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.


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.