Pixoria, a tiny start-up in Palo Alto, has been teasing its users over the past week with the promise of big news. A serial comic strip running on the company’s home page has been building toward the big announcement. The biggest clue came Sunday, tucked in the lower right-hand corner in the form of one word: “Yahoo!”
Yup. Yahoo has acquired Pixoria, maker of a scripting application called Konfabulator that allows people to run mini desktop applications called widgets. These tiny apps can perform simple tasks or put content from the web on their desktops. (Think alarm clocks, calculators, RSS feeds from favorite sites.). Apple has helped mainstream the concept of widgets with its new operating system Tiger. But Pixoria was doing widgets first, and Konfabulator runs on both Macs and Windows.
What does Yahoo want with widgets? It’s content and services on your desktop, for starters.
“It’s really an exciting new distribution channel for Yahoo,” said Toni Schneider, vice president of the Yahoo Developer Network, and co-founder of another start-up recently bought by Yahoo, Oddpost. “It’s perfect for the kinds of things where you don’t want to be constantly going back to a web page, like your portfolio for example. To have it there on your desktop just constantly updating and easily glance-able is a really important new distribution channel.”
Konfabulator, which has cost $19.95 until now, will be a free download and come bundled with widgets that allow users to directly access Yahoo services such as weather, finance and Web search.
Yahoo has been aggressively seeking new ways to put its content and services in front of people, and a cornerstone of that has been the relatively new Yahoo Developer Network. Yahoo is using the network to open up its platform to third-party developers who want to create news ways to access Yahoo services.
“It’s the ability of third-party developers to take our services and mix-and-match and them into new types of applications, take them outside of the browser into different types of environments and sort of give users access to Yahoo services outside of our traditional pages and our portal,” he said. “Konfabulator fits well into that, our desire to expand our reach into developers and new platforms….We are looking for ways to make it even easier to build on top of Yahoo.”
One of the allures of widgets is that they are relatively easy for tech-savvy individuals to create (We created a SiliconBeat widget in just a few hours this weekend). Konfabulator has more than a thousand widgets in its gallery, the vast majority contributed by users. Yahoo, of course, would love for people to develop Yahoo widgets galore, and it’ll be making some content (such as TV schedules) available to help drive that.
“One of the things that’s been holding back widget development a little bit is that…it’s so hard to legitimately find data on the web that you can access,” Schneider said. “So we’re going to be able to help with that.”
But Schneider said users will continue to be encouraged to develop other types of widgets.
The deal is an obvious boon for the Pixoria team, all of three people. Rose said his team is looking beyond the desktop computer and foresees making versions of the software for TiVo boxes, mobile phones and other devices.
“The idea is to get it on as many computers as possible using Yahoo’s amazing ability to put stuff in front of people,” said Arlo Rose, one of the Pixoria co-founders. “Take what Apple did their Dashboard stuff and really go beyond that by having it be cross-platform and easier to develop these things.”
A colleague of ours suggested that widgets offer an obvious way for Yahoo to push advertising on users’ desktops. Rose, for one, opposes the idea.
“That is something I’m particularly opposed to,” he said. “We’re trying very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen, at least with what the user is presented with on a regular basis.”
UPADTE: Here’s Yahoo’s new widget page: http://widgets.yahoo.com/