And so it begins. The top customization developer for MacOS has brought its premiere customization program, Konfabulator over to Windows. Pixaria, the developer of Konfabulator previously had developed Kaleidoscope. On Windows, Stardock, whom I work for, is the developer of DesktopX and WindowBlinds have shadow-boxed for years in friendly competition.
Mac advocates would argue that Kaleidoscope was better than WindowBlinds and PC users would argue the opposite. And the same has been true of DesktopX and Konfabulator. Neither program is a clone of the other. Both come to the table with their own ideas on how widgets should be done on Windows.
Widgets, btw, for the purposes of our discussion, are mini-applications that can be created relatively easily by end users. No compilers, no development environments necessary. You just take your graphics and put them together with a few scripts and the host program (Konfabulator or DesktopX) takes care of the rest. So here's my 2 cents take on Konfabulator and DesktopX for what it's worth..
The Konfabulator Journey
Konfabulator came out in 2003 on MacOS X. Its lead developer, Arlo Rose, had seen its last effort, Kaleidoscope evaporate as MacOS X did not support the APIs that Kaleidoscope required. Konfabulator generated even more press than Kaleidoscope did and was doing well until Apple announced Dashboard. Dashboard is a feature that is part of MacOS "Tiger" that provides very polished widgets of its own. Since Dashboard is part of the OS and thus "free", it was a significant blow to Konfabulator.
The challenge for Konfabulator as it makes its way onto Windows is to overcome the entrenched competition. Not only will Konfabulator have to go head to head with Stardock's DesktopX on its own turf but it will also have to compete against a slew of freeware programs that offer much the same functionality such as AveDesk, Kapsules, and Samurize.
DesktopX the unlikely underdog
Since 1999 when WindowBlinds came out, Stardock has been considered the leading developer of Windows customization utilities. WindowBlinds on its own has over 7 million users worldwide and thousands of its own visual styles (skins) for it. It too has had to contend with encroachment from the OS vendor. But fortunately for Stardock, Microsoft, unlike Apple, has seemed more interested in supporting its ISVs. Windows XP not only did not break WindowBlinds, it actually made it function better out of the box and vastly increased its market. Since Stardock is a Microsoft partner, and Microsoft is a Stardock customer (Microsoft uses WindowBlinds for marketing purposes) it is likely that Longhorn will bring new opportunities for WindowBlinds as well as DesktopX.
DesktopX is far older than Konfabulator. But that's not been as big of an advantage as one might think. DesktopX began its public life in 2000. But because of the limitations in Windows of the time (it had to work on Windows 95 for instance) and the hardware of the time, its objects were much simpler than the widgets of today.
Also, because the Windows market has a lot of competition in many areas, DesktopX couldn't simply be a program to offer mini-programs on the desktop. So it had to do more. DesktopX's philosophy has been to let users put objects on their desktop. These objects can be used to create entire customize desktop environments. Or they can be kept stand alone and made into "super icons". Or they can be put together and exported as a widget.
The challenge for DesktopX is to make sure users realize what it can do and promote what it sees are its advantages over both Konfabulator and its entrenched freeware competition.
So how is DesktoX an underdog? Thanks to brilliant marketing by the folks at Pixaria, Konfabulator has gotten featured on the home pages of News.com, The Register.com, Slashdot, and dozens of other sites in time for its Windows debut. Pixaria was also able to exploit Apple's Dashboard announcement to gain a lot of attention for their program. Many an article has come out talking about Konfabualtor as if it were the only program of its type that exists -- despite DesktopX having millions of downloads.
Konfabulator meets DesktopX
So while Mac and PC users battled on Usenet and web forums over the relative merits of their chosen widget enabling programs, they always had to do so from afar. When Konfabulator announced it was going to come out with a Windows version back in November of 2003, it meant that eventually, the two would be able to be compared apples to apples (no pun intended).
At the time, I wrote on Konfabulator's forum, "Konfabulator is going to have some real challenges on the PC. Windows XP doesn't have Quartz. Stardock had to spend a year and a half developing DirectGUI. Without a DirectGUI Konfabulator would have to rely purely on layered windows and those take up a lot of memory and CPU -- and PC users are very sensitive to how much RAM these kinds of programs use."
The problem with DesktopX, however, is that for years its content sucked overall. There were real gems buried in the thousands of objects and themes. But most of it was awful. Stardock envisioned itself as a technology company. It just threw DesktopX out there and waited for skinners to pick it up and go for it. While that strategy worked for WindowBlinds, it did not work so well on DesktopX. The ease in which people could create their own content for DesktopX (DesktopX includes a GUI environment for making content) ensured there were a lot of poorly made themes, objects, and widgets for it.
By contrast, the Konfabulator team "got it" from the start. They focused just on making widgets and they made sure that Konfabulator came with really polished widgets. DesktopX lagged behind in that area for a long while. Only in 2004 did Stardock actually assign its game development team to take a few weeks off and create its own DesktopX content. You can see some of the results here.
So what are the differences between the two? I'm biased in favor of DesktopX but I also have an interest in trying to be objective on trying to understand what the perceived advantages are on both as users might see them. Pride is the path to doom after all.
Advantages of Konfabulator over DesktopX
Straight Forward. It does widgets. That's it. Very focused approach.
Default widgets work well, are slick.
Simple user interface - since it only does widgets it can present a consistent, clean interface.
Where DesktopX makes new users fumble around with concepts such as "Themes" "Objects" "Widgets", Konfabulator focuses on one thing: Widgets.
It is polished to the max. It's just incredibly slick. (yes, this should count for two points)
It has better default widgets.
Konfabulator has a Macintosh version so it gains the benefit of having those graphics-savvy Macintosh widget makers.
Konfabulator has a very vocal and supportive development community for widget makers.
Advantages of DesktopX over Konfabulator
Far more configurable. Users can import a widget into DesktopX and tweak it however they want.
DesktopX widgets are EXEs. Which means they can have their own icon and can optionally show up in the taskbar, and can be individually set to auto-run.
DesktopX supports creating desktop themes. A concept that isn't in Konfabulator. Essentially a user can take a snapshot of their desktop and save it as a file to use later. Or they can completely customize the way Windows looks. See a DesktopX theme in action here.
DesktopX supports animation. The fish widget in the screenshot couldn't be done as a Konfabulator widget. The fish swims smoothly around the screen and does so using virtually no CPU.
DesktopX has a Pro version that enables users to export their widgets as gadgets. Gadgets, unlike widgets, do not require the user to have DesktopX installed to us. They're truly stand-alone programs. Konfabulator has nothing comparable.
While Konfabulator has Konpose (F8) which will bring widgets to the forefront on the desktop, DesktopX has that (F9) but also a show all/hide all widgets feature so that users can hide all their widgets from their desktop (F10). Also, DesktopX's hot keys work as toggles. hit F9 once and your widgets come to the foreground. Hit F9 again and they go back behind your windows. Konpose doesn't do this.
DesktopX has a run-time version that is only $14.95. That's $5 less than Konfabualtor 2.0.
This is by no means a complete list for both. Just some of the main highlights between the two.
I don't think either one will knock out the other. I think what will more likely happen is that the two will end up creating more awareness of what is a quiet revolution in the world of personal computer - the migration of things that are more than icons. Which one is the best or more popular will depend on you.
DesktopX can be found at http://www.desktopx.net
Konfabulator can be found at http://www.konfabulator.com
Related: Widget Wars - run down of programs to widgetfy your desktop!
(updated 5/27/2005 to support DesktopX 3 and Konfabualtor 2, original written Nov 2004).