How To: Konfabulate Your Desktop

How To: Konfabulate Your Desktop

Maximize your screen real estate with dozens of handy data-gathering widgets

You just bought a kick-ass, 23-inch, flat-panel display—which you paired with your old monitor—and now you have more screen real estate than you really know what to do with. Enter Konfabulator.

Konfabulator lets you add applications and instrumentation to your desktop that can display damn near any info you want to see. You can add everything from the current weather in Bogotá, to your CPU usage, to the current traffic conditions in your own home town, to cover art for the track you’re playing in iTunes. There are also dozens of utility widgets that serve as shortcuts to your frequently used FTP sites and quick Internet searches.

Konfabulator works its magic through a combination of Javascript code (which scrapes the net for the data you need) and XML (which describes the widget’s appearance). You’ll find more than 400 applets on Konfabulator’s web site; if you’re familiar with Javascript and XML, you’ll discover that it’s very easy to create your own.

The best thing about Konfabulator is its low impact. Even with 10 or more applets running, the Konfabulator absorbs just a tiny fraction of your CPU and memory. Interested? Let’s get started then!
—Will Smith

Download and Install Konfabulator

This one’s really easy. Go to www.konfabulator.com and download the trial version of the software—it’s also on this month’s Maximum CD. Once you’ve installed it, the Getting Started widget will activate several common widgets, including a clock, a stock ticker, and a basic weather applet. Take a few minutes and play around with each widget. You can drag and drop them anywhere on your desktop, but the real fun starts when you get into the right-click Preferences. There you can customize your widgets to suit your needs—after all, if you live in Omaha, you don’t need the weather in Kalamazoo. Once you have a good grip on what your widgets can do, move on to step two.


Konfabulator is like an instrument panel for your desktop. Add any info you want directly to your desktop without taking a huge performance hit!

Install New Widgets!

We highly recommend that you store all your widget files in the My Widgets directory in My Computer. If you don’t, Konfabulator could get confused and have trouble restoring your desktop.

This is where Konfabulator gets really cool. Browse over to Widgetgallery.com and browse its vast selection. If you find yourself intimidated by the sheer number of widgets available, you’ll find a list of our 10 favorites on the next page.

Each widget is a self-contained file, with the clever extension of “.widget.” To load a new widget, simply double-click the .widget file. Konfabulator won’t actually copy your .widget files into the My Documents/My Widgets directory, so it’s very important that you move them there yourself after you’ve downloaded them, but before you run them the first time. If you don’t, they’ll end up scattered all over your hard drive and they’ll be impossible to manage.

Step 3. Tweak Your Levels

You control precisely where your widget is placed, in three dimensions. By setting the Level of Window option, you can float a widget above all other options, or embed it in your desktop.

Konfabulator widgets behave differently than most other windows. There are five levels that most widgets can use, but there are some subtle differences between the options. When you open most widget preferences, there’s a Level of Window option. Here’s what happens with each level setting.

Normal: Normal-level windows act just like other windows. You can move them around and click on them to make them the currently active window.

Topmost: Not surprisingly, topmost windows are always on top of other windows. Here again, you can click on them and move them like any other window.

Below: When you use the Below setting, your widget will effectively be embedded in your desktop. You can click and move it, but it will appear underneath any other windows on your desktop.

Floating: The Floating setting puts the widget above any other windows on your desktop, but you can’t interact with it at all. The floating setting is great for objects—such as clocks—that provide info you need, but that you don’t need to interact with. If you combine the floating setting with 80-percent transparency, you’ll get an unobtrusive desktop item that won’t interfere with your day-to-day computing.

Konsposé Only: The Konsposé-only setting places the widget in question on your desktop only when you’re in Konfabulator’s special full-screen F8 mode. We’ve not used this setting much.

Working with Floating Widgets

newkonspose.jpg
The Konsposé mode lets you move or change embedded widgets.

Once you’ve set your widgets to floating mode, you can’t click or drag them; in fact, you can’t really interact with them at all. If you want to move a widget or change its preferences, you’ll need to enter the Konsposé mode.

Konsposé mode lets you see and move all your widgets easily. To enter it, press the F8 key on your keyboard, drag your widgets as you please, and then click an empty area of the desktop to return to your normal desktop mode. Pretty easy, huh?

Take It a Step Further
At root, each Konfabulator widget is nothing more than an XML file, a couple of Javascript scripts, and a few images bundled together in a plain old-fashioned .zip file. If you want to muck around with any part of any widget you download, you can! Just open the .widget file using WinZip and edit the appropriate files.

If you’re going to make changes to someone else’s widget, however, it’s considered good form to contact the creator and ask permission before distributing the modified widget.

10 Kon-fabulous Widgets Everyone Needs
Not every widget is good for everyone, but all of these widgets kick ass

1clipdrop copy.jpg1 ClipDrop

The Clipboard history sidebar in Microsoft Office might seem like a goofy feature, but we’ve always liked it. The ClipDrop widget works exactly the same: It saves the last few items that appear on your clipboard, and then lets you restore them to the clipboard—in any application.

2miniftp copy.jpg2 mini FTP
We upload files to a private FTP site all the time, and the mini FTP widget makes it easier than ever. Once you set up the widget to point to your FTP site, all you have to do is drag and drop the files you want to upload to it, and away they go.

3minituneremote copy.jpg3 mini iTunes Remote

iTunes is fabulous for managing large music collections, but the included mini-player mode is too big and clunky. The mini iTunes Remote offers all the important functionality—play, pause, next track, and previous track—in a much tidier package.

4tunecompanion copy.jpg4 iTunes Companion

The iTunes Companion also offers remote control of iTunes, but we turn those features off. Instead, we set the widget to float and quietly grab our album cover art from Amazon.

5ebaywatch copy.jpg
5 eBay Watcher

Let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of neat stuff for sale on eBay, but it’s a drag to keep checking eBay’s ass-slow web site. With the eBay Watcher widget, you can plug in the auction IDs of the items you’re interested in, and it’ll update the current high bid every five minutes.

6minicalendar copy.jpg6 mini Calendar

This is a pretty easy concept: mini Calendar is like a calendar, but smaller. You can change months and click on different days, or just leave it floating in the background.

7miniweather copy.jpg7 mini Weather

The only real difference between the full-size Weather widget and the svelte mini Weather widget is the absence of the four-day forecast. Let’s face it, the only place with an accurate forecast is San Diego, and the weather never changes there anyway. If you just want a small widget to display the current temperature and precipitation status, this one’s for you.

8blogliner copy.jpg8 Blogliner

Blogliner is a fancy online news-aggregation web site. You tell Blogliner which sites you want to keep track of—it includes such favorites as Slashdot, BoingBoing, and Shacknews, but you can add any site with an RSS feed—and Blogliner serves as a web-based RSS reader. The Blogliner widget tells you when you have new news and how many stories have been posted since your last visit. Tres cool.

9 Chrome Clock

Have digital clocks stolen your ability to instantly read analog time? Do you prefer round to square? Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, you should check out any number of the nifty analog clock widgets available for Konfabulator. They’re all great, but we like Chrome Clock best.

10upstracker copy.jpg10 UPS Shipment Tracker

You just ordered a shiny new CPU, and you’re dying for it to arrive. What better way to keep an eye on its status than with the UPS Shipment Tracker. Input up to five tracking numbers and this handy widget will keep you updated on your package’s status, ‘round the clock. No more mashing “refresh” on the UPS page for you!

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