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Stick Items on Your MacBook Dashboard

One of Lion’s most popular features is Dashboard, which you can use to hold widgets and display them on your MacBook screen with the press of a button. Widgets are small applications — dubbed applets — that typically provide only one function.

For example, Dashboard comes complete with a calculator, a clock, a dictionary, a weather display, and a quick-and-simple calendar. You can display and use these widgets at any time by pressing the Dashboard key; by default, that’s F4 on current MacBook keyboards (and F12 on older and non-Apple keyboards), but you can modify the key on the Mission Control pane within System Preferences.

Dashboard appears as a desktop within the Spaces strip on the Mission Control screen, and you can also use Launchpad to display your Dashboard — which, of course, means that Lion includes a thoughtful Dashboard application icon in your Application folder, which you can click to display your widgets.

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Press the Dashboard key, and the widgets appear, ready for you to use. You can add widgets to or delete them from your Dashboard by clicking the Add button (which bears a plus sign, naturally) at the lower-left corner of the Dashboard screen.

When you click the Add button, a scrolling menu strip appears at the bottom of the Dashboard display, and you can drag new widgets directly onto your Dashboard from this menu. It’s also easy to rearrange the widgets that are already populating Dashboard by dragging them to the desired spot.

After you’ve finished customizing your Dashboard display, click the Close button above the menu strip (which bears an X icon) to return to your Dashboard. When it’s time to go back to work (or play), press the Dashboard key again to return to your Lion Desktop, or click the button with the right arrow at the lower-right side of the screen.

Most widgets have an option button that allows you to change things, such as borders, ZIP Codes, display columns, and the like; look for a tiny circle with a lowercase letter i. Click this information icon and you can tweak whatever options are available for that widget.

To remove a widget, just click the Add button to display the menu strip, and you’ll notice a tiny X button appears next to each widget on your Dashboard. Click the X button next to the widget you want to remove, and it vanishes from the display. You can add it back again at any time from the strip.

While you’re adding or deleting widgets, you can also click Manage Widgets, which displays a dialog where you can sort your widgets in a list by name or date added, disable any widget, and delete a widget (click the red minus icon next to the offending widget in the list). Click the More Widgets button to jump directly to the widget download area on the Apple website.

If you need to use a widget for only a second or two, press the Dashboard key and hold it. When you release the key, you’re back to your Desktop.

Apple offers additional widgets that you can download on the Mac OS X download site. Third-party software developers also provide both freeware and shareware widgets.

You can also modify the Dashboard key by turning it into a key sequence or a gesture, which is A Good Thing if you’re already using an application that thrives on F4. Visit the Mission Control pane in System Preferences, and use the Shift, Control, Option, and Command keys in conjunction with the Dashboard key to specify a modifier, or choose a gesture to activate Dashboard.

Lion allows you to create your own Dashboard widgets. That’s right, this feature is sure to be a winner amongst the In Crowd. Follow these steps to create a new WebClip Dashboard widget from your favorite website:

  1. Run Safari and navigate to the site you want to view as a widget.

  2. Click File→Open in Dashboard.

  3. Select the portion of the page you want to include in your widget and click Add.

    Many web pages use frames to organize and separate sections of a page, so this step allows you to choose the frame with the desired content.

  4. Drag the handles at the edges of the selection border to resize your widget frame to the right size and then click Add.

    Bam! Lion displays your new WebClip widget within Dashboard.

A WebClip widget can include text, graphics, and links, which Dashboard updates every time you display your widgets. Think about that for a second: Dynamic displays, such as weather maps, cartoons, even the Free Music Download image from the iTunes Store, are all good sources of WebClip widgets! (That last one is a real timesaver.)

If you click a link in a WebClip widget, Dashboard loads the full web page in Safari, so you can even use WebClips for surfing chores with sites you visit often.

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