have. Countdown clocks will tell you how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remain until your retirement — or any other date of your choosing. A miniature controller will run your iTunes player.

Now, you need a continuous Internet connection to have some of these items constantly update; otherwise, you’ll get them refreshed when your dial-up account logs on to the Internet.

You can probably end up cluttering your computer desktop with too many of these little items, but a control- (or right button) mouse-click on any widget will bring up a menu that lets you close the item while leaving others untouched. As I write this, there are six widgets operating on my screen, and it doesn’t look that bad.

All this hasn’t cost me a penny, yet, although I do plan to donate and support the developers of Konfabulator. It’s just amazing that you can find this variety of features with such ease and basically for free, apart from the cost of the main software.

Similar small applications are available for the Mac without Konfabulator, but authors either sell the programs outright or uniformly ask for donations. I’ve not seen an applications engine like Konfabulator that works as well on the Windows platform, even though I’d like to. If you own a Mac, check this stuff out — it’s addictive and fun.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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