Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
The race to claim the title of innovator
Published on July 1, 2004 By Frogboy In DesktopX

To be honest, at Stardock we've long considered people like Arlo Rose (who works on Konfabulator) as kindred spirits. When Apple announced Dashboard, which meant that they were essentially going to rip off one of their most innovative ISVs, I felt irritation towards Apple.  Apple claims to be incredibly innovative but in reality what they tend to do is find original concepts and then make them much more mainstream and polished.  This was the case with the GUI, the mouse, and other Apple "inventions".

DatebookAnd so we see the same thing with Dashboard. What it looks like to me is that Apple looked at one of its ISVs and saw something cool and decided to lift the whole thing and throw it into their next version. They even call these new things "widgets" which is particularly appalling. Konfabulator deserves credit for popularizing the term widget to represent mini-applications that exist on the desktop.  DesktopX was arguably the first program to actually put mini-applications on the desktop but it referred to them as objects.  Only in DesktopX 2, which came out in 2003, did DesktopX add "widgets" (which differ from objects in that they run in their own memory space -- they're .EXE's whereas objects are .dxpacks that run within the DesktopX environment).

Allegedly, when Steve Jobs was confronted about this, he wrote: "Excuse me, but Mac OS 9 had desktop Widgets long before Konfabulator did. Apple was the first to use the term Widgets as well. We never complained when the Konfabulator guys "ripped off Apple" and I think its a bit unfair for them to be claiming we ripped them off now. "(see full thread here).  Sorry but what a load of crap.

MacOS 9 had nothing like Konfabulator in there and if it used the term "widget" it certainly didn't use them in any sense that Dashboard/Konfabulator/DesktopX use the term.  This is precisely one of the reasons why I have no interest in writing code for that platform. For all the grief Microsoft gets for ripping off their developers (and yes, Microsoft is guilty of this too but it seems much more friendly to ISVs overall) it's amazing that more attention isn't paid to Apple's total disregard of its ISVs. Konfabulator isn't the first victim. What about Sherlock? A blatant copy off of Watson IMO.

There does, however, seem to be a debate on who can make the great "innovation" claim here.  Arlo Rose claims in his journal that Konfabulator was the first to make it possible for end users to easily create mini-applications on their desktop.  That's not quite untrue. There were calculators, mail checkers, CPU meters, calendars, etc. for DesktopX long before Konfabulator came out -- all made by end users without having to do anywhere near as much techie-ability as Konfabulator requires. And before DesktopX there was Litestep which required being a techie but still allowed users to create desktop modules.  But what Konfabulator did do was raise the bar on quality.  Stardock made DesktopX and just put it out there and waited for its skinning community to do neat things with it. That was a mistake because what mostly got made for DesktopX was eye candy stuff.

By contrast, Konfabulator came out from the start with a series of highly polished, useful, mini-applications. Konfabulator had laser-beamed precisely what it was about.  Meanwhile, Stardock treated DesktopX as this big technology environment that could do tons of things but provided few useful examples. The appointment widget you see here is an example of the type of widget Konfabulator came with.

Where Konfabulator had a finely tuned goal, DesktopX meandered with being able to build desktops AND objects. It was trying to be all things to all people and run on Windows 95, 98, and NT 4.0 to boot.

Click to Enlarge

Early DesktopX themes looked more like toys (here's one from early 2000, is it trying to be a shell replacement?). But as the mail checker screenshot shows, DesktopX also allowed for useful "objects" to be made that required no programming on the part of the object maker.

As hardware evolved and more users moved to Windows 2000 and later Windows XP, DesktopX continued to evolve.

None of this takes anything away from Konfabulator mind you. Konfabulator is a great program on the Mac and it really is very innovative.  But it wasn't the first at delivering user-created mini-apps to the desktop, DesktopX precedes it and it's likely that something else out there precedes DesktopX. What I'm getting at is that this concept isn't new, or revolutionary. What we have seen is the evolution of a concept that is quite old.

For DesktopX isn't without its own inspirations.  The whole DesktopX concept was inspired by IBM's OpenDoc desktop initiative that never got off the ground.  In 1996, IBM invited me to Austin Texas to demonstrate what would have been OS/2 Warp 5 (Warp 4 was in beta at this point and they were planning the true follow-up to it for 1998 which eventually got canned).  This would be OS/2 Warp 5 was to have a full OpenDoc based desktop in which end users, using REXX for their scripting language would be able to make use of OpenDoc parts and put them together easily to put mini-applications on the desktop.  The example I was shown included a printer that showed itself printing (animated) and if it ran out of ink would visually show you. The printer wasn't icon size but rather could be any size you wanted it to be. Other examples were clocks, stock tickers, calculators, and schedulers. What IBM wanted to do was take icons to "the next level" by blurring the line between icons and applications.  Keep in mind, this is 1996, 3 years before DesktopX's first betas would show up and long before Konfabulator would see the light of day.  IBM had the idea, they just weren't able to get it together into a commercial product.  DesktopX did.

But it took Konfabulator to really do it right -- in terms of polish, presentation, and focus. When Stardock was developing DesktopX 2, much more attention was put on creating sample objects that would show off what DesktopX could do. There was, admitted, considerable frustration that Konfabulator was getting a great deal of press for doing things DesktopX had been doing for years (though with uglier looking objects). Fully animated MP3 players were made by artists from the very beginning for instance but often felt kludgy and unpolished. But with DesktopX 2, Stardock would document things better. It would put out objects that would show what DesktopX could do. And it would add its own form of widget support where now users could export their objects as .EXEs that would run on your computer as any other program as long as DesktopX was installed somewhere.


Examples of DesktopX widgets created by Stardock. Konfabulator proves that better marketing trumps being first.

Getting back to the point, innovation rarely belongs to a single source. We are all inspired from something. Innovation often involves taking a concept and moving it to the next level.  DesktopX is a very innovative product.  Konfabulator is a very innovative product.  Dashboard, however, is not. It is, from what I can see, a step back from Konfabulator but at the same time does enough that it'll really take the wind out of Konfabulator's sales (pun intended in hindsight). What galls me is how aggressively Apple protects even the most suspect of "innovations". 

Given Apple's Dashboard, it'll be hard to take any future Apple complaints that someone "stole" their idea seriously.  Because at the end of the day, Apple is just like most other large software companies, they'll borrow, beg, and steal wherever they can to make their products better. Which isn't a bad thing unless you're touting yourself as being uniquely innovative.

Related Articles: Konfabulator vs. DesktopX

Update 9/2005: Konfabulator gets saved from the jaws of doom by Yahoo who then discovers a month later that Microsoft is going to include support for "gadgets" in the next version of Windows. Oh what a tangled web.

Comments (Page 1)
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on Jul 01, 2004
Great article
on Jul 01, 2004
Good article. One of the most fair and balanced ones I've seen by you. I'm impressed.

Dashboard bares more resemblance to Active Desktop than it does to Konfabulator or DesktopX from a strictly technical point of view given that Active Desktop used the IE engine and Dashboard uses Webcore.

If Arlo's company and your company want to be seen as innovative, you guys have to push things to the next level and out do Apple or Microsoft at their own game.
on Jul 01, 2004

The difference is that Apple isn't in a very good position to gratuitiously compete with their own ISVs.

This action by Apple is a good example of why the Mac has such a low market share.  Microsoft learned early on that the path to success is to have a lot of partners who win if you win.  Apple seems to approach it as a zero-sum game.

Those who laud Active Desktop I suspect have never actually used Active Desktop.  Active Desktop simply made your wallpaper a web page where you could embed HTML and ActiveX controls. You could not, realistically, create widgets in the sense we are talking about here.

A widget in DesktopX is an actual .EXE. And they are incredibly easy to make.

View: Making Widgets


on Jul 01, 2004
well sad, brad
on Jul 02, 2004
i LOVE desktopX but haven't purchased it b/c i feel like there isn't a real community behind it. other than martin and a few others there isn't a whole lot of good development. i use the weather object, uptime object and date/time object. i use rainlendar for my calendar. besides those objects i don't see the great objects/widgets that konfab has and i wish it did. my biggest gripe is that desktopX is an incredible app w/not a lot of truely useful objects. now i'm sure you can go through the notepad object, stock ticker, fish and other little things but i don't find them to be that good looking or something i need to use on an every day basis. as an example, when i click on gallery for konfab i immediately see a gmail checker, sterling(an incredible looking watch), a MAME teaser widget for your MAME ROMs, a calendar for eiro 2004 that is constantly updating, supersuche(Search bar, that can search in Wikipedia, google and the PHP manual using shortcut commands. these are only the first 5 things in the konfab library that i saw and all of them are excellent looking and useful. i truely wish there was the support behind desktopX as there was konfab.

this doesn't address the apple vs konfab issue but i had to get it off my chest. good article though.
on Jul 02, 2004

Those are the synonyms for 'widget' in my copy of word 97. So your are pushing it a little
claiming so and so ripped of so and so because they used a word, in comman usage, correctly.

Its not like all DestopX, Konfab etc where original idea's and lets face it, Desk Accessories where in
system 6 never mind system 9.

Big things have been made of the use of Javascript, well it turns out Dashboard's widgets are
web pages. Is it really surprising they are written in Javascript. What did you expect!
on Jul 02, 2004
Desk Accessories where in system 6 never mind system 9.

Desk Accessories weren't exactly easy to make, though. And back then, Apple contracted third parties to make many of the ones included with the system, they didn't see something a third party had made and decide to steal it for themselves.

It wasn't till something like OneClick by WestCode Software in 1995 that making useful little programs for the Macintosh became viable and accessible to the average user.
on Jul 02, 2004
I have to say I despise Steve Jobs. I saw it as a black day when he snuck his way back into Apple under the guise of being the Messiah. (The only things missing were palm fronds and a donkey... well there was a jackass, but I digress...) When he killed the Macintosh OS my worst fears were confirmed. (That NeXT Unix-mongrel called OS X isn't Macintosh.)

Excuse me, but Mac OS 9 had desktop Widgets long before Konfabulator did.

WTF? I'm currently using OS 9 -- I don't see widgets anywhere. I even opened up the Help Center and did a search on widgets. Noda.

it's amazing that more attention isn't paid to Apple's total disregard of its ISVs. Konfabulator isn't the first victim. What about Sherlock? A blatant copy off of Watson IMO.

I was shocked by the Watson rip-off. Now, with this, I am incensed. No-one is safe. I wonder what is next. Once upon a time when a product became so popular it was ubiquitous to the Macintosh, Apple would buy it and incorporate it into the system. (Internet Config, Extension Manager, and WindowShade come to mind.) Now they just take with impunity. Disgusting.

This deceit and chicanery is not Apple, just as OS X isn't Macintosh. It's a portrait of Steve Jobs.

"Pirate of Silicon Valley" indeed.
on Jul 02, 2004
One of the issues that I see as holding DesktopX back is that the code logic is too tightly coupled to the graphics. Granted, it is fairly easy to edit/copy the scripts and build a new object/widget with the copied scripts and new graphics, but the average user doesn’t have the skills or the inclination to do this. Stardock could provide some rock solid instances of the more popular object types (weather, calendar, side bar, e-mail, etc...) that can just apply the current WB skin.

This is why there are so many versions of calendars or weather objects. What would be nice, and I’m sure Stardock is already heading this direction, is to have the ability so build an object and apply different WindowBlind skins to it. So when I change to a new WB skin, I can open up DestopX and select to have my weather display graphics change, my calendar change, my side bar background, progress bars, buttons, clock, etc... change to use the WB graphics. I’m also getting tired of trying out new DesktopX objects that have such poor code behind them. I think that’s where plug-ins had/have an advantage. The downside was that the pug-in wasn’t easily customizable by different authors. (I guess I’m really aiming towards very robust code/object templates provided by and supported by Stardock)

I realize that some of the really custom graphics would not be part of a WB skin, but they could be added. I think most of the graphics needed by a desktop object are already in or could be added to a WB skin. For instance, how easy would it be to create a calculator object out of WB elements and a separate logic core? Most of the weather objects use the same scripts and just have different graphics. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a weather display that used the current WB graphics?

There are some very cool DesktopX objects, but I refrain from using some of them because they just don’t blend in with the rest of my desktop. I tend to only use skins where the author had made skins for WB, IconPackager, DesktopX, ObjectDock, NextStart, WinAmp, etc...

Obviously I can’t expect non-Stardock applications to support the WB format, but all of the Stardock applications should be able to be “skinned” with a WB skin. (For example better integration of IconPackager and ObjectDock, or DesktopX objects that apply the WB format)

It would also be great if DesktopX supported .Net (C#/VB.Net) logic modules. I’d be thrilled to be able to have a C# based object that can tap into the current WB skin.

I’m looking forward to when I can apply one new skin and all of my GUI changes to use that new skin.

Keep up the great work on all of the Stardock products!

btw – Excellent article. It seemed very fair and gives credit where credit is due, which seems rare these days of such heavily biased articles.
on Jul 02, 2004
that now the Konfabulator guys don't have to worry about the underside junk that caused many problems for customers and can not just make widgets and sell them. it is more fun and more profitable.
on Jul 02, 2004
it is called the control strip.
on Jul 02, 2004
As far as Watson is concerned, the story is that the developer intentionally developed something to go with Sherlock. He was offered a job to work on an Apple version that was already in development BEFORE he release Watson, he turned it down.

Is Apple copying Konfabulator, yes and no. It's not the first application to use small mini app, not even the first to bring a scripting language to make small app (OneClick and Facespan both did it in OS 9). The did use the same name for their mini app : Widget. But I think Widget is understood by many people and not only in reference to Konfabulator, so I think it's fair game to use the name.

I must say that visually Konfabulator and Dashboard are very similar but when you think of the use each app is geared toward, you start to see the difference. Konfab is a collection of small floating windows always there so you can see/do whatever you want with it. Dashboard on the other hand is a window with all your favorite gadget that you sometime need, you invoke it do whatever you want then hide it back again.

I think that's the more important point, they're not for the same use at all, I do need a small iTunes controller all the time visible but I don't really need my address book or calculator open all the time. I would use konfab for the iTunes controller but keep an address book widget and a calculator in dashboard for when I need it.
on Jul 02, 2004
where are the widgets in Classic?(Anonymous User)
it is called the control strip.

You really think that qualifies? I've been using the control strip since 7.5, but I've never seen it called a widget. And it does still require programming knowledge and a compiler to create. I don't think it qualifies for what we're discussing (OneClick would seem to be closer) but okay.

on Jul 02, 2004
(OneClick and Facespan both did it in OS 9)

OneClick goes back to at least 7.5.5 (that's how long I've been using it ). I wouldn't be surprised if FaceSpan goes back to an earlier incarnation of System 7 (though I can't say for sure). (I never got the hang of AppleScript.)

on Jul 02, 2004
As far as Watson is concerned, the story is that the developer intentionally developed something to go with Sherlock. He was offered a job to work on an Apple version that was already in development BEFORE he release Watson, he turned it down.

According to the Watson FAQ: "However, Karelia Software was not involved in any aspect of Sherlock 3, other than serving as ... shall we say ... inspiration. While Apple recently recognized Watson as 2002's "Most Innovative Mac OS X Product" -- and we appreciate the recognition -- the company didn't hesitate to make use of Watson's specific innovations for its next OS release, without any concessions to Karelia."
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