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Speed up your Dashboard

Every widget creates a cache file. In theory, these cache files are meant to speed up Dashboard performance. But, the cache files can get bloated or corrupted, resulting in the exact opposite effect. If your Dashboard seems to be running unusually slow, you may want to try clearing those caches.

Go to:

YourUserFolder/Library/Caches/DashboardClient

You’ll find a cryptic set of folders with no names, just numbers. Delete everything inside the “DashboardClient” folder.

In order to complete the process, you need to restart the Dock (it controls Dashboard). You can do this in two ways:

Type in the Terminal:

killall Dock

This will quit and restart the Dock.
Open the Activity Monitor application (in your Utilities folder). Type “dock” in the search field. Once you find it, select it and hit the “Quit Process” button. The Dock will quit and restart.
That’s it. You’ve successfully cleared the cache files for your widgets. For me, this resulted in a significant performance boost. Dashboard is actually usable again.

Note: If you run several widgets, it will probably take several seconds for Dashboard to display the info in each widget the first time it’s activated after clearing the caches. Dashboard needs to rebuild the cache for each widget. Don’t be alarmed when they initially come up blank.

It should also be noted that the caches do NOT hold the actual data in the widgets. So, if you’re running widgets like, Mint, iClip lite, or Daily Grind Timer, the data will NOT be lost by clearing the cache.

Run Widgets On Your Desktop

Open your favorite Mac widgets directly, without the need for any sort of special hacks. WidgetRunner is a free Mac app that opens your widgets outside the Dashboard, allowing you to use them more-or-less the way you would any other program.

Relegated to a separate desktop since Lion, developers seem to have abandoned the Dashboard in favor of making apps for the iPhone. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still useful widgets, though. From Delivery Status(tracks packages) to GV Connect (use Google Voice) to built-in staples like the calculator and unit converter, Widgets can be quite handy. Many users, however, wish they lived directly on the desktop instead of in the dedicated Dashboard.

If you like OS X Mountain Lion widgets, but wish you could access them on your desktop, WidgetRunner is perfect for you. With it you can use your favorite widgets as though they were regular pieces of software – or even pin them so they become part of your desktop wallpaper. Here’s how.

Using Widget Runner

Start Widget runner for the first time and you may not notice anything happening. Look at the menu bar, however, and you’ll see that the program is running — and that you can load widgets.

widgetrunner addwidget   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

Click Add and you’ll be taken to the folder where the widgets you’ve installed live. Pick one and it will run.

widgetrunner where   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

The folder you’re seeing is /Users/username/Library/Widgets, where “username” is the account you use to sign into your Mac. Of course, you’ll note that not every widget on your system is there – the default ones are notably missing. Instead, they’re at/Library/Widgets on your operating system drive.

widgetrunner widgets1   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

Add the widgets you want until you’re satisfied. By default they’ll all behave as standard windows – neither hovering above other programs or staying beneath them. You can change, that, though.

Top/Normal/Desktop

Right-click any widget to configure it. You’ll see the following options:

widgetrunner placement   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

By default all widgets are “Normal”. Clicking “Desktop” will embed your widgets as part of your desktop. You cannot interact with widgets set to this mode – you’ve basically turned them into part of the wallpaper. To close such widgets, or turn them back to normal, you need to first click the Widget Runner icon in the dock, then right-click the widget.

Clicking “Top” will put a given widget above any and every window you might open. Put simply: Widgets set to “Top” show up over everything else you’re doing. Many will find this annoying, but it’s nice to have upon occasion.

Are you a big fan the multiple desktops (Spaces) feature of Mission Control? You’ll quickly notice, then, that widgets show up on only one desktop. If you want to change this, right-click the Widget Runner dock icon. You’ll see these options:

widgetrunner desktops   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

Simply click All Desktops and your widgets will show up everywhere.

Download WidgetRunner

Ready to check this out? Go ahead and Download Widget Runner. There have been no updates since 2010, but Widget Runner still works well on Mountain Lion (we tested it).

It’s a free program created by Sam Madden, an MIT Professor. Thanks for the app, Sam!

Pros and Cons

Longtime Mac users know there’s another way to place your widgets on the desktop. It involves turning on developer mode and dragging your widget from the Dashboard to the desktop. Knowing this exists, why should Mac users run a dedicate program instead?

Well, for one thing, this undocumented hack results in widgets that float above every other window – like those set to Top in Widget Runner. Some (if not most) users will find this annoying. And another thing: it’s unclear whether this trick even works in Mountain Lion. For every person you find in a forum who got it to work you’ll find nine more who can’t. I’m among the nine, so I’m glad I found Widget Runner.

Of course, there are cons to using Widget Runner as well. Some widgets are buggy, and certain features don’t work in certain widgets. Did you get the developer mode hack working? Let me know in the comments below, and which version of OS X you’re using!

Widgets To Try Out

deliver main   How To Run Widgets On Your Desktop In Mountain Lion [Mac OS X]

Wondering what kind of apps you’d actually use this with? Check out Jackson’s list of Mac widgets you can’t live without. We also recommend the (previously-mentioned) Delivery Status and GV Connect, as well as Symbol Caddy.

Move Dashboard Like Spaces

The Dashboard can be moved around now, just by clicking and dragging it to where you want to leave it. You can even move it to your secondary monitor on a dual monitor setup.

move-dashboard

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Backup and Restore Dashboard Widgets

Time Machine is one solution for backing up your Dashboard Widgets, but this option is not always optimal, especially when you have limited hard drive space, or if you would rather use other backup methods. Luckily, you can backup your widgets and reinstall each of them manually without much effort.

How to Backup

  • Step 1: Choose go to folder in Finder by typing Shift + Command + G and go to “~/Library/Preferences”
  • Step 2: In the Finder window, search for every com.apple.dashboard file. Choose to sort files by name. Select all of the files the Finder displays, then copy them to a separate folder.
  • Step 3: Go to folder “~/Library/Widgets” Copy this folder along with all of the files to another backup folder. It is fine if you wish to only save only select widgets and not all of them.

Now all of your widgets and their associated files are backed up. Be sure to backup all of these files again if you decide to update your library otherwise you will have issues restoring them.

How to Restore

  • Step 1: On a Mac with which you want to restore your widgets, go to folder “~/Library/Preferences”
  • Step 2: Search for all com.apple.dashboard files, highlight all of them and send them to the trash.
  • Step 3: Highlight all of your previously backed up com.apple.dashboard files and move them to “~/Library/Preferences”
  • Step 4: Go to “~/Library/” and move your Widgets folder here.

Now simply restart your Mac and your widgets will show when you view your Dashboard. This has been confirmed to work with Macs running OS X 10.5 and higher.

Dashboard 2013/2014

Widgets used to be one of the hottest things in tech, and everyone had them, not just Macs. Google had Google Desktop on PCs, Yahoo bought out Konfabulator, one of the original widget engines, and Microsoft had the Sidebar Widgets in Windows Vista. Even KDE, one of the more popular Linux desktop environments, had their own widgets. It seemed you weren’t a proper tech company without your own desktop widgets engine.

Widgets were easy to make, since they were mainly based on web code, and they seemed exciting at first. They were for the most part just web code – HTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML, and some images. Almost anyone could throw one together. So for a time, it seemed that almost everyone had a widget for their service, almost like the mobile apps craze of today.

But the widget craze is mostly over. Google discontinued Google Desktop in 2011, Yahoo killed their desktop widgets in 2012, and Windows 8 dropped support for the Vista-style widgets. Apple, it seems, is the last man standing with a functioning widget system that’s still supported. But even Apple’s Dashboard support seems to be waning, at least if you base your opinion on their incredibly dated Widget gallery.

The Dashboard Widget page sure doesn’t look good today…

Seems Like Dashboard Met iOS…

That said, Dashboard still got a bit of attention in OS X Mountain Lion, enough that it seems that Apple might not be done with it just yet. Dashboard now has a ton of iOS style to it. You’ll see all of the widgets you can use on their own Launchpad-style page by clicking the plus button in the bottom left of Dashboard. You can click and hold on the Dashboard icons, and they’ll start shaking just like Apps do in iOS or on OS X’ Launchpad. What’s interesting here is that all of the icons are small squares, so they look so much like iOS apps. You can drag them into folders, or click the x to delete them. You can remove any dashboard widget except the included ones, no matter where you downloaded them from, unlike Launchpad which only lets you uninstall App Store apps.

Seems like I’ve seen that before … in iOS!

And, of all things, Dashboard works great with the latest OS X features. Widgets are sandboxed, so you’ll see the Contacts widget that ships with OS X asking permission to see your contacts, of all things. Dashboard is also integrated with Spaces, so if you swipe to the right from your main desktop you’ll see the Dashboard in its own space. Or, you can still have it open in a semi-transparent layer on top of your desktop if you’d prefer, ready to be brought forward with a keyboard shortcut.

Dashboard’s settings.

Apple’s own Dashboard widgets got a touch of iOS style, too, with the Stocks and Weather widgets looking almost just like their iOS counterparts. There’s also a few oddly redundant widgets; why would anyone want a separate dictionary widget when the dictionary is integrated so beautifully throughout all of OS X? But there’s still a few widgets that fill in a nice, niche need on the Mac that’s filled by built-in apps on iOS, and Apple seems to have decided that the best way to bring them to the Mac was with widgets. Some of the very best current Dashboard widgets from 3rd party developers are compainion apps to iOS apps, such as Delivery StatusDashNote for Simplenote, and Notefile.

That almost makes you wonder if Apple has some idea of making Dashboard into a way to run iOS apps on the Mac, or if they perhaps plan to make a way to turn Widgets into simple iOS apps. I highly doubt they’d ever have full widgets on iOS, Android-style, but turning a Dashboard widget into an app similar to the Stocks app with the Stocks Dashboard Widget … that could be very interesting.

Safari: Dashboard’s Killer App

Just open any site that you’d want to check often, right-click, and select Open in Dashboard. You’ll then get to select anything on the page to clip and turn into a live widget in Dashboard.

Safari, meet Dashboard.

It’s an old trick, one that’s been around since Leopard, but it’s still a good trick. Just search for something that’ll change over time (days until a certain date, a stock price, planes currently flying over you), clip the part of the site you like, and then you’ll be able to check up on it quickly by switching over to Dashboard. No extra tabs needed.

The Dashboard, complete with a web clip

Many sites work great like this; you can keep up, say, with the top of your Facebook, Hacker News, Reddit, or any other site with a web clip. You can open a mobile or responsive site in a small window, then clip it to fit more on your Dashboard. Or, WolframAlpha gives you a great way to make more app-like widgets that give you info you might otherwise need a specialized app for. You can’t interact with the web clip, for the most part, but you can click links on the page to open them in your default browser. So, it’s best for seeing things you’d otherwise have opened a new tab in your browser to see, not for using web apps, but it can still be very useful.

It might not be the most useful thing on your Mac, but it’s useful enough to keep me using Dashboard. And even if the iOS app aspirations fall through, we hope Apple keeps Dashboard around if nothing else than for web clips.

Dashboard Hacks

A Dashboard Dilemma

When you look at the Dashboard of the average Mac user, it’s likely empty and never used, or overwhelmingly full of sports-news feeds and sticky-notes. Sometimes you see festive Christmas lights as well! Surely, there must be more to the Dashboard than this.

Chaotic Dashboard Screen
The dashboard was never meant for this! Well, hopefully it wasn’t.

We could move on with our lives and continue staring at our messy screens, but that’s not in accordance to the Mactuts+ style! Dashboards are dying out so let’s revive the scene by customizing our Widgets more than ever before.

To combat one aspect of this Widget-depression, we’ll edit the “Stickies” Widget and make it our own. The edits are simple: modify the backgrounds of the sticky-notes so that we can have specific note colors (and labels) for specific purposes. For example, we’ll have one sticky-note type for personal thoughts, one for a todo-lists, and possibly another for random notes. We’ll also be adding a custom “Erase All” button to make clearing our notes faster.

Dashboards are dying out so let’s revive the scene by customizing our Widgets more than ever before.

You’re going to need some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript knowledge, but the process certainly isn’t too advanced. Let’s get started!


Step 1: Get the Widget Open

All widgets are located in the folder “/Library/Widgets”. You can do a quick Comman+Shift+G to quickly access it. Because we’ll be editing the Stickies Widget, find the widget file Stickies.wdgt and make a copy to your Desktop. This way we can edit the files without having to worry about permissions and saving-based troubles.

On your desktop, right-click and select Show Package Contents in order to open the widget as a folder rather than open it up in the Dashboard.

Right-Click Widget
This will open up the widget as a folder, rather than in the Dashboard.

Now that we have the Widget’s files open, let’s take a look at the general structure of a Widget.


Step 2: Look at the Files

Dashboard widgets are relatively simple. They’re small HTML setups with JavaScript sprinkled in to make them interactive. Because of this, the files included within each widget are straight-forward and easy to modify, especially when we just want to change simple things like the images. The Stickies Widget is a great example of this simplicity.

Quick Look on Widget
Be sure to have opened the widget through a right-click -> Show Package Contents. Don’t open it and install it to your Dashboard.

In order to get an understanding of the workings of a Dashboard widget, let’s look at each individual file and see what it’s used for.

Info.plist

Info.plist file
The structure of the Info.plist file may look familiar if you’ve looked at the preference files of your Mac or iOS device before.

The Info.plist file determines information about the Widget. It’s central to the Widget as it includes the Bundle Name (“Stickies” here), the current version, the height and width of the widget, and more. However, because we’re only editing widgets in this tutorial, we can ignore this file.

Version.plist

This file is generally the same as the last. It holds more information about the widget. It has the version number, build number, etc. It’s not important for what we’re doing.

Stickies.html

This is the real meat of the widget. Here we have the code that makes up what we see. As stated before, each widget is just an HTML page, so this is easily editable. If you open it, you’ll find it very familiar if you’ve worked with websites before. (As a note, the “Stickies” in the file name changes based on the Widget, so this file does not always have the same name This is also true of the next two files.)

Stickies.css

Of course, with the HTML we’ll want to style the content, so here’s the CSS file to accompany it.

Stickies.js

The interactivity of the widget comes from JavaScript, and this is where all of it is held. We’ll get to editing this as well later on!

Default.png & Default@2x.png

When any widget loads, these images are shown as placeholders until everything is loaded. It’s the splash screen of the widget. (If you’re wondering what the “@2x” means at the end, it’s a bigger sized image for the Retina Display on newer screens.)

Icon.png & Icon@2x.png

When you’re adding a widget to your Dashboard, the icons you can see and drag are these files. Again, the “@2x” is for Retina Displays.

Images Folder

Images Folder
Just like any website, all the images are compiled in one place for easy access.

The Stickies widget uses an “Images” folder to hold all of its images. You’ll notice inside are all the backgrounds and icons that make up the widget.


Step 3: Edit the Images

The first and easiest thing we can do before stepping into the code is to edit the image files in order to change the appearance of the widget. In the case of the Stickies widget, and many other stock widgets, we can just drag and drop new images into the Widget folder in order to make changes. For example, if I wanted to change the Stickies icon, I could create new .png files and replace the old ones (“icon.png” and “icon@2x.png”).

Edited icon@2x.png File
You can treat the widget just like a website. Here, I’ve edited the icon!

I’ve also now changed the yellow background image in the “Images” folder by adding a theme of “personal thoughts.” I changed the colors and added an icon to the top-right to indicate the purpose of the note.

Edited yellow.png File
Just by replacing the first image with the second, we’ve edited the widget.

Now if we install the new Widget, we’ll instantly see the edits and our yellow notes will now have the “personal thoughts” theme. Let’s change one more note and this time turn it into a todo list.

Edited orange.png File
Another small change can make a widget much more personal and appealing.

Editing the images is a great way to add stylish flair to your widgets. It’s quick and simple to do, and if that’s all you’d like to do, then you can skip ahead to Step 5 to install the newly modified widget. Otherwise, let’s keep working at it.


Step 4: Edit the Code

Now it’s time to add some true functionality! This is where the HTML/CSS/JavaScript knowledge comes in handy because every widget is built with just that. We won’t be going too far in-depth into editing the code, but we’ll be working with all three files to get you acquainted. As I stated before, we’ll be working to add another small icon to the bottom-left that functions as an “erase all” button.

All three files
To the humble web developer, this feels right at home.

The HTML File

In order to add the new button, we’ll need to add another #eraseButton div right before the #infoButtondiv (line 21). Right now this is just an empty div with an image inside, but we’ll style it in order to make it look like an actual button soon. The img is a simple 12px by 12px “x” icon that I’ve placed in the “Images” folder.

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<div id="eraseButton">
    <img src="Images/x.png">
</div>

The CSS File

Now in order to give the erase button styling, let’s turn to the Stickies.css file and add some basic location and size information before the #infoButton selectors. Let’s also give it a little more style by increasing the opacity when hovered over.

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#eraseButton {
    opacity: 0.5;
    position:absolute;
    top: 166px;
    left: 15px;
    width:13px;
    height:13px;
}
    #eraseButton:hover {
        opacity: 1;
    }

The JS File

If you look at the Stickies.js file, you’ll realize it’s very well documented and written thanks to Apple. This makes it easy for us to work with it.

The JavaScript code to make the erase button work is a very simple function that just sets the content of the textbox to nothing. Add this code anywhere in the Stickies.js, preferably where it fits with other functions. I put it after the textToHTML function.

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function eraseAll() {
    mydiv.innerHTML = "";
}

In order to call the JavaScript code, let’s add an onclick event to the #eraseButton in theStickies.html file.

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<div id="eraseButton" onclick="eraseAll();">
    <img src="Images/x.png">
</div>

And the button is done! It’s a very simple example, but it also shows the extendability of widgets like these because of their simplicity


Step 5: Install the New Widget

If you ever want to test out your widget as you make changes, there are two options: open up the .html file in your browser like a website, or install the widget and test it out in the Dashboard. The first is faster for development, while the second provides a true Dashboard experience.

Installing Widget Prompt
We’ve changed the icon, the backgrounds, and added a new function!

Installing a widget is very simple as well. All it takes is a double click on a widget and a “yes” to the install prompt. Be sure that before you install your new widget, you save a copy of your edited version. This is because as you install it, the file will be moved to “~/Library/Widgets”. Also note that when we install the new Stickies Widget, it will overwrite the last as it has the same name.

Installing Widget Prompt
Just as we wanted, the new button works and our new backgrounds work.

Editing the widget seemed daunting at first, but its simplicity allowed us to make changes easily. We’ve finished editing our Stickies Widget, and hopefully gave the Dashboard world a small rumble. If we wanted, we could now continue to create more backgrounds and add more functions to satisfy our needs.

Tip: If you would like to download the widget file from this tutorial, you can download it right here. This is the customized Dashboard widget that is created by the end of this tutorial, with all the images and edits predone. This means you can install it directly to your Dashboard and play around with the changes right away.

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