Hoping to pave a new path to its popular Web site, Yahoo! has acquired Konfabulator, a tiny software maker that provides a computer platform...

Share story

SAN FRANCISCO — Hoping to pave a new path to its popular Web site, Yahoo! has acquired Konfabulator, a tiny software maker that provides a computer platform for monitoring the weather, stock prices other customized information without opening a Web browser.

The deal, reached late last week for an undisclosed price, gives Yahoo! access to a toolbox of mini-applications — known as widgets — that have built a cult following since Konfabulator first introduced them for Apple Computer’s Macintosh in 2002.

With just three employees, the Palo Alto, Calif., company designs its widget software to run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system as well.

The widgets make it easy for outsiders to develop and share new applications, a concept Yahoo! wants to encourage as it experiments with new ways to make its Web site more useful, said Toni Schneider, vice president of the company’s developer network.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“We are lowering the bar and letting people do a lot more with our material,” Schneider said.

Online search-engine leader Google, one of Yahoo!’s biggest rivals, recently began encouraging third-party developers to plug in new applications for its mapping service, which already is being tweaked to track crime and apartment vacancies in some cities.

Konfabulator’s widgets will be exposed to a much wider audience under its new ownership. Yahoo! ended June with 181 million registered users.

The widgets will draw upon information and services already on Yahoo!’s Web site without requiring a browser to see it. The material instead is displayed through an animated icon on the computer desktop.

To help popularize the widgets, Yahoo! plans will give away the Konfabulator software that empowers the applications. Konfabulator had been charging $20 for the software.

Anyone who bought version 2.0 of the software since mid-May will get refunds, said Konfabulator Chief Executive Arlo Rose.

Yahoo! still expects to make money from Konfabulator.

It is counting on the widgets to make users more curious about certain topics, services or events, ultimately driving more traffic to its Web site, Schneider said.

Konfabulator’s widgets can be programmed to perform a wide variety of tasks. The most popular are local weather and stock quotes, Rose said, but third-party developers have developed thousands of other uses.

For instance, there are widgets that monitor the local traffic or show the remaining power left on a laptop computer’s battery.

Other more whimsical widgets serve up comic strips and horoscopes.

The Yahoo! deal “gives us whole new buckets of content to grab stuff from,” Rose said.