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Home > June 2003 > Reviews
Konfabulator


People like gadgets. It's a fact of life. Companies like The Sharper Image thrive on this fact. We have little games on key chains, thermometers that stick on the inside of the car, calculators the size of stamps, golf score keepers that fit nicely on the wrist the list goes on. Most of these gadgets serve a purpose, usually to either entertain us or to give us some bit of useful information. Others, like that little duck that constantly dips his beak in the glass of water, have a use that is beyond me.

Not to be devoid of gadgetry, programmers have given us untold numbers of useful, and useless, gadgets over the years. There's the little icon in my menu bar that tells me how long my battery will last. There's the program that tells me how many CPU cycles I am currently using. Oh, and there's the gadget that tells me what the weather is outside. In fact, I'd say that, on average, my computer is running more "gadgets" at any one time than actual programs. How happy was I, then, when a little program called Konfabulator was released? Let's just say that it will satisfy all of those Sharper Image-urges to find the latest gadgets, because they're all here in one program. Konfabulator is, at its core, simply an engine for running other programs. If you launch Konfabulator without loading any widgets, you will be greeted with a small menu item with options to open widgets or to download widgets ("Widget" refers to the small programs that Konfabulator runs). These widgets are written in a mixture of JavaScript and XML. This makes it extremely easy for anyone versed in these languages to write widgets, as well as being able to display information from websites and other Internet resources. The Konfabulator engine also supports Mac OS X Quartz graphics effects like fades and transparencies, so your widgets will not only provide useful information, but will look really cool doing so.

Out-of-the-box, Konfabulator comes with some useful widgets. It has an analog clock display, a nice battery monitor, an Airport signal monitor, a digital clock, a remote for iTunes, a picture frame that displays graphics from the "Pictures" folder in your home directory, a weather widget that shows you what the weather is like outside of your four walls, and a to-do list. Now, when I first downloaded Konfabulator, I was skeptical. I mean, what useful little programs could you possibly write for this thing? How many clocks, countdown timers and iTunes remotes did one person really need? The fans of this program have really come through since its release. Available for Konfabulator are widgets ranging from digital clocks to blog displays to full-fledged games. And there are new widgets being added to Konfabulator's website almost daily.

Among some of the most interesting widgets I have found are: Chain Shot This is a widget implementation of games like Sega Swirl and Big Money.

Comic Comic displays one of 11 daily comics on your desktop. I like having the Peanuts gang on my desktop for a good chuckle. iXscreen Ruler This widget places a ruler on the desktop that can be moved around and resized. It's very useful for designing things that have to remain within a certain screen resolution, such as web sites. Rabid Dog Blackjack This is a fun implementation of the classic blackjack casino card game. Sweet Search This widget places a small toolbar on the screen that allows you to do searches from Google, IMDB, Amazon, Yahoo, Version Tracker, and Sherlock. Wambold Weather Widget This widget works nicely in conjunction with the included Weather widget by giving you a quick 5-day forecast for the selected region. There are so many widgets available that you may soon run into one of the unfortunate side effects of a program like this. Given too much to do, it will eat away at your CPU cycles. Processor-intensive programs such as graphic and 3D programs and modern games may see a hit in speed.

There are also certain types of widgets that tend to take up more processor time than others. CPU monitors, ironically, seem to take up the most processor cycles, mainly because they have to make a call to the Unix "top" command to get the processor time, and this takes processor cycles each time it's done. (Note: according to the WIP section on the website, the next version of Konfabulator will have a built-in conduit for calling CPU usage.) Pretty much any widget that monitors another program, from iTunes to Mail.app, will use CPU cycles each time a call is made. It could be once every 5 seconds or once every 15 minutes. But it does get mildly annoying when it happens over and over again. So, choose your widgets wisely. With the widgets I run, Konfabulator uses between 5 and 15 percent of the CPU at any one time, which is acceptable for me most of the time. If I need all of the CPU, I simply shut Konfabulator down.

Again, this is not so much a flaw in Konfabulator as it is a fact of life in scripting. But, as Konfabulator becomes more integrated with the OS, and as widget writers find newer and better ways to write their widgets, these processor killers will become fewer and farther in-between.

Overall, Konfabulator is a real winner. With a robust engine that can do everything from getting the weather to solving a Rubik's Cube, everyone will find something to use Konfabulator for. And with new enhancements on the horizon, like keyboard entry, the possibilities are literally endless.

AUTHORS
Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke

CONTACT
www.konfabulator.com

PRICE: $25

REQUIREMENTS
OS X 10.2
RATING
4/5

PROS

Robust engine using established languages makes it easy for even beginners to start writing widgets. Available widgets do a wide variety of tasks. Very low price compared to the potential of the program.

CONS

Some widgets can be processor-intensive. New programmers often have memory leaks in their widgets that need to be watched for.
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