Dashboard is a feature of OS X that Apple launched in 2004 with version 10.4 (Tiger). Dashboard appears as an overlay or a separate space and contains widgets — little apps that provide information, status, and access to various services.

For example, Apple provides widgets like calendar, calculator, weather, stocks, and dictionary. Some accept input, some can be customized to show a specified list of data, and some are only as dynamic as the information they show.

Many of these widgets take the place of the “desk accessories” Apple offered in earlier versions of its Mac operating system.

I have been using Dashboard for a variety of purposes since its introduction. I love that I can quickly reveal it to access a particular widget and dismiss it when I’m done.

Dashboard widgets shown (from top left): Dictionary, Delivery Status, Weather, Stocks, Notefile, Hebcal, Calculator, Bluetooth Switch, Calendar, Mighty Monitor, iTerm

How to Show Dashboard

You can activate Dashboard in several ways. There is a dedicated app in the Applications folder and you may have the icon on your Dock. Many Apple keyboards from 2007–2010 have a dedicated “symbolic” key for Dashboard (F4).

Apple has also often mapped F12 to showing Dashboard. You can configure this shortcut in the Exposé or Mission Control pane of System Preferences. If your keyboard is newer and F4 reveals Launchpad instead, but you would prefer seeing Dashboard, Mac OS X Hints may have you covered.

Once in Dashboard, you can click the + in the bottom corner to add widgets to your Dashboard or the to remove them. You can also hold Option and mouse over a widget to reveal its close control.

Junecloud: A Dashboard-er’s Best Friend

I love Delivery Status and Notefile. These two widgets, developed by Junecloud, have been on my Dashboard for many years. Mike Piontek is the dude behind Junecloud and I can’t get enough of his work!

I love receiving packages. Many of my friends know me for the gadgets and useful tools in my arsenal. Delivery Status has been my preferred way to track their transit to my door.

The widget has since been made into an iOS app as well and Junecloud offers to sync package trackers over its own servers. (Syncing over Apple’s iCloud is not currently available for Dashboard widgets.)

Notefile, also available for iOS and as a dedicated Mac app, is a competitor to Apple’s Notes app. It first launched as a widget and iOS app in 2011, a year before Apple offered Notes on the Mac. (In 2012, Junecloud launched a dedicated Mac app version of Notefile.)

Like Delivery Status, the Notefile widget syncs notes between devices using Junecloud’s servers. I have been using it mostly to keep track of my income, expenses, and contributions for tax purposes; my packing lists for various trips; and a handful of other simple lists.

Notefile Dashboard widget: Main ListNotefile Dashboard widget: Packing List

Dashboard vs. Menubar

Many developers produce small apps like these and run them in the menubar. I prefer not to crowd my menubar with apps that have much function beyond providing status of background services, like network connections, battery charge, fan speed, etc.

These alone make my menubar quite crowded; it’s over half full on my 15″ MacBook Pro display, as you can see at the top of the screenshot above. I wish some apps did not require a menu to run. I love how LaunchBar can run completely in the background.

To save space, Bluetooth is one status menu I don’t bother showing, so Junecloud’s Bluetooth Switch widget sometimes comes in handy.

Instead, I opt for Dashboard widgets where real estate is less in demand. My Dashboard is not as crowded as it once was several years ago. However, the combined functionality and occasional use of my present widgets is perfect for me.