The designer had to make sure the UI fit in the small space, something I tried to anticipate in the prototype stage with a very simple interface that would reside in that skin. We did not want to repeat the mistakes of many early Windows Mobile apps, which tried to shrink full screens into postage-stamp-sized spaces. So the interface is minimalist: a simple pull-down menu lets you move from one widget to another (it also saves users from having to move among four separate bookmarks on their mobile device to see the different monitor views). We took another page from the iPhone experience and aimed for a simple interface.
And pure elegance is the only way to describe the simple extension that Apple provides to HTML CSS to let users easily add a Web page as an app to their iPhone's home screen -- it's an easy way to get viral distribution. Yes, I know it's essentially the same concept as an ICO file for a Web page to put an icon in the Web address in a browser. That's elegant too -- and Apple doesn't make you use a weird file format.
Desktop widgets: AIR to the rescue
So mobile was easy, once we decided on a minimum standard based on the popular leading-edge devices. But the other type of widget -- the desktop widget -- was a bit trickier.
I wanted to offer a desktop widget, something you could leave running on your computer even if you weren't in your browser. After all, an admin is going to be doing lots of stuff on his compute, and keeping a browser window open all day for these performance monitors wasn't a realistic goal. But leaving a small widget running on the desktop -- that's already been proven effective in the BI world.
But how to do this in a lightweight way?
Windows Vista and Mac OS X Leopard include widget (aka gadget) functionality that essentially lets you create a Web clipping from a Web page and park it in a dock. The built-in browser (Internet Explorer and Safari, respectively) works behind the scenes to display the clip. So at first glance, that seemed the way to go: Just tell users how to do this, and let them do it.
But that makes the user do the work, which is hardly ideal. And I wasn't happy with the Web-clip experience. It's just not as satisfying as a real desktop widget -- for example, you have to open the dock that displays the clip, so it's not convenient for all-the-time casual access. And in Mac OS X, when you close that widget dock, the Web clippings are removed, so they have to be created anew each session. That's silly.
More critical, 80 percent of our visitors use Windows XP, which doesn't support Web clippings.
So I had pretty much given up on doing desktop widgets.
But the weekend before I was due to deliver my working prototypes of the Windows Sentinel Web and mobile front ends, I saw that the Adobe AIR SDK and the companion plug-ins for Dreamweaver and Flash had just been released for download. I figured, "Let's see what AIR can do."