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What is the Dashboard and what are its widgets?

Mac OS X has a handy feature called the Dashboard that lets you quickly see a variety of information as a semi-transparent layer over your Desktop and open windows. I use mine for easy access to the weather in three towns, tracking a handful of stocks, monitoring my system, a handy calculator, a little calendar, and what movies are playing in my area. But yours could have a completely different set of tools, which are lovingly called “widgets”.

Watch this video to see three ways to display the Dashboard and how to add, configure, and remove the information widgets on it.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

Accessing the Dashboard

(Note: This article and video are based on Snow Leopard. OS X Lion still has a Dashboard but it is accessed from within Mission Control.)

Like most things on the Mac, there is more than one way to access your Dashboard. You can:

  • Click the Dashboard icon on the Dock (or in your Applications folder)
  • Use the Dashboard function key (usually F4 or F12)
  • Set an Active Screen Corner to Dashboard

Configuring widgets

You can move widgets around on your Dashboard by simply clicking and dragging them. But before dragging it to the perfect spot, you’ll probably want to explore its various modes since each can take a different size. For instance, the calendar widget has three modes, with one, two, or three roughly equally sized panes. You can explore a widget’s modes by just clicking on the widget. This won’t always switch modes as some widgets only have one mode, while others have active parts of the widgets (for example, clicking on a stock symbol in the Stocks widget causes a graph of that stock’s price to show in the bottom of the widget.

Many widgets also have a little “i” button (Widget i button) to get to its settings. Explore all your widgets to see all the settings and modes they have. You might be surprised at how customizable some of them are.

Adding widgets to Dashboard

To add widgets to your Dashboard, just click on the plus sign (Widget Plus button) in the lower left of the Dashboard. The Widget Bar will appear along the bottom of your screen, showing all the widgets already installed on your Mac. You’ll have at least two pages worth, so be sure to click the arrow buttons on either end of the Widget Bar to see your whole collection.
Widget Bar

To add one of these widgets to your Dashboard, just click on its icon and it will appear in the middle of your Dashboard. You can then click and drag it to wherever you like.

To explore the much greater variety of widgets available on the Apple website, click on the Widget Manager widget. It looks like this: Widget Manager widget

Then click the “More Widgets…” button on the bottom of the Widget Manager widget. That should open a browser window with Apple’s Dashboard Widgets Download page. As of this writing, they had 3,906 widgets to choose from!

Removing widgets

There are three levels of removing widgets. Choose the method appropriate to your level of disinterest in the particular widget.

  • Remove from the Dashboard
  • Disable so it doesn’t display in the Widget Bar
  • Delete from your system

Removing a widget from your Dashboard starts with a counter-intuitive action. You need to click on the plus sign button! (Widget Plus button) Trust me. Click on that button and then each widget will get a little X button (Widget X button) in its upper left corner. Just click on a widget’s X and it will be removed from the Dashboard.

If the Widget Bar is too crowded for your taste, you can disable some widgets so they won’t display there. Just go to the Widget Manager widget and uncheck the widgets you don’t want to display on the Widget Bar.

Note that removing it from the Dashboard and even from the Widget Bar doesn’t mean it’s completely off your Mac. It’s still available to be added back whenever you want. If you are sure you’ll never want a particular widget again and want to delete it from your system, return to the Widget Manager widget, find the widget you want to delete, then click the red minus sign button (More Widgets minus button) to move it to the Trash. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t let us delete any of the original widgets, only the ones we install on our own.

So make your Dashboard your own and install and configure widgets to match your needs. You may find yourself taking quick glances at your Dashboard to find information (weather, movie times, etc.) that you used to spend much more time surfing the web to find.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Nazlee April 4, 2012, 10:09 am

    Thanks a lot, Steve!
    After a whole day bothering my 16 yr old with questions about cleaning and organizing, he sent me the link to your site, and I’ve just been having fun with the widgets!
    One day at a time: next I’ll figure out how to organize my photos better. Wonder whether you have nice tips for that.

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