The Case For Using Dashboard Widgets versus Yosemite's Notification Center Widgets


Dec 7, 2011
Miami, Florida
There are numerous articles out there all over the web saying that the new Notification Center Widgets in OS X Yosemite make the old Widget system (using the Dashboard) outdated or even obsolete. I have to disagree with that, at least to a large extent. Granted, I'll be the first one to admit that there are many awesome things you can accomplish using Yosemite's new Notification Center Widgets (take this awesome little project, for example) but Dashboard Widgets have something that Notification Center widgets simply will never have: You can dedicate your entire screen real estate to those widgets (2560x1440px on a regular iMac, or a whopping 5120x2880px on a retina iMac—that's a lot of content!), move them around at will, and you can even play full games on a Dashboard widget, for example: Donkey Kong Widget for Dashboard.

Here's something else your Dashboard widgets can do that your Notification Center widgets can't: you can "detach" your widgets from the Dashboard and keep them on your desktop at all times. Naturally, you will want to do this with widgets that don't occupy a whole lot of space on your screen, like the Flight Tracker widget or the Weather Forecast widget. If you decide you no longer want them on your desktop, you can "send them back" to the Dashboard. Both of these actions are fully explained in this article (the article is dated 2009 but still works perfectly on OS X Yosemite), but their method requires you to use the Terminal app, something that not everyone is comfortable with. There is a free Mac app called Widgetrunner that makes it super easy for anyone to do this without ever having to launch Note that I have not personally tested this app. I will test it out later this week and update this post accordingly with my findings.

Also, something you can do in Dashboard widgets which you can't do in Notification Center widgets (to the best of my knowledge—but bear in mind I'm far from being a Yosemite Notification Center Widget Genius) is to save a snippet of a webpage as a widget. These website snippet widgets are updated live every time you invoke the Dashboard.

How do you create a Dashboard widget from a section of a website? It's easier than you might think: From Safari (sorry, it only works on Safari) go to File > Open in Dashboard... A purple bar will appear at the top of the website which will guide you through the next two steps of the process (it really is super easy).

There are two small limitations I've encountered, but neither is a big deal: (1) The snippet of the website you use for your widget must include the top of the website; if you attempt to save a snippet of a website that doesn't start at the top, the widget won't appear correctly, and (2) You cannot zoom out of a website (View > Zoom Out) to make the text of the site smaller in hopes of fitting a larger vertical portion of the site in your widget; the text of the widget will always be standard-size text.

Your Dashboard and its widgets can be invoked via a keyboard shortcut of your choice, a Hot Corner of your choice, or both (selectable via System Preferences > Mission Control). Additionally, you can choose to have the Dashboard and its widgets be displayed in one of two ways—"As Overlay" or "As Space" (this is also selectable via System Preferences > Mission Control).

Here's a screenshot of the Dashboard being displayed "As Overlay":

Dashboard As Overlay.png (thumbnail; click to expand)

Here's a screenshot of the Dashboard being displayed "As Space":

Dashboard As Space.png (thumbnail; click to expand)

In the above examples, you can see that I've made use of the entire screen space of my iMac to display the following widgets:

I have a widget consisting of a snippet of the top portion of the Google Finance webpage for AAPL. Remember, as I stated earlier, these website snippet widgets are extremely useful because they are updated live every time you invoke the Dashboard; they are not static screenshots of the website as it appeared at the moment you created the widget. Obviously, Yosemite comes standard with a Stocks widget, but it certainly doesn't provide all the stats provided by the Google Finance webpage which may be useful for hardcore day traders.

To its right, you can see I have another widget consisting of a website snippet—this one is from a website on Basic German for Travelers. Say you are planning a trip to a foreign country and you need to learn as many phrases as possible before your trip. This website snippet widget is perfect for that. It's much quicker than keeping a dedicated tab open on your browser, especially if you're knee-deep in Excel Numbers spreadsheets at the time and you just want a brief glance at the foreign-languag instruction website of your choice and then quickly return to your spreadsheets.

On the bottom half of the screen, you see another webpage snippet of the "Latest Alerts" screen of the eiC forums. I might want to keep this here as a widget temporarily if I posted a question that needs prompt attention and I want to stay on top of any replies that my post may get without having to go pull up the website. (I realize some of you use the eiC app and get your notifications via the iOS app, but for those of us who don’t want to use the app, this is a great way to stay on top of our forum notifications if we're awaiting a time-critical reply.)

To the right of that, I’m tracking flight 370 from from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport using the Flight Tracking widget. As you can see, the widget has accurately returned the current status of that flight (“No flights found.")

Finally, at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, I have the weather forecast for the week as a widget.

I'm willing to bet you can’t fit all of this information by using Widgets in Yosemite's Notification Center.

Of course, no one's saying you can't get the best of both worlds by using both!