Hmm, perhaps you should start from the custom_index mod and modify that to your hearts content. Thus, you can use your customized index easily, including being able to one-click enable/disable it.
Here is the main file that is what your front page [aka index] is replaced with when enabling custom_index:
I have edited this to include upcoming events, which works for me. If you want to include things like the dashboard... well, I just created a plugin for you [and anyone else who wants to use it] to show how widgets work and are displayed, etc etc.
It is extremely simple and all it does is add a link to the main menu as well as giving users another place to place widgets. Take a look through the code to get a better feel of how you can add widgets to any other mod, such as the custom_index mod.
I JUST made this, specifically for this topic. I hope it helps teach you how to make mods and how to use/display widgets.
Also, if you are using Windows, I suggest using Notepad++ for programming in PHP (or pretty much any other language). It is simple, quick, clean, and has nice PHP syntax-displaying features. Just google "Notepad++".
Good luck! If you have any other questions/problems, feel free to post.