Google recently announced
the release of their Gadgets for the Linux desktop, and, unlike some of
desktop offerings, they released it under a free software license. While
it is not earth-shattering technology, Gadgets does provide some
interesting features and amusing diversions. It also generates some hope
that Google is getting better at understanding what free software users are
looking for, so perhaps things like the Google Desktop for Linux will be
better integrated and more useful in the future.
Gadgets are a
cross-platform way to create simple applications that can run on web pages
and desktops. The gadget API provides a means to retrieve content from
other sites and display it along with a user interface. Many kinds of
applications can be created, from clocks and calendars to RSS-feedreaders
and "picture of the day" viewers.
There are numerous gadgets available, a semi-random collection on a KDE
desktop can be seen at left. Google has created a handful of gadgets, but
the vast majority are available from others in various categories including
News, Sports, Finance, Fun and Games, Technology, and Communication. The
gadget browser shown below, at right, allows easy access to an amazing
number of choices, many of which are variations on a theme.
To get started with gadgets, it is first necessary to build the tool.
Google does not yet provide .rpm or .deb files for various distributions.
to build" page was useful, but there was some difficulty in trying to
translate the dependencies
into Fedora 9 package names. A page
in a language I don't know needed no translation, however. Linux commands,
it seems, are multi-lingual.
Building from the Apache-licensed source tarball was straightforward after
that. Gadgets for Linux comes in both
GTK+ and Qt flavors which allows for integration with the two dominant
Linux desktop environments. The screenshots accompanying this article are
from the Qt version, but a bit of a look at the GTK+ version seemed roughly
the same—though the Qt version lacks the sidebar dock.
This is a beta release, perhaps more of a beta than many Google releases,
so there are still a fair number of glitches. Perhaps 20% of the gadgets
tried had one problem or another, with some seeming not to function at
all. Having no experience with gadgets on other platforms, it was not
clear whether these were caused by bugs in the gadgets themselves or the
The main benefit of the gadget API seems to be the cross-platform
capabilities. Gadgets can run—largely unchanged—on Linux, Mac OS
X, or Windows, but can also run in browsers on web pages at social
networking sites or on other pages. If the API can deliver that wide of a
range of platform choices, it could open up a much wider audience for folks
that want to develop their gadgets on Linux.
Still missing is one of the tools recommended for developing gadgets, Gadget
Designer, which is only available for Windows. The documentation
for creating a gadget make it look like a tedious exercise in XML
or in development to make some of that easier.
Overall, gadgets look like an interesting project. There is really nothing
new about the kinds of applications that can be built using the API, but
there are few choices to build those kinds of programs in a truly cross-platform way.
Google's choice to support Linux—and support it
well—accompanied by the code under a
free software license is, perhaps, the best news of all.
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