How to Run Widgets on Your Mac Desktop

Use terminal to free your widgets from the dashboard

Apple discontinued Dashboard and Widgets with macOS Catalina in 2014, relying instead on Notification Center. But many older Macs still use and depend on Dashboard.

One of the most popular features from older version of macOS is Dashboard, a standalone desktop replete with mini-applications called "Widgets." With calculators, dictionaries, calendars, notepads, and weather displays, among other apps, Widgets housed routine information in one convenient place.

Widgets reside in Dashboard and cannot access system or user data outside of that environment. Some users, particularly developers, would prefer to access their Widgets directly on their desktop. Fortunately, there is a way to do this. You can take advantage of the same Terminal trick that Apple developers use to build Widgets in a desktop environment.

Cat on desktop with MacBook
Lewis Mulatero / Getty Images

Use Terminal to Enable Dashboard Development Mode

If you want to move a Widget onto your desktop, follow these instructions:

  1. Launch Terminal, located in /Applications/Utilities/.

  2. Enter the following command line into Terminal.

    defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES

    You can copy and paste the text into Terminal or type the text as shown. The command is a single line of text, but your browser may break it into multiple lines. Be sure to enter the command as a single line in the Terminal application.

  3. Press enter or return on your keyboard.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. If you type the text rather than copy and paste it, be sure to match the case of the text.

    killall Dock
  5. Press enter or return. The Dock disappears for a moment and then reappears.

  6. Enter the following text into Terminal.

    exit
  7. Press enter or return. The exit command causes Terminal to end the current session. You can then quit the Terminal application.

How to Move a Widget to the Desktop

MacOS Mountain Lion and later versions require an additional step. By default, the Dashboard is considered part of Mission Control and is treated as a Space. You need to first force Mission Control not to move the Dashboard into a Space:

  1. Launch System Preferences by selecting the icon from the Dock icon or select System Preferences from the Apple menu.

  2. Select the Mission Control preference pane.

  3. Remove the checkmark from the item labeled Show Dashboard as Space (Mountain Lion or Mavericks), or use the drop-down menu to set Dashboard to display As Overlay (Yosemite and later).

If you'd like to move Widgets to the Desktop on macOS Mountain Lion or earlier versions, Continue to the next set of instructions.

How to Move a Widget to the Desktop (Mountain Lion or Earlier)

  1. Press F12 on the keyboard (on some keyboards you may need to hold the Function key down or make sure the keyboard has F-Lock turned on). Alternatively, select the Dashboard icon in the Dock.

  2. Select a widget by selecting it and holding down the mouse button. Still holding the mouse button, move the widget slightly. Keep holding the mouse button until the end of the next step.

  3. Press F12 and drag the widget to the location of your choice on the desktop. Once the widget is where you want it, release the mouse button.

Widgets that you move to the desktop always reside in front of the desktop and any applications or windows you may have open. For this reason, moving a widget to the desktop may not be the best idea if your Mac has a small display. You need plenty of space for this trick to be useful.

Return a Widget to the Dashboard

If you decide you don’t want to have a widget take up permanent residence on your desktop, you can return the widget to the Dashboard by reversing the process.

  1. Select a widget on the desktop by clicking it and holding down the mouse button. Still holding the mouse button, move the widget slightly. Keep holding the mouse button until the end of the next step.

  2. Press F12 and drag the widget to the location of your choice in Dashboard. Once the widget is where you want it, release the mouse button.

  3. Press F12 again. The widget you selected disappears, along with the Dashboard environment.

Use Terminal to Disable Dashboard Development Mode

  1. Launch Terminal, located in /Applications/Utilities/.

  2. Enter the following text into Terminal as a single line.

    defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode NO
  3. Press enter or return.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. Be sure to match the case of the text.

    killall Dock
  5. Press enter or return. The Dock disappears for a moment and then reappears.

  6. Enter the following text into Terminal.

    exit
  7. Press enter or return. The exit command causes Terminal to end the current session. You can then quit the Terminal application.