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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gmail Now Supports Gadgets

The Google gadgets platform is further expanding in scope: you can now include gadgets to the left-hand side of Gmail. Google provides two special gadgets to get you started – a Google Calendar gadget listing your upcoming events, as well as a Google Docs gadget showing your recently edited text documents, spreadsheets and presentations. You can enable these two by switching to Settings -> Labs withing Gmail, and enabling “Google Calendar gadget” and “Google Docs gadget” respectively.

Furthermore, in the Labs you can now opt-in to the “Add any gadget by URL” experiment, which will add a Gadgets tab into your mail settings. Clicking that tab will allow you to paste any gadget XML URL into the box and have it show up to the left of Gmail. Google in a blog post says that for now “it’s a sandbox mainly aimed at developers who want to play around with gadgets in Gmail. We’re not tied to the left-nav as a primary way to extend Gmail – in fact we think it is relatively limited and doesn’t offer scalable real estate. There are also some downsides to the iframe-style Gadgets we’re using today – they can sometimes slow down the page.”

Note when you add multiple gadgets, opting in to Gmail’s “Navbar drag and drop” experiment can come in handy as well, as it lets you move the positions of the individual gadget boxes. You can also enable the “Right-side chat” and “Right-side labels” experiments to free more space to the left.

What are some of the other places where you can include Google gadgets, formerly called Google modules? The Google personalized homepage is probably the most well known location. But these widgets can also be embedded in websites, be added to some social networks as part of OpenSocial, or be included on your desktop as part of Google Desktop (though not every gadget will work for any of these contexts). How do you create your own gadget? Gadgets are mostly just miniature web pages, and within the XML wrapper syntax, you’ll be writing rather normal HTML, CSS and JavaScript (normal, with an exception: last time I checked you were pushed into a browser’s quirks mode because Google’s framework is not standards-compliant). You can also create a gadget that will do nothing more but point to a URL on your own server.

[Thanks Luka!]


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