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Sobees serves up skinnable, portable desktop widgets

Sobees is entering the widget desktop market with a new product that's heavy on cool.

I'm not a heavy user of widget engines. Besides OS X's Dashboard, I usually steer clear of having any more processes running on my machine and opt to go with a Web option instead. A new player called Sobees has piqued my interest though. Based out of Switzerland, Sobees is one of the neater ones I've seen, placing a heavy emphasis on style and first-party widgets over building out an open platform for people to develop on (which is coming later on).

There are all the usual widgets to play with, like weather, a clock, sticky notes, and a monthly calendar. What sets it apart from other widget engines, though, is the universal log-in, meaning if you've got it installed on two machines you can share the same set of widgets (including saved notes and feeds) without having to juggle them back and forth. This is a feature often overlooked by some of the big guys and aimed at people who want to share a similar experience at home and on work machines.

It's also got a neat take on the built-in RSS reader that reminds me of the latest release of Netvibes. I don't think it's as robust or as easy to use, but it's got some handy features like letting you sort blogs by post authors and bookmarking stories for sharing using a small drag-and-drop tray. For instances where the formatting is a bit off, there's a built-in browser in case you want to view the post on its home site.

Sobees desktop
Sobees is a really slick-looking widget desktop that's got a few small quirks. (click to enlarge) CNET Networks

I did run into a few problems though. It's not a 1.0 release, so I'll give it some slack, but widgets were slow to respond and not nearly as conscious of my desktop real estate as I'm willing to tolerate. While it's great to have some killer design, if it means I can't fit more than three widgets on my screen, there's a problem. It also takes forever to shut down. I clocked it at about a minute and a half, which would be tolerable if it didn't place a small splash screen over all my other windows to let me know it was closing.

Despite some of the irks, there are a ton of nice touches that stand out. You can skin the entire environment in one of three ways. Text and object size can also be manipulated, letting you fine-tune the look and feel of each widget with simple sliders. These are the kind of things I want in every widget engine.

Sobees is in private beta and Windows only at the moment. We've got a dozen invites to hand out. Leave your e-mail in the survey linked below. The first 12 folks will get in. Update: All invites all gone now. You can sign up to get on the waiting list here.

See also reviews of Sobees on: DownloadSquad and CenterNetworks.