Mac OS X Tiger/Meet the Applications/Dashboard
Dashboard doesn't look too much like its namesake, but when you think about it, the similarity is striking.
The dashboard in your car provides readouts on ths status of the car, information you might find useful as a driver, and controls designed specifically to be easy to use while you are busy with something else. Likewise, Dashboard in Mac OS X provides access to information (such as the weather forecast or the time in Tokyo) and controls (the currently playing iTunes song), all in one place that's easy to access from anywhere.
Instead of gauges and panels, Dashboard displays its information in little candy-colored modules called "widgets". You can move these around, adjust their settings, and interact with them individually. This mini-chapter will teach you how to use Dashboard and manage your widgets.
|NOTE: Is Dashboard really an application? Technically speaking, it's not. It's a feature integrated right into Mac OS X, like Exposé. Apple originally envisoned that Dashboard would be activated by the F12 key. But Apple wanted to make it easy to discover Dashboard without knowing "the secret", so in addition to this keystroke, they gave Dashboard its own icon in the Applications folder that activates it. If you delete this icon, Dashboard will still work just the same if you use the F12 key.|
Since Dashboard is always running (just not always visible), you might think you can’t remove it from the Dock, since open apps always pop up in the Dock whether you like it or not. Dashboard is the lone exception to this rule; you can take it out of the Dock even when it's running, and it won’t come back by itself.
Even though you could show the Dashboard by using its icon in the Applications folder or Dock every time you needed it, you can also activate it from a key on your keyboard (by default, F12).
When you show your Dashboard for the first time after you log in, it takes a couple seconds for it to warm up, but after that, it loads instantly. That’s the idea – info without the wait.
Your Dashboard darkens the Desktop when activated, and your widgets zoom in on top. You can move your widgets by dragging them, and interact with each individual widget separately (the included widgets are covered later on in this mini-chapter).
|TRICK: Dashboard shows off all of Tiger's graphical muscle. Nearly everything you do is accentuated by a whoosh, flourish, or ripple. If you want to see any of Dashboard's beauteous special effects in slow motion, hold down the SHIFT key while they happen.|
Your Dashboard has a little black "+" button in the lower left-hand corner. This opens and closes the Widget Bar, a "Dock" of sorts that lets you add widgets to your Dashboard. Simply drag a Widget’s icon from the bar onto your Dashboard, and it will ripple into place. You may need to click on one of the tiny grey arrow buttons at either end of the Widget Bar to scroll through your widgets if you have more than fit on your screen at once. Feel free to open more than one copy of the same widget at a time.
When you open the Widget Bar, little black “X” buttons appear on all widgets you have open. These buttons close your widgets with a little whoosh effect, in case you want to remove one from the Dashboard. These buttons disappear as soon as you close the Widget Bar.
|TRICK: If it seems counterintuitive to you that you must open the Widget Bar to close a widget, you can also get "X" buttons to appear by holding down the ALT key and rolling your cursor over a widget. That widget will temporarily sprout an "X" button.|
You'll also notice that little “i” buttons that appear on some widgets when you roll your cursor over them. These are called “flip” buttons. They actually flip widgets over, so you can see their back sides. The back side of a widget often contains information and options for customizing the widget.
Your widget library comes stocked with 18 Apple-designed widgets. You can download thousands more from the internet (see the next section), but this section will help you get started with the ones included with your Mac. If you're missing some of the widgets listed here, make sure your copy of Mac OS X is up to date by choosing Software Update from the Apple menu.
- Address Book - This small white widget lets you do a Spotlight search for people in your Address Book. Just type your query (be it a name, address, phone number, or something else) and the widget will expand, showing a list of all matches. Click on the person you wish to see information about, and their "card" appears right on your Dashboard.
- Business - A virtual yellow pages, the Business widget lets you quickly pinpoint the location of a business near you. After specifying your location on the back, you can search for a business by name or choose a business type from the pop-up menu. The results show the name, phone number, and address of every match. If there are lots of results, you may have to page through them with the forward and back arrow buttons. When you're done, click the grey “x” in the search field.
- Calculator - The Calculator widget is a dramatically simplified version of the Calculator application. It’s pretty self-explanatory: it’s a little orange calculator with your standard calculator buttons. You can operate it by clicking the buttons or by using the number keys on your computer’s keyboard.
- Calendar - This simple calendar widget is split into two black squares. The left-hand square contains a large readout of the current date, and the right-hand square contains a table of all the days in the current month. Clicking on the left-hand square toggles the right-hand one on and off. You can take a look at a month in the future or past by using the small left and right arrows in the right-hand box. Clicking on the name of the month takes you back to the current day.
- Dictionary - The Dictionary widget lets you look up anything in the Oxford English Dictionary or Thesaurus. Simply click the word “Thesaurus” at the top of the widget to switch into Thesaurus mode. When you want to switch back to the Dictionary, click the word “Dictionary”. Type a word into the search box on the right side and press return. The widget opens up to its full size, and displays the closest match. You may have to scroll a bit with the bar on the right side to see the complete definition. When you're finished with the Dictionary widget, you can shrink it back down with the little grey "X" in the search field. A few tips:
- After you’ve searched for more than one word, the forward and back buttons in the upper left-hand corner become active, so you can easily jump back to previous words you’ve looked up.
- The big button on the left side that bears the first letter of the word you are looking up takes you to a list of related words.
- There's a font size control on the back of the widget.
- ESPN - The ESPN widget lets you keep up-to-date with your favorite sport. You can select a sport to follow from a pop-up menu on the back of the widget. You can then choose whether you wish to view scores or news from the two buttons at the top of the widget. This information appears in the widget's main panel. The opposite of what you picked scrolls by on an electronic ticker display at the bottom of the widget. To find out more about a news story, click its headline, and Safari will open to the story at ESPN.com. You can also find out more about a game: select it by clicking on it in the scores section and then click on the ticker at the bottom.
- Flight Tracker - This one is really neat. Type in an Airline, a departure city, and an arrival city. Then click on “Find Flights”. Choose a flight from the list, click on “Track Flights”, and voilà! You see how late (or early) the flight is, its position, altitude, and its current speed. If at any time you wish to track a different flight, click the “back” arrow in the lower left-hand corner.
- Google - The simplest widget of all, type something into its text field and press return, and Safari opens to the Google results for your query.
- iTunes - This widget lets you quickly manipulate the currently playing iTunes song without having to open the iTunes window. It has simple buttons for playing/pausing, skipping forward and backward, shuffling, repeating; a slider for adjusting your position in a song; and an iPod-esque wheel for adjusting the sound volume. Click the flip button to flip the widget, revealing a playlist selector.
- People - A digital white pages, People will let you find the address and phone number of anyone in the US. Simply type their name and location into the appropriate text fields and press return. The widget grows to display the results. You can add a person in the white pages to your personal Address Book by clicking the "+" button next to their address.
- Ski Report - This little widget, clad in wood, lets you keep tabs on a ski resort of your choice. Specify a resort on the back, and you'll see the current ski conditions for it, right on your Dashboard.
- Stickies - Possibly the most practical widget in existence, the Stickies widget replaces all of those little Post-It notes you used to have attached to your monitor. Click near the top and type, and the widget handles everything else. The back lets you select the color of your virtual Post-It and adjust the font.
- Stocks - Keep track of your portfolio from your Dashboard with this handy widget. Click on a stock and see its performance neatly graphed for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure). Adjust the amount of time the graph shows with the little buttons at the top. You can add and remove stocks on the reverse side. To add a stock, type either the company's name or ticker symbol into the text box, click on the plus button, and pick it from the resulting menu. To remove a stock, click on it in the list and click the “Remove” button. There's also a checkbox for showing the changes in prices as percentages.
- Tile Game - A simple time-waster, the tile game is the famous game played by sliding tiles to create a picture. Start the game by clicking once to start scrambling tiles, and once more to stop. Then click on a tile that you want to slide into the empty space. The default image is a Tiger, but you can use another one that you like better. Start dragging the image, open dashboard, and drop it over the tile game. Voila - the picture changes instantly!
- Translation - This one translates text from one language to another with decent accuracy. Select two languages from the drop-down menus and type in the upper text box. The translated text appears in the lower text box. Press the S-shaped arrow button to switch the two languages with each other.
|WARNING: The text generated by the Translator is serviceable and usually accurate, but not good enough to, say, translate your company website into another language. Avoid embarrassment and hire a professional translator if accuracy is important.|
- Unit Converter - The Unit Converter Widget lets you convert different measures of Area, Currency, Pressure, Energy, Temperature, Time, Length, Speed, Weight, Power, and Volume. Choose the type of measurement, two different units, and type into either box. Watch as the two boxes always stay equal to each other, no matter what you do! As long as you're connected to the Internet, the Unit Converter widget will always use the latest exchange rates when you're converting currencies.
- Weather - This immensely handy widget displays the current conditions and forecast for your zip code. The upper part of the widget shows the current temperature, today’s high and low temperature, and a beautiful little 3D image of your weather conditions. The lower part shows the conditions and high temperature for the next 5 days. You can hide the lower part by clicking anywhere in the upper part. The back lets you enter your zip code, choose which system to view the temperature in, and lets you show "low" temperatures in the forecast section.
- Apple is very proud of the artwork it created for this widget. Even if you live in an area with boring weather, Apple wants you to be able to see every graphic it created. If you repeatedly ALT+⌘+Click the Weather Widget, it cycles through all weather conditions so you can see the artwork for each one. The real weather condition is restored when you hide and re-activate the Dashboard.
- World Clock - This is a standard analog clock that can display the time in any major city. If the clock face is darkened, it is dark in the selected city. To choose a city, flip the widget over, and pick a continent and city from the pop-up menus.
At the beginning of the Widget Bar is a nineteenth widget called... the Widgets widget. The Widgets widget is special. It doesn't behave quite like you'd expect. For one thing, it defies the laws of english and appears first thing on the Widget Bar, even though it begins with the letter "w". In addition, only one copy of it can be open at a time. So what does the Widgets widget do that makes it so important? The Widgets widget does three things:
- It lets you "de-activate" widgets that you don’t want to use. Simply uncheck the box next to a widget and it will no longer appear on the Widget Bar. You can re-activate simply by checking the box again. This is useful if you're both a pack rat who hoards free widgets from the internet and a neat freak who demands a sparse widget bar.
- It lets you get more widgets for your collection. Click on the “More Widgets” button at the bottom to be taken to Apple’s dedicated Widget website, which has over 2000 availible for free download.
- It lets you delete widgets that you’ve added to your collection. Click on the red minus sign next to a non-Apple widget and it is removed from your system.