When youre new to a city and havent yet figured out the good places to go, you need a car. Its a complex piece of equipment, and driving exposes you to substantial risks, but you want that flexibility to go anywhere and carry anything. After a while, though, you know the places youll want to visit most often, and you can take the subway or ride a bicycle; you can carry a shopping bag or backpack, instead of hauling around an SUV-sized cargo space.
When you know where youre going and why, subways or bikes are a lot more cost-effective than automobiles. Thats how I feel about the similar cyberspace transition from browsers to widgets.
We can talk about widgets with a lower-case "w" now that theyre not just a feature of Apples Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger," but have become a wide-open multiplatform technology following Yahoos acquisition of Pixoria Inc. The latter companys Konfabulator offering has actually been available as a third-party offering for the Macintosh since February 2003, and for Windows since late last year. Theres been plenty of network chatter about the degree to which Apple did or didnt copy Konfabulator in devising the Tiger "Dashboard," but thats just smoke and noise that obscures the more important point: Instead of looking at the Web through the windshield of a Web browser, and hoping that you dont get blindsided by drunk-driving malware, you can now build yourself a subway line of widgets that has stops exactly where you want them.
And what Yahoo gets out of the deal is an easy way to pave a nice, smooth bike path to its own services-based destinations. "Were starting to open more pieces of Yahoo to third-party developers. Weve done that so far mostly through Web services," explained Yahoo Developer Network VP Tony Schneider during the same conversation just mentioned above. "You have to be very motivated" to write the scripts that access services at that low level, Schneider acknowledged, as anyone will agree whos gotten more than a few pages into OReilly Medias "Google Hacks" or "Amazon Hacks" or other such guides to Web service exploitation. "What Konfabulator allows us to do is wrap those APIs and data sources into a form that anyone who knows what XML is, and can do a little bit of scripting, can deploy them on a desktop -- its really going to lower the bar," Schneider predicted.
Ill go into more depth about the crucial role of scripting languages and associated technologies in the Aug. 8 issue of eWEEK, for those of you who receive the monthly Developer Solutions special sections in our print publication; youll also find those stories soon afterward on www.eweek.com.
In the meantime, tell me what widgets would quickly earn a place on your desktop at firstname.lastname@example.org
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