On Wednesday or Thursday, Yahoo is going to revamp its directory of desktop widgets for the Yahoo Widget Engine. This is warm-up for a whole new version of the Engine, Yahoo Widget Engine 4.5, that arrives the week of November 27.
End users won't see much that's new in the engine itself, but they'll see a shift in how it is pitched. The new directory should be easier to navigate and more approachable. Yahoo, instead of trying to sell end-users on the engine and then push the widgets, will instead begin to pitch the utility and entertainment value of the widgets, and try to slip the download and installation of the engine onto the widgets' coattails.
The strategy makes sense for the product and for consumers, many of whom have a widget engine of some sort on their computers already; Windows Vista and Apple's OS X both run desktop gadgets. Adobe's AIR platform is also impinging on Yahoo's engine.
Later this year, Yahoo will begin to push widgets on its various megasites, an approach necessary to getting the engine onto enough desktops so developers are attracted to working in it.
Speaking of developers, Yahoo Senior Product Manager Jonathan Strauss, in a frustratingly elliptical interview, let on that the new engine will have "new ways to exploit the power of the desktop." He was referring to new tools for creating widgets. I think the best thing Yahoo could do is make it possible to use Yahoo Pipes as a development platform for widgets, but Strauss told me I "might be reading too much into" his statements.
I like the Yahoo Widget Engine, but it is product from a previous era--before Vista and its Sidebar, Google Gadgets, OS X Gadgets, Netvibes' Universal Widget Architecture, and Adobe AIR. I don't think running a discrete, desktop-only widget engine is a solid business today. Fortunately, another thing we'll hear about in a few weeks is Yahoo's plans for widgets on platforms other than the desktop--i.e, the browser and mobile devices. We might see a Yahoo partnership announcement with Web widget platform ClearSpring. It would make sense. The two companies' platforms are complementary. Also, Strauss told me he went to college with ClearSpring CEO Hooman Rafdar. Putting their products together could be a happy reunion.