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 3)
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on Jul 10, 2004
By the way....

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."


That was taken out of context. I used the previous poster's technique to discredit his comment. To attempt to do the same thing to me by more or less restating the original comment doesn't establish a very good foundation for your argument. It's circular arguing.

The only thing required was that it be more accurate than the statement it mocked. I think it was. That Apple lifted XEROX's GUI can hardly be disputed (regardless of any difference applied to clicking the icons). That OS X is built around a BSD implementation can also not be disputed. The "moderately improve" upon can be argued. You could try to argue that Apple did a lot of stuff in between but I never said they didn't, so that's not really a matter of accuracy, especially since the discussion is about OS X. But that all ignores what the article is really about and that that part of my comment was mocking the willfully ignorant style of the previous poster, "As If." Also note it says, "Someone could... say" and was not stating a personal position. Rhetorical device, used a lot by interviewers and other journalists.

Someone so well versed in fiction and nonfiction should have recognized that.

-----

Interesting. Every time my spellchecker sees FreeBSD it suggests "freebase." Make of that what you will.
on Jul 11, 2004

I think a lot of us get annoyed because Apple is not just pretentious about their "innovations" but they are swift to run to lawyers whenever someone else out there does something similar.  And yet, while they send out lawyers to intimidate developers who are trying to do innovative things (Apple, like many large tech companies, patent ridiculously trivial things) too. 

 

on Jul 13, 2004
I think the most important difference between Dashboard and Konfab is being missed. The reason the Dashboard is better than Konfab is because the widgets are... webpages!

All you need to know to make a widget for Dashboard is html.

However, for Konfab, you need to know something more (it's some kind of customized xml if I recall correctly). Apple may have "ripped-off" the idea from Konfab (even though Apple came up with it first... in System 6), but Dashboard is going to blow Konfab away, simply because it will be easy for anyone on the face of the earth to make a widget.

Besides, Konfab as an app is inferior. The widgets are persistent, cluttering up the desktop, and there is no way to make them go away. Sure it may take 5 minutes to program it... but somehow they haven't.
on Jul 13, 2004

Darius, that's really not the whole story.

For example, DesktopX objects TODAY can be just web pages. It has been able to do that for years. So how many DX objects are just web pages? Very few.  Why? Because web pages don't offer enough visual control and speed. 

I even have a video game that I made into a DesktopX widget:

This is actually done as a web page which used flash.

But very few get made. Because web pages may make it easy to create interesting things, they are hard to make GOOD things with that people would want to use. 

on Jul 21, 2004
First off, let me apologise for what will surely be ugly links. I can't find a help FAQ for the boards that'll tell me how to post proper URLs.

With that out of the way, I've read a series of articles that present a very interesting position: check them here:
First: http://daringfireball.net/2004/06/dashboard_vs_konfabulator
Second: http://daringfireball.net/2004/07/konfab_confab

It does exclude DesktopX from the discussion, but I really encourage you to read it just the same. If nothing else, it's another perspective, put better than I am fit to
on Jul 21, 2004

Man I'm sick of that daringfireball link. I've seen it and had read the first one before I'd written my article.

It's a strawman argument. I can't take anyone seriously who thinks that Dashboard is a natural evolution of Apple's desktop accesories.

Windows comes with accessories too. Is anyone seriously going to argue that DesktopX is somehow a natural extension of that?

on Jul 21, 2004
Good points, but I'm surprised at the lack of reference to unix derivitives, Apple has progressed even less than you think. If you include stuff like the xbiff mail checker and other desktop "applications" which have existed since the beginnings of graphical desktops. This includes amiga and virtually every other rival system with a graphical desktop, there has been little progression other than eyecandy since early unix.
on Jul 21, 2004

The problem with Daringfireball and other apple supporters is that he raises the bar so high on what it takes to be innovative that it loses all meaning.

The point of Konfabulator was to allow non-developers to be able to create useful desktop gadgets for themselves and share with others. When he compares that to people writing desktop accessories in 68k assembly code he's really being disengenous.

It's easy for someone to say, TODAY "Oh yea, of course it would be cool to be able to easily create useful little applets that can be made by non-developers."  The IDEA is easy.  But as someone who has spent the last 5 years implementing that idea I can tell you it's not easy to do.

What irritates me about Apple isn't that they're putting little applets on the desktop but that they're trivializing the innovation and effort made by people like Arlo Rose to come up with a system in which to do this.  Konfabulator's influence on Dashboard is pretty obvious if you're into this stuff. 

And while DesktopX was doing it before Konfabulator, I believe Arlo when he says he wasn't familiar with DesktopX and his implementation is sufficiently different than ours that I believe him.

on Jul 23, 2004
This is something that I had pondered before the Konfab - Dash dispute: where is the line that an OS developer can/can't cross as it concerns the implementation of ideas into an OS?

To help make this more important, I think it's important to look at software in general. To pit two combatants unrelated to this issue, Corel and Adobe both make vector-based art creation software. CorelDraw and Illustrator are very similar, but there's absolutely no concern for which one was first. It's all about which one is better. If one of the companies has an innovation in year X of their product, the other company will counter with a different implementation of the same thing in year Y. This competition is all fair game -- no one really cares.

Throw this into our present context, and Apple **seems** (it's not released yet, so we dont' know how it will turn out) to have developed a better system of doing more or less the same thing. This, however, seems to be a bit of a faux pas, despite the fact that there implementation of the system is **easier to develop for**, from what I've heard.


The following are questions I dont' have answers for -- they're just things I'm wrestling with.

Is the operating system ideally just a barebones system for which others can write all the applications? Apple has just given developers something new to develop (and charge) for...isn't that what they're supposed to do? Apple has a different mechanism for doing what they're doing...does that make it ok? what should an OS company do when a good idea is developed by others? Is there some sort of obligation to be **nice** in cutthroat corporate America? What if someone has a good idea but a crap implementation of something -- something an OS company could make into a great implementation of the good idea?

Feel free to give answers/comment on my rhetorical questions.
on Jul 23, 2004

Oh I should be clear: I don't care that Apple put this stuff into the OS.  I just think it cheeky that Apple would put it into the OS AT THE SAME TIME they scream and yell about Microsoft copying them.

Apple is so proprietary about anything they remotely came up with and yet turn around and blatantly borrow from others.  It's not a feature issue, it's a hypocricy issue.  I get sick of Mac zealots lambasting me with how much "better" Apple is than Microsoft when their actions don't lead to that conclusion.

on Apr 05, 2005
the idias are complitly copied anyways.
Dashbord,Konfabulator&DesktopX are all the same in principle.
DesktopX was probably copied of somebody else i think i the icons look kind of copied from the pictures that you have shown.
on Apr 28, 2005
You can bet that Longhorn will have this feature whenever it release. I say lets not waste time with neither Konfab nor DesktopX.
on Apr 28, 2005
You can bet that Longhorn will have this feature whenever it release. I say lets not waste time with neither Konfab nor DesktopX.
on May 27, 2005
Longhorn won't have anything like Dashboard in it.  Microsoft is focusing on other things.
on Jul 27, 2005
internet slots
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