A widget (or control) is an interface component that a computer user interacts with, such as a window or a text box. Widgets are sometimes qualified as virtual to distinguish them from their physical counterparts, e.g. virtual buttons that can be clicked with a mouse cursor, vs. physical buttons that can be pressed with a finger. Widgets are often packaged together in widget toolkits. Programmers use widgets to build graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
One commonly referred to type of widgets are the Dashboard widgets of Apple Macintosh computer users. Widgets, in this case, are downloadable interactive virtual tools that provide services such as showing the user the latest news, the current weather, a dictionary, a map program, sticky notes, or even a language translator, among other things.
Some say that the word "widget" is derived from the combination of "window" and "gadget". This is unlikely. The earliest known occurrence of the word "widget" is in Beggar on Horseback (1924), a comedy play written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. The hero of this play is a struggling composer who must choose between creating music that stimulates his soul (but earns no money) or earning a living by accepting a soul-deadening job in a factory that makes "widgets". The text of the play intentionally refrains from revealing what "widgets" are; clearly, they represent any purely mercantile commodity that has no artistic or spiritual value.
In Britain, the word "widget" has an additional meaning, not encountered in the United States. A widget, in this sense, is a small device attached to beer cans during their manufacture (only for certain brands of beer) which enables the beer to maintain its cold temperature and its "head" for a prolonged period without refrigeration.