Cooking with Linux - Really Useful Gadgets...Sort of

Gadgets are tools, but referring to a tool as a gadget implies a bit of fun.

To add a plasmoid to the KDE 4 desktop, click on that cashew icon in the top right-hand corner of your screen. A small pop-out menu appears. If it says Unlock Widgets, make sure you click that first, then recall the menu. Now, you should see Add Widgets at the top of that menu (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Click the cashew to add desktop widgets, or plasmoids, or gadgets, or whatever you like to call them.

When you click Add Widgets, a window labeled Add Widgets appears (Figure 9). It contains a list of all the plasmoids installed on your system, and each one has a description below its name. Some of my favorites include Dictionary, a live desktop word lookup; Luna, a moon-phase display; and the Twitter Microblogging applet. I also enjoy a variety of clocks, including a classic analog clock as well as a binary model. Those little yellow sticky notes also are handy. There's even a plasmoid that pulls in and displays your favorite comic strips right on your desktop. Figure 9 shows a number of different plasmoids running on my desktop.

Figure 9. KDE 4.1 plasmoids seriously dress up a desktop. Shown here are the KDE Twitter, Luna, binary and analog clock, notes, dictionary, calculator and trash plasmoids.

While the plasmoids are unlocked, you can pause over any of them to fade in the controls (Figure 10). Each has a rotate handle, a resize handle and a button to close the plasmoid. Many, though not all, also are configurable and offer a settings icon.

Figure 10. Control handles (or buttons) fade in when you hover over a plasmoid, letting you rotate, resize, configure or close the plasmoid.

Running all these cool desktop gadgets is great, but what if you've got a dozen windows open, and you want to re-read today's comic? Minimizing all those windows can be a pain, but it's one you don't need to suffer. Press Ctrl-F12, and the Plasma dashboard jumps to the forefront of your running windows, letting you see and interact with any of your plasmoids.

The last item on tonight's menu comes from those gadget-crazy people over at Google who come to us with the aptly named Google Gadgets. Unlike plasmoids, you can't rotate them, and they live only on your current virtual desktop, but the sheer number of gadgets, not to mention coolness factor, makes Google Gadgets a must. I was able to install Google Gadgets for my system from the Mandriva repositories, so check yours first. You also can get the latest from

When you install Google Gadgets for Linux, you'll find that there are two versions of the code: one for the Qt toolkit (KDE) and another for GTK (GNOME). When you first run the program (with a shortcut command named ggl), an icon appears in your system tray. To add gadgets to your desktop, right-click the icon and select Add Gadgets. Figure 11 shows a sampling Google Gadgets running on my desktop. There's a nice flowerpot that requires you to water and care for the flowers in order for them to grow (ignore the flowers and they wither and die). If, like me, you never can have enough trivia, check out the Absolut Trivia gadget (yes, that Absolut), which displays a new piece of trivia every few seconds. To help me make decisions, I've got a Magic 8 Ball. The weather, always important, shows up in a cool weather globe. And, of course, when I've been working too long, the RSI Break gadget tells me to take a break.

Figure 11. A sample of the hundreds of gadgets available from Google Gadgets for Linux.

One gadget you likely won't need by the time you read this is the George Bush “days left in office” countdown gadget, which is either a countdown to freedom and renewed sanity, or a dark day for American politics, depending on where you sit on the GBW fence. Although I can't say for sure, I suspect that an Obama or McCain countdown timer probably is in the works.

There are tons of gadgets available, so how do you choose? When you select Add Gadgets from the system-tray icon, it fires up the Gadget Browser. Using the Gadget Browser (Figure 12), you can select from hundreds of gadgets, categorized according to interest and function, as well as new and updated gadgets. Those created by Google have their own category.

Figure 12. Google's Gadget Browser lets you select from several categories of gadgets, including those created by Google.

For instance, click on Lifestyle, and you will be able to choose from more than 150 gadgets that do all sorts of wonderful things, including display horoscopes, recipes, quotes from various sources or pictures from the world's greatest beaches. You know, that last one doesn't sound half bad.

Well, mes amis, I fear it is that time again. The hour is late, and closing time is upon us. As you have seen, useful tools need not be all business, just as business in this fine restaurant is, in fact, much closer to pleasure. With one of the world's finest wine cellars and undoubtedly the finest waiter in the world, how could it be anything else? Speaking of whom, François, kindly refill our guests' glasses a final time. Please, mes amis, raise your glasses and let us all drink to one another's health. A votre santé! Bon appétit!