Since my post last week on the new breed of widget appliances and some hands-on time with the RTM edition of Windows Vista, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the tradeoffs between Microsoft’s and Apple’s implementations of functionality at your fingertips.. Both approaches make assumptions about how users will — or won’t — interact with these applets.
Vista’s gadgets are kept in a vertical sidebar that can be docked to either side of the screen. They can also be dragged onto the desktop. One of the best features of gadgets is that they can also exist off the screen — as in the case of Vista’s SideShow feature — or even outside of the PC itself, also via SideShow.
Mac OS X Tiger’s widgets appear in a separate layer that appears at the touch of a keystroke. There’s more planned for widgets in Mac OS X Leopard, but the fundamental tradeoff is that Vista’s gadgets are always in view, making them handier for tracking information at a glance, whereas Tiger’s implementation enables access to more of them at a time by utilizing the entire screen.
Overall, I prefer Apple’s implementation, which places fewer constraints on the design of these programs, but there’s merit to the “Sidebar” approach for organization that I’d like to see Apple adopt. Instead of having all widgets in a layer, Apple could support a Sidebar that could, with a hotkey or control, expand to overlay the entire screen.