In helping a friend make the transition from Windows to Ubuntu, one of the “missing” features was the idea of desktop gadgets (or widgets). Windows has them built-in, thanks to the Windows Desktop Gadgets framework. And even if you don’t like the ones from Windows, Windows users (and Mac as well), can try out Yahoo Widgets, a similar framework. Linux users have access to Google Desktop Gadgets, although the status of that project would seem to be up in the air, as Google discontinued the service back in September of 2011.
What’s an Ubuntu user to do? Thankfully, there are two programs already in the Ubuntu repositories, called gDesklets and Screenlets, that should do the trick.
In this article we’ll discuss gDesklets. First, gDesklets doesn’t seem to be under very heavy development. It’s last release was in January of 2011, and before that, nearly three years had passed, since its last release in November of 2008. It also doesn’t offer up a lot of default desklets (the mini-programs that users can populate their desktops with), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to use it.
First, open up the Terminal.
Now type sudo apt-get install gdesklets to install gDesklets.
Once installed, you can launch gDesklets from the Dash. Simply launch the Dash (with the Windows key or by clicking the Ubuntu logo at the top of the Unity Dock), then start typing gDesklets. When you see it appear in the upper left, go ahead and hit the Enter key.
You may have noticed when installing, but it’s likely that gDesklets only installed itself, and no extra libraries. It is a very tiny installation, and when running, doesn’t use a lot of system resources. On the other hand, gDesklets only comes with four different desklets: a quote of the day module, calendar, clock, and puzzle game. Not a lot of options, in other words. Here are all of the four default desklets in use at once, lined up along the right edge of the screen.
How did we get them there? We first launched the gDesklets Shell, as mentioned above. One nice feature offered by gDesklets is float mode, in which all your widgets “float” above all other open applications with the press of a key combination. The key combination is <Shift><F12> by default, but can be changed from the preferences. This feature is mentioned in a pop-up window that will only appear the first time you launch gDesklets.
Once you dismiss this window, you’ll see the gDesklets Shell window.
Simply find the one you want from the list and double click it. After a bit, the desklet will appear on your screen, as if attached to your mouse. Simply move to the portion of the screen you want the desklet to go, and click. Do this with all the desklets you want until you have your screen set up the way you want.
As mentioned, gDesklets only comes with four options available. Thankfully, by going to the gDesklets website, you can view a full list of all available desklets, including more clocks, weather info, RSS feeds, email checkers, and more. When you find one you like, simply click to view its page, then click the Download button to download it to your computer.
Once there, go to the File menu and choose the Intall Package option.
Find the archive you just downloaded it, select it, and in a bit the package should now be available for use.
One more thing. Once a desklet is on the Desktop and in use, right-click it to bring up an options menu. From here you can resize the desklet, plus access its configuration screen, where you may be able to input your preferences or credentials (for email checking desklets), change its theme or size, and more.
And that is pretty much it. As mentioned, one huge advantage gDesklets offers compared to Screenlets is in how tiny its installation is. Only one package, for a total of less than 3 MB of hard drive space, compared to a handful of extra packages, for a total of roughly 70 MB of hard drive space, for a full Screenlets installation. This full installation, however, as we’ll discuss in Part 2 of this article, includes dozens of different screenlets. So there are advantages there as well. And that’s kind of the point. If you’re a user who only wants one or two widgets/gadgets on your Desktop, then gDesklets just might be perfect for you. As for Screenlets, well… you’ll just have to read Part 2.