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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

By Federico Kereki on July 25, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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Since version 2 came out in 2005, Google Desktop for Windows has included a sidebar that users can fill with screen gadgets, but the Linux version (version 1, from June 2007) provided only indexing and search functions, with no eye candy whatsoever. This has finally changed. Google recently released Google Gadgets for Linux (GGL), which closes the gap between the operating systems. With GGL, you can run as many gadgets as you wish on your screen -- or at least that's the idea. Some flaws still need to be fixed, and not everything works 100% correctly.

GGL resembles SuperKaramba, Screenlets, gDesklets, and KDE 4's Plasma. All produce similar results and offer similar gadgets, and the only reason to choose one over another is if it offers unique gadgets you're particularly interested in. Some programs are compatible with each other, allowing you to run gadgets from other programs; there's even talk that Plasma will be able to run GGL gadgets directly.

License and installation

GGL is licensed under the Apache License 2.0. It is currently in version 0.10.0 and qualifies as "development" software, so expect bugs. If you happen to find some quirky behavior or errors, you can help by posting about your issues on the Google Groups user forum. GGL developers visit this forum, so you should get an answer and get the ball rolling to fix some of the remaining bugs.

Installing GGL can be difficult. If you're up for solving lots of dependencies by hand (by installing many packages), try getting the source code and following the building instructions to build it from scratch. However, be prepared to work a while over it. Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, and Ubuntu users might be in luck, as the project provides specific instructions for those distributions. I am mainly an openSUSE 10.3 user, but after fruitlessly trying to get all the needed packages (I still don't know why the build process claimed I was lacking certain libraries, which I'm sure I already had), I opted to "1-click install" an already built package provided by the openSUSE Build Service. At first I installed google-gadgets-qt (for KDE), but later I revised my decision and opted for google-gadgets-gtk (for GNOME); more on this in a moment.

Mandriva users can also get an already built package from contrib/backports. I tried that, but GGL wouldn't connect to the server and download any gadgets. Some searching on the Internet provided the solution: although it isn't required, you must have the curl and openssl packages installed. Also, be sure to have the Flash plugin for Firefox, or you won't be able to use many gadgets that depend on it. Finally, check that your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file includes the following lines, or gadgets won't have transparent backgrounds:

Section "Extensions" Option "Composite" "Enable" EndSection

Getting started

Depending on which version you get, you must run either ggl-qt or ggl-gtk. To learn about the available options, run ggl-gtk -h; for no obvious reason, ggl-qt -h won't produce the same output, though it seemingly recognizes the same options:

Google Gadgets for Linux 0.9.3 Usage: ggl-gtk [Options] [Gadgets] Options: -z zoom Specify initial zoom factor for View, no effect for sidebar. -b Draw window border for Main View. -ns Use dashboard mode instead of sidebar mode. -bg Run in background. -h, --help Print this message and exit. Gadgets: Can specify one or more Desktop Gadget paths. If any gadgets are specified, they will be installed by using GadgetManager.

I tried using the -z option, but couldn't guess what value it was expecting; for example, -z 10 (10%, I hoped) completely filled my screen with a sidebar. The -b option isn't too interesting either: it causes gadgets to get window decorations, making them look plain awful. The options you will certainly want to use are -ns (so the semitransparent black sidebar won't appear) and -bg (so GGL will run in the background). If you want GGL to run every time you boot, you must include the ggl-gtk -ns -bg command in the startup file for your distribution. For example, under KDE in openSUSE, you would include a script with that command line in the $HOME/.kde/Autostart directory.

After GGL starts, a little icon appears in the system tray. (Another problem with ggl-qt is that the icon background is colored instead of transparent. Sometimes it shows up as black, and other times as white or red, so maybe it's an initialization problem.) Right-click on the icon to get a menu that allows you to add gadgets, show or hide all gadgets, or exit.

The first option opens a window with several categories of gadgets, a search box, and about 600 gadgets to pick from; if you wish, you can go through the whole set, page by page. It features a category of Google-produced gadgets, as well as separate categories including News, Sports, Lifestyle (a catch-all term that encompasses all sorts of things, from horoscopes to history data to health advice), Tools, Technology, Communications, Finance, Fun and Games, and Holidays. Each gadget shows a button below; click on it, and the gadget is added to your collection.

GTK gadgets appear on all desktops; ggl-qt gadgets show up on only one desktop. If you get tired of them, click on the systray icon to quickly hide them all; another click makes them reappear. You can resize gadgets, but you have to look for the (invisible) resizing handle at the base, to the right of the gadget. Right-click on an icon to get a menu, including a Zoom option that offers predefined sizes from 50% to 200%, and an Autofit option that's more suitable if you opt to show the black sidebar. Some gadgets also sport an Options menu entry; for example, the Weather Globe, which displays the weather at any place around the world, lets you pick a country and city. Finally, moving your mouse over a gadget reveals a button that allows you to close the gadget.

Many gadgets are not written by Google, and some may not be up to the latest standards or level of testing. Some gadgets fail to even load; for example, the Digital Retro Clock sometimes loads and sometimes doesn't. Others produce wrong results (the Battery Meter always shows 0% charge left, even on a connected machine), and some are even worse (Spider makes my X Window System session crash).

Conclusion

GGL is an attractive package with several hundred available gadgets, but it should still be considered an alpha or beta release. The gadgets that are usable might make it worth installing, but be ready to be disappointed, because they don't all install or run correctly. My experiences with two distributions (openSUSE and Mandriva) showed different results; not all things worked on both of them, and gadgets sometimes failed on one or the other.

Federico Kereki is an Uruguayan systems engineer with more than 20 years' experience developing systems, doing consulting work, and teaching at universities.

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on Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.74.205.122] on July 25, 2008 07:42 PM
Ubuntu users can get easy .debs: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=821478

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Re: Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.192.136.61] on July 26, 2008 11:21 PM
Seriously.... Why review a Linux product and NOT include Ubuntu testing? That's a very insufficient review. Ubuntu is rapidly becoming hegemonic, and there are reasons for that!

rhY

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Re(1): Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 201.93.232.94] on July 27, 2008 01:43 AM
Uhhh... Because there is more to Linux than Ubuntu? Seriously, I am trying Ubuntu in my laptop because it will take way too much effort and time to make Debian fit properly but I already hit several Ubuntu shortcomings in the last two weeks and I'm seriously entertaining the idea of installing Mandriva or OpenSUSE instead but my main workhorse runs Debian now and will keep that way for the foreseeable future. Ubuntu might be good for folks getting their feet wet with Linux but it is surely frustrating enough for the rest of us!

Besides, your reasoning is as weak as it can get. Making sure that it will work with, say Debian or RedHat/Fedora, will benefit the whole Linux ecosystem since these distros are upstream providers to many spin-off distros, including your beloved Ubuntu.

(Sorry for the rant but these Ubuntu zealots everywhere are really starting to piss me off!)

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Re(1): Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.124.202.32] on July 29, 2008 05:34 PM
And why not include Fedora and Xandros and LinuxMint too, and each and every distro out there? In my case, my laptop runs OpenSuse, and works fine, but I tried Ubuntu, and got nowhere. Anyway, there's more to Linux than a single distribution.

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.99.5.55] on July 25, 2008 09:44 PM
openSUSE repository >>> ftp://ftp5.gwdg.de/pub/opensuse/repositories/home:/hfiguiere/openSUSE_11.0/

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Re: Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.92.53.125] on July 25, 2008 11:09 PM
Or follow link in text , change menu to openSUSE 11.0 and use 1-click install

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.95.96.25] on July 26, 2008 09:59 AM
interesting post. its very usefull, but when came the first linux.com-vista-sitebar-gadget out? i think that would be a great thing if there was a linux gadget for teh vista sitebar with all the actual news about linux (i love linux and private only use it but in the office i must use win :(
Peter at http://public-push.de

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 207.81.236.15] on July 26, 2008 09:31 PM
I just don't see the need for this stuff. Then again, I feel the same way about gdesklets and every other widget-like utility.

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.124.64.89] on July 26, 2008 09:43 PM
KDE is ugly

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Re: Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.206.146.249] on July 28, 2008 02:25 PM
In my opinion, GNOME is ugly, and KDE is fantastic.

But my opinion, like yours, is only a personal opinion. If someone like GNOME, it's his problem.

Having choice is really nice, and respecting other's opinion make world easyer.

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.144.80.2] on July 26, 2008 10:30 PM
Yes, Google Gadgets already run in Plasma. The code will be finding its way into KDE's svn within the next week or two, but it already works. They look and behave just like any other widget on Plasma; which is something this article misses on: Plasma offers a widget system but the point is not the widget system in the same sense as GGL or the others mentioned. Plasma is a portable, universal canvas for both displaying as well as managing widgets to create interface layouts (and switch between them).

As such, having GGL support in Plasma (along with SuperKaramba and MacOS X Dashboard) falls directly into the design goals of Plasma.

- A. Seigo

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.69.28.85] on July 27, 2008 05:01 AM
Dude that little penguin is SO CUTE! I just have to have one!

JT
www.FireMe.to/udi

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.81.18.30] on July 28, 2008 02:21 AM
I'm working on packages of this in Debian, mostly done but running into a few issues with gadgets that display a webpage. (errors in locating the correct libxul and libxpcom)

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Re: Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 221.217.9.214] on July 29, 2008 01:18 PM
You might want to try the latest trunk, which includes some important fixes related to xulrunner binding.

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Google Gadgets for Linux -- almost there

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.94.213.82] on July 28, 2008 08:44 AM
Federico,

Thanks for the nice article. I'll install and play around with this next weekend. The gadget developed by non-google are typically not good. Even on my iGoogle home page, I try to stick with gadgets developed only by Google.

Ramesh
<a href="http://www.thegeekstuff.com">The Geek Stuff</a>

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