Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yahoo Widgets

One of the fun things about getting a new computer is finding out what new features have been added into my staple tools. There have been a few little gems that have emerged from the usual suspects, but one of the more surprising has been Yahoo Widgets.

I was originally using Yahoo Widgets because it offered the least intrusive picture frame software that I could get on my desktop. This let me do the ObDad act of having a picture of the family on my desktop, without having to set the picture as my background. This is great as I find busy backgrounds to be tiresome on the eyes. Chalk it up to my time with monochrome screens in the 80s and my minimalist phase during college with FVWM. The Widgets based picture frame was perfect.

Now that I don't have Exchange to use, I've turned back to a lot of the Yahoo desktop tools for things like calendars, etc. Courtesy of Y! Widgets, there are some nice tools for making those apps visible on my desktop without having to keep a browser open all the time. One widget tells me when I have email, another gives me a dictionary, and a third displays my To Do list and calendar. Unfortunately, what was missing was something that would tell me whether I had new emails on my main mail server.

A quick poke around to see if something could pull up email counts over POP-SSL showed no hits. What I did stumble on was the developers guide. With small software on the mind, I started digging around -- anything interesting here that could be helpful with another challenge I was facing?

Turns out the answer is no on the challenge. However, Y! Widgets is remarkably simple to use. The whole thing is basically JavaScript, some XML for describing the UI, and an impressive list of events that can trigger actions. About 15 minutes of turning the first sample in the documentation into what I needed and I got my tool -- a widget that tells me how many unread emails are on my server. (Well, that and two minutes to get the server side piece. Details, details...)


Classic business tells us that we shouldn't find problems to match technology. Rather, we should let the problems define what the technology needs to be. But there's a small catch to that. Many times problems don't surface because we think that the solution's cost/benefit ratio is too far out of whack to justify the work. Keeping up with possible solutions to arbitrary problems is a great way to circle back and challenge the way you've looked at past solutions.

Anyone that has worked with enough customers has seen this. The customer rattles off their pain points, but they don't tell you everything because they think you can't solve certain problems. It takes a discussion about the solution and the possibilities before you can draw out really interesting opportunities. There's nothing quite like a discussion that starts with, "Wait... you can do that?"

Time to revisit some discussions... :-)


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