A brief widget history

The widget technology we take for granted today has been over 25 years in the making. Small pieces of customized desktop and web content have made their way into our lives whether you call it an accessory, a widget, a web part, or a gadget. Below is a visual timeline of widget history and a brief summary of how some of today’s widget sectors got their start.

Widget timeline displaying major events in widget history.

Desk ornaments

Widget concepts date back to the invention of the graphical user interface for home use. Bud Tribble and Andy Hertzfeld brainstormed a concept named “desk ornaments” in 1981 for the original Macintosh operating system. These ornaments, later renamed accessories, wrapped small computing functions such as a calculator, notepad, or simple games within a single application.

Personalized homepage

Netscape PowerStart was a personal start page application built-in to the Netscape Navigator web browser in 1996. PowerStart was released just two weeks after the original My Yahoo! and included many of the dynamic web page concepts we use today. PowerStart combined your latest e-mail, stock quotes, weather reports, and other pieces of data from the web and desktop into a single page. Popular homepage components were powered by Java, dynamically loaded JavaScript content, and other technologies we now take for granted. Yahoo! released My Yahoo! two weeks before PowerStart, and the web world now had access to customized information.

Desktop widgets

In October 2000 Stardock released a new GUI engine for Windows named DesktopX. Custom objects display system information such as CPU and memory utilization, news tickers, and live updates from the Web.

Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke released Konfabulator for Mac OS X as a shareware side project in 2003 and it quickly grew into its own company, Pixoria. Konfabulator blended web technologies such as JavaScript with the desktop rendering strengths of OS X. Pixoria was acquired by Yahoo! in July 2005.

Summary

The fancy widgets timeline is a much more fun way to browse the last 25 years of widget history. The biggest surprise compiling the list was just how close some related events occurred.

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3 comments

Commentary on "A brief widget history":

  1. Rob La Gesse on wrote:

    Nice article, but the time line doesn’t go back nearly far enough. Back in 1983 I was running a dial up BBS (Wildcat! Software – BIOS II BBS – which started in the Bay Area with 6 incoming lines).Even then we had widgets – although I am not sure anyone called them that. But they were “things I stuck on my BBS that connected my subscribers to those of other sites” – through gaming scores, message posted, connections to UUNET, FidoNet, etc.So I think version one of widgets has been well documented, if not accredited.Rob

  2. BillyWarhol on wrote:

    Yeah I was always impressed with Konfabulator Widgets – really quality look + feel + design to them. However 3 years ago when I only had 256Mb of RAM I had to remove them from my desktop. I haven’t heard much from Konfabulator since they got bought by Yahoo.
    My all-time fave is still the Flickr Flash Badge! I have to give props to a new one Feedjit which shows you where visitors are coming to your blog from all over the World + How they arrived! Very c0ol
    Cheers! Billy

  3. ak danny on wrote:

    hello..very nice article…i am doing a dissertation on widgets, and i find this information very useful..i was just wondering if u know where i can find any academic books written on widgets, as they are not very easy to come across.Cheers