I am actually surprised at how many times I see people asking whether Firefox needs to have some sort of widget engine built-in. I think a lot of that stems from Opera having the built-in widget handler, so a lot of people think that Firefox is behind in the times as far as this goes.
One of the big reasons that Opera does have this feature is to allow people to add more to the browser since it is not extensible in other ways. For example, there is a widget for Opera that will retrieve and display the weather which is something an extension for Firefox already does. So it is kinda a tradeoff in some sense, but most people prefer to have extensions like Firefox offers over the widgets that Opera has.
Not only that, but you also have to keep in mind that widgets are all over the place already. Both Mac and Windows users can download the Yahoo! Widget Engine that is compatible with thousands of widgets users have already made. Well, Mac users already have a built-in widget system so they probably won’t need to use this and Vista users also have what are called gadgets and they too are the same thing. Widgets are very rapidly becoming more and more part of the operating system.
If you’re really a widget freak and you need to have them in Firefox, then you’ll want to checkout a service called YourMinis. It is yet another personalized homepage but I would say it is just as nice, if not better, than Netvibes. A few months back I started to tinker around with the service and have loved it ever since. What makes it unique?
One of the things I love the most about it is being able to see a view of all my tabs and actually drag-and-drop them from one tab to another. You can get to this view by using the little icon next to the Sign In/Sign Out links in the upper-right corner. It’s really just something you need to play with because you won’t realize quite how cool it is until you try it.
Yeah, I know it is just a website, so why bother mentioning it as a widget handler for Firefox? They actually offer an extension for Firefox that will let you overlay the YourMinis page onto any site that you are currently visiting. It makes the background semi-transparent so that you can still see the page that you were in the process of viewing (pictured to the right).
YourMinis definitely has its perks over a traditional gadget system. One of the biggest that comes to my mind is that your computer is not doing the bulk of the work, so your memory usage won’t be quite so high. In the past I have always been selective with the widgets I choose to use because each one will add more work to my computer. By using YourMinis, my computer can take it a little easier.
Not only that, but I’ll also have my widgets with me wherever I go, which I’m sure is huge for anyone that has more than one computer. It just makes some things so much easier, like checking my 6 different Gmail accounts from one convenient location. Or create a tab just for doing countdowns to upcoming events. With YourMinis you can create as many widgets as you want and you can even use their wonderfully designed feed reader to keep up on the latest news from around the Web.
There is one thing that I have found to be a little distracting with YourMinis though, and that is the load time for the widgets on your personalized page. I recommend creating multiple tabs and dividing up your different widgets, making sure to place only the most important ones on your main tab. Right now when I load the site it can take 15 to 20 seconds to completely load all 11 of my widgets, but after trimming them down to just 5 on my main tab it only takes about 5 seconds to load them.
So to answer the question that this article revolves around…no, Firefox does not need a widget system. I think a very limited number of people would actually use it, so it would hardly be worth the developers’ time to create a feature only a handful of people would use. Widgets are definitely making their way into everyone’s lives, but they don’t need to be built-in to the browser.