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 2)
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on Jul 02, 2004
I never got the hang of AppleScript

its probably a good thing it hasnt come into more widespread usage; at least yall dont have to worry bout whats waiting for you in your email
on Jul 03, 2004
DesktopX and Konfabulator aren't even in the same leage as Dashboard. Why don't you idiots try tiger or see the demo instead of looking at screenshots before you talk. When DesktopX or Konfabulator can disappear and not clutter up your desktop like Dashboard then you will have something to talk about but of course you all will be the ones stealing from Apple then now won't you. Plus the effects of Dashboard blow away DesktopX & Konfabulator. Get a clue!

PS Windows Desktop User/Mac Laptop User
on Jul 03, 2004
Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! (This is me rolling on the ground laughing...)
One of the funniest joke I've ever heard starts like this: "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." The setup continues with "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, ... etc. for DesktopX long before Konfabulator came out." Now's here's the punchline: "And before DesktopX there was Litestep..." Did anybody catch the humor there? Let me lay it out for you all, in case anybody missed it. 1) Apple's Dashboard is a complete rippoff of Konfabulator. 2) Konfabulator is very politely not called a rippoff of DesktopX, which had pretty much 'been there, done that' long before Konfabulator came along. 3) "And before there was DesktopX there was Litestep." 4) "LiteStep was originally written years ago by lonerunnr as a AfterStep interface port for windows" (see http://www.litestep.net/). [Can anybody guess where this going?] 5) Afterstep is "originally based on the look and feel of the NeXTStep interface" (see http://www.afterstep.org/) 6) NextStep was produced by a company founded by Steve Jobs, who sold it to Apple, took over Apple and preceded to put out Dashboard, which is a purported to be a ripoff of Konfabulator. In other words, Steve Jobs ripped off Steve Jobs. Darn the man!.

Of course, the best jokes are many-layered things. Another layer to this joke goes like this: "The whole DesktopX concept was inspired by IBM's OpenDoc desktop initiative". According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDoc) OpenDoc "was initially created by Apple Computer in 1992". That darned Steve Jobs is so larcenous, he's not content to just steal from himself once, when he can do it twice with the very same act!

Neal
on Jul 03, 2004
OpenDoc "was initially created by Apple Computer in 1992". That darned Steve Jobs is so larcenous, he's not content to just steal from himself once, when he can do it twice with the very same act!


Yeah, I caught the OpenDoc thing. Since I wasn't sure who came up with what first, I let it slide. It should be pointed out, however, that Jobs wasn't with Apple in '92.
on Jul 03, 2004
Matt: Oh yea, wow, I can see how dashboard is way better. It lets you press a button and auto hide. Yea, big innovation. Wow, that would take minutes to add... sheesh.
on Jul 03, 2004
I'm shocked by the number of people who are defending this on nothing more (seemingly) than the same old "My OS can beat up your OS" passions and rhetoric.
on Jul 03, 2004
You are all stupid and a bunch of virgins.

Grow up. Konfabulator is far from innovative. Other programs have used Aqua features before the hallucinogen that Arlo took to create Konfabulator was even purchased.

Apple isn't stealing the idea for Konfabulator either. Apple shouldn't pay Arlo or anything, simply to spite you loser virgin fanboys. Stop being idiots and let the developers get "up in arms" if they are pissed off about it.

And as for the watson thing, have any of you used Sherlock for OS 9? If Apple gave watson the award in 2002, when jaguar came out, which had sherlock 3 I believe, then how in the hell did apple steal it from Watson? I highly doubt when watson came out that apple jumped at the opportunity to steal it from them, which basically would be stealing it from themself from OS 9. And furthermore, if they were stealing it, they would have had not been able to show it at WWDC.
on Jul 03, 2004
And as for the watson thing, have any of you used Sherlock for OS 9? If Apple gave watson the award in 2002, when jaguar came out, which had sherlock 3 I believe, then how in the hell did apple steal it from Watson? I highly doubt when watson came out that apple jumped at the opportunity to steal it from them, which basically would be stealing it from themself from OS 9. And furthermore, if they were stealing it, they would have had not been able to show it at WWDC.


Sherlock 1&2 and Sherlock 3 are completely different beasts. Watson predates Sherlock 3. Don't go by just the name unless you want to make a fool of yourself. Whoops, too late.

It never ceases to amaze me how much vitriol people will spew and how long they'll go on about something they clearly know nothing about.
on Jul 03, 2004

I thought it cute that he thought it clever to accuse those who disagree with him "virgins" (twice).  Very classy. Oh, I wasn't going to agree with his argument before but wow, now that I know that only virgins would disagree with him I'm convinced.

Apple zealots have spent years demonizing Microsoft for "stealing" Apple's ideas even when the evidence was far murkier than the ripping off of Konfabulator is. And yet when Apple blatantly rips off its own ISVs, they turn around and change their story completely.

on Jul 04, 2004
Apple had designed a system like konfabulator way before it existed, and konfabulator only improved on opensource projects such as gdesklets and gkrellm. What apple did was pick up its own idea, add a fancy gui, and make it incredibly easy for anyone who can create a web document to create a widget.
on Jul 04, 2004

..Right...

And next time Apple users complain that Microsoft is "stealing" something from Apple I'm sure Microsoft advocates will be able to put together some obscure set of Microsoft innovations of the past and use that too.

on Jul 05, 2004
As if(Anonymous User)
Apple had designed a system like konfabulator way before it existed, and konfabulator only improved on opensource projects such as gdesklets and gkrellm. What apple did was pick up its own idea, add a fancy gui, and make it incredibly easy for anyone who can create a web document to create a widget.


Incredible. I am one of the Apple faithful -- I drank the Kool Aid a long time ago -- and even I can't believe this willful ignorance.

Steve Jobs is a glorified pirate and thief. He always was. Always will be.
Under Steve Jobs Apple has become glorified pirates and thieves and it will continue and get worse and more blatant as long as he heads the company.

Did anyone see "The Pirates of Silicon Valley"? The only difference between Jobs and Gates business-wise was whom they "borrowed" from. I'm all for "rah rah" fandom, but not at the expense of clear thinking and rationality.

If Arlo did to Steve what Steve did to Arlo he'd be swarmed with so many lawyers right now he'd be out of business. End of story.

Oh, and by the way...

konfabulator only improved on opensource projects such as gdesklets and gkrellm.


Someone could even more accurately say, "Xerox designed the Macintosh GUI years before Apple. All Apple has done is pick up and moderately improve upon a few opensource projects like FreeBSD." (Or whatever BSD they pod-peopled.)
on Jul 05, 2004
;
on Jul 10, 2004
"Steve Jobs is a glorified pirate and thief. He always was. Always will be.
Under Steve Jobs Apple has become glorified pirates and thieves and it will continue and get worse and more blatant as long as he heads the company.

Did anyone see "The Pirates of Silicon Valley"? The only difference between Jobs and Gates business-wise was whom they "borrowed" from. I'm all for "rah rah" fandom, but not at the expense of clear thinking and rationality."

You don't know the difference between "fiction" and "non-fiction", do you?

The same movie says that Microsoft was the owner of Apple... but it didn't. They take some facts, some myths, some legends, and wrote a fiction. It's NOT a documentary.

"Someone could even more accurately say, "Xerox designed the Macintosh GUI years before Apple. All Apple has done is pick up and moderately improve upon a few opensource projects like FreeBSD." (Or whatever BSD they pod-peopled.)"

Do you know what Jobs saw in the Xerox PARC? Just a graphical implementation of the SmallTalk programming language. This implementation (icons represents actions) was very different from the Mac OS desktop metaphor (icons represents objects).

BTW, I can more accurately say, "All Arlo has done is pick up and moderately improve upon an opensource project like SpiderMonkey"

Arlo and the "Konfans" are arguing about the term widget... It's an old programming term! To bring it to the masses, just to name a mini-app, doesn't give Arlo exclusive rights!

on Jul 10, 2004
You don't know the difference between "fiction" and "non-fiction", do you?


LMAO. If you only knew....

Steve Jobs is a glorified pirate and thief. He always was. Always will be.
Under Steve Jobs Apple has become glorified pirates and thieves and it will continue and get worse and more blatant as long as he heads the company.


I continue to stand by that statement. (Thanks for quoting and giving me a chance to say it again. You're helping deliver my message!) There are nonfiction books by respected journalists that will show the same thing, if you can't stand a populist cable movie as a reference. Oh well, at least unlike most of the commenters you actually read all the comments.

Whether you disagree with Konfabulator being an example of it or not, how do you ignore all the other instances of his self-righteous "borrowing?" I suppose for every instance you have an individualized argument of why it is not. That's the usual blinded, desperate defense tactic against an overwhelming weight of evidence.

Can't tell the forest for the trees can you?

Just a graphical implementation


What part of GUI do you not understand? And, excuse me, but didn't Apple sue Microsoft for stealing their "look and feel"?

From the afore linked article:

"Critics point out that Apple's operating system, with its innovative icons, windows and mouse, is just a reverse-engineered version of software developed by Xerox' Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) and demonstrated to Apple honchos several years earlier."

And also...

"Apple sues cofounder Steve Jobs after Jobs is ousted from the company, alleging Jobs stole employees and technology from Apple for his computer startup NeXT. Jobs' conduct, according to Apple's lawsuit, is 'wanton, wilful, malicious and outrageous'."

The point of Brad's several articles and my comments is that Apple has been doing for years what they continue to accuse others of doing (with Apple suing over it!) and that Apple's blind mob is too ignorant or too deluded to see or acknowledge it.

And I'll stand by that too.

------

Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am dropping out of this discussion because I have nothing more to add than what I've already said. Agree or disagree as you will. Ignorance is the price of blind loyalty. Send your admission to Cupertino California.

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