HTML escapes the browser

    Simon Willison
    Simon Willison

    One of the hottest topics to come out of Apple’s recent World Wide Developers Conference was the announcement of Dashboard, a new feature in the forthcoming OS X Tiger which adds a layer of useful mini-applications (aka “widgets”) to the user’s desktop. This in itself is not a new idea: the Mac had Desk Ornaments way back in 1984 while the impressive shareware application Konfabulator has provided Dashboard style functionality on OS X for some time. As an aside, for a good debunking of the “Dashboard rips off Konfabulator” meme look no further than Daring Fireball.

    What’s really exciting about Dashboard is the way widgets are written. Unlike Konfabulator, where widget layouts are defined using a simple XML dialect, Dashboard widgets are written in HTML and CSS and rendered using Safari’s WebKit engine! They’re essentially mini-web pages, liberated from the browser. Dave Hyatt of the Safari team has a series of entries (1, 2 and 3) with more details.

    Extending technologies that originated on the web to cover other application development domains has become something of a recurring theme in recent years. Both Adobe’s Photoshop and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver allow extensions to be created using JavaScript, and the entire Mozilla suite of applications have interfaces that are defined using a combination of CSS, JavaScript and Mozilla’s HTML-like XUL interface language. Even Microsoft are getting in on the act, with the future of Windows application development (XAML) running along very similar lines. Even Microsoft’s failed “active desktop” concept can be seen as an earlier iteration of this idea, allowing HTML applications to live under the user’s desktop.

    One thing’s for sure: skills with web technologies are becoming more and more useful.