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Dashboard widgets on your desktop, plus other tricks & shortcuts

Dashboard widgets on your desktop, plus other tricks & shortcuts

One of the most common complaints about Dashboard in Mac OS X is the inability to run widgets on the user’s desktop so they’re always visible. Learn how to fix that pesky problem along with a couple other helpful hints related to Dashboard.

When hitting the keyboard shortcut to invoke Dashboard becomes too cumbersome, rest easy knowing an alternative method is available. Apple has included a hidden option in the Mac operating system which enables support for running widgets right on the desktop. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Open Terminal (Applications > Utilities), copy & paste this command in the window, then press Enter:

defaults write devmode YES

What this code does is create an entry in the preferences file to activate a behavior known as devmode. Generally, devmode is used by developers to facilitate quick creation of widgets, but it works just the same for casual users like us.

In order to actually run a widget on your desktop, you must first log out and then back in again. Once you’re back up and running, launch Dashboard. Click and hold a widget of your choice and hit Dashboard’s keyboard shortcut (usually F4 or F12 on most Macs). Letting go of the mouse will drop your widget right on the desktop. From there it will act just as it did in Dashboard — you can move it around the screen, interact with its features, etc. The only sticking point is that it will always float above any windows you have open. This could either be a positive or a negative, depending on the amount of screen real estate you have available.

To bring a widget back into Dashboard, do the exact same thing in reverse — click and hold the widget, launch Dashboard, and let go of the mouse. In addition, you can deactivate widgets on the desktop altogether by running the same command in Terminal, except replacing YES with NO.

As an added bonus for all you widget fanatics, here are a couple keyboard shortcuts you might find useful whether they’re running on the desktop or in Dashboard:

  • Pressing the Option key while hovering over a widget will give you quick access to the close button in the upper-left corner.
  • Pressing Command+R will refresh the most recently selected widget with a nifty swirl effect. Try it out just for fun!

14 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

It doesnt work for me….

Oooh thats really cool! I should do that with the calculator since I use that like all the time, ha ha.


Thanks for letting me know it didn’t work for you – it’s my fault! I forgot to mention that the command in Terminal won’t take effect until you log out and then back in again. Try that and you should have better luck. Sorry about leaving that important tidbit out.

You don’t actually have to log out and in before it takes effect, you just have to restart Dashboard. You can also do this in the terminal by typing:

killall Dock

Be sure to remember the capital letter! The dock will close and restart, as will Dashboard and you’ll be good to go.

working form me now, thnx.

but they are always on top. Thats too bad.

I tried it and am having some problems. The widgets will move to the desktop OK but when I move them back to the Dashboard, they appear there but SOMETIMES they are grayed out and cannot be manipulated, though they can be deleted. Other times when I try to move one to the desktop it disappears from the Dashboard but does not appear on the desktop. When I run “killall Dock” and everything re-starts, all the missing ones appear on the desktop in seemingly random locations.

Any thoughts ?

I haven’t come across your particular issues, but I would imagine this is why Apple hasn’t enabled this feature by default. It might be buggy for some folks – unfortunately you appear to be in that group. Is anybody else experiencing the same thing?

My toolbar at the top of the screen is permanently there now. Is there a way to lose that? Or am I stuck as long as I want the widgets to show?

I have done this .. the problem is that there is no way to get any of the widgets to stay on the desktop. They are always on top. I have the plug-in for my Mac “Afloat” (which I suggest you get! (It’s free, don’t worry), but because the widgets aren’t Apps, I can’t tell them to stay on the desktop .. URG!
Also, I’m experienceing what Bill was talking about .. them then showing up in Dashboard greyed out. But it’s fine. It’s nothing important, just an accidental duplicate of the Google Search widget.
So what I’m trying to say is:
anybody know how to keep them behind windows (at the least on a “normal level” (there is pinned to desktop, normal, and afloat – on top of everything) .. and if it can happen tell me HOW PLEASEEE!!!!!!!

Thanks so much for this; I FINALLY got you tip to work with Tiger 10.4.11 on a PPC imac — only from reading your tips. My widgets that I wish to keep on the desktop kept disappearing when I would click the widget in the dashboard, drag it to the desktop while holding the mouse down, then I would press F12, but it wouldn’t stay on the desktop. It did not work for me. (a version of how to keep widgets on the desktop found elsewhere).

for others still using Tiger, This is exactly what I did in 10.4.11:

All I had to do was enter BOTH terminal commands above sequentially:
defaults write devmode YES
killall Dock

and then:
1. Click & hold the widget while still IN the dashboard; keep holding it with the mouse; [While holding the mouse pointer on the widget in the dashboard;]

2. Press, then release F12, and VOILA! The dashboard disappears and the widget is now on the desktop. You can also now release the mouse).

3. Repeat step for each widget you want to keep on the desktop.

If you decide you don’t want to keep that widget on the desktop, click the widget with the mouse/hold the mouse over the widget & press the Option (alt) button: the ‘close’ X in the circle at the top left corner of the widget will appear and you can click it to close the unwanted widget.

Again, thanks!

it works for me… but it is always in front, if i open the
safari or anything else, it is still in front…. is there any
solution to send backward?

how you do this in lion, thanks

For OS X Lion, just got to the System Preferences ~ Mission Control ~ turn off the “Show Dashboard as a space” button.. Then, just follow the instructions above and all works great..
Do anyone know how to make the widgets located at the behind of any other apps? My widgets still stay on top an sometimes it’s disturbing.

Am using Lion and apparently it’s not possible to do it anymore on later updates…sad