Use Your Mac’s Notification Center for Widgets, Scripts, and Notifications

Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite introduced a new Notification Center. It’s similar to the notification center found in iOS, bringing together widgets and notifications into one location.

The notification center normally offers widgets and a list of previous notifications. You can also extend it with powerful scripts, thanks to a third-party application.

Accessing the Notification Center

To access the notification center, just click the button at the top-right corner of your screen — the one on the far-right side of the top menu bar. You can also swipe in from the right side of your Mac’s trackpad with two fingers. Click outside the notification center and it’ll hide automatically.

There’s no keyboard shortcut that opens the notification center, at least by default. If you’d like to set a custom keyboard shortcut for this, open the System Preferences window (Apple menu > System Preferences), click Keyboard, select the Shortcuts tab, and create a shortcut for “Show Notification Center” under Mission Control.

Today View, aka Widgets

By default, the notification center shows the “Today” view, which is similar to the Today view you’ll see if you swipe down from the top of an iPhone or iPad’s screen. You’ll see a variety of widgets, including Today, Social (for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Messages), Calendar, Stocks, Weather, Calculator, World Clock, and iTunes.

Technically, these aren’t widgets. They’re “Today extensions,” because they extend the Today view in the notification center with more information. That’s why you’ll find them listed under the Extensions pane in the System Preferences window.

To configure a widget, hover your mouse cursor over it and you’ll see an “i” icon appear. Click it to edit the widget’s settings. For example, this is how you can edit the list of locations the Weather widget displays, or how you can choose the list of stocks displayed in the Stocks widget. (This must be done while you’re in the “normal” widget view, not the “Edit” view.)

To choose which widgets are displayed, click the Edit button at the bottom of the screen. Drag and drop widgets back and forth, or click the minus and plus sign buttons to add or remove them. You can also drag widgets up and down to rearrange them in the list.

You’ll find Apple’s own widgets in the list of available widgets, as well as widgets installed by third-party applications you use on your Mac. Going forward, more Mac applications will likely include Today extensions.

Notifications

Click over to the Notifications tab and you’ll see a list of notifications that appeared on your Mac, sorted by the application that displayed them. This is an easy way to check up on notifications you might have messed — messages, emails, and whatever else applications are notifying you about.

To customize which notifications appear here, click the gear icon at the bottom of the notifications list or open the System Preferences window and click Notifications. You’ll find a list of applications installed that can display notifications, and you can sort the order they appear in the list, which types of notifications they can display, and how many notifications appear in the notification center. These options are a bit like managing notifications on an iPhone or iPad.

You can set a “Do Not Disturb” mode to prevent notifications from bothering you. For example, you could set this to automatically disable notifications outside of business hours, preventing business emails from popping up at you.

You’ll also see a “Do Not Disturb” toggle at the top of the Today view, allowing you to quickly toggle this mode on or off.

Advanced Scripts with Today Scripts

You can do a lot with the notification center. For example, the Today Scripts application allows you to use scripts that display their output as widgets on the Today pane. You could use this application to display items from an RSS feed, check whether a server is online, show the top processes using resources on your Mac, display available storage, and a variety of other things — from information on the Internet to system statistics from your Mac.

To get started, visit the Today Scripts page on GitHub. Once it’s installed, check out this list of example scripts for inspiration and some useful scripts you can just copy-and-paste.


The widgets in the notification center are certainly more useful than the dashboard, which displayed widgets in a full-screen interface. That’s why Mac OS X Yosemite began hiding the old dashboard interface by default.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Twitter.