Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
The battle for the widgetfied desktop
Published on May 27, 2005 By Frogboy In DesktopX

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 was designed with MacOS X in mind. It makes use of the Quartz graphics engine to deliver alpha blended visuals. That is, the edges of its widgets are blended into the background and can be semi-transparent. The point of Konfabulator has been to give users the power to create "whatever they want" without having to be professional software developers. As long as you know a little Javascript and have some art skills, you can throw together some pretty powerful mini-applications dubbed widgets.

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 widgets support JavaScript (like Konfabulator) but it also supports VB Script and ActiveX controls. That means things like web browser controls, flash, and other things can be made into DesktopX widgets easily.

  • 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).


Comments (Page 1)
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on Nov 08, 2004
Desktop X is generally too much for me. I have experimented with widgets out of curiosity but have sadly been dissappointed. They have problems staying where I want them to stay, problems retaining settings (how good is a mail checker widget that requires the user to put the settings in each time it loads), etc.
on Nov 08, 2004
bm - that's really up to the widget author to do.  DesktopX can certainly save all the settings of a widget. In fact, it has built in features to make doing so easy so that they save to the registry.
on Nov 08, 2004
Great article and interesting to read. I will admit right up front, I too am biased. As a Stardock customer I prefer to think the program I already paid for is as good or better than the new alternative that would ask me to pay more. Still, I have played around with the other programs out there and played around with Konfabulator this morning. It looks nice, but didn't do anything for me that Desktop X hasn't already done. Both great programs that will continue to attract their own customers. I like Konfabulator, but as they say, if it ain't broke. . .

And Desktop X ain't broke.
on Nov 08, 2004
A good unbiased article.

When I finally got the Konfabulator Gallery wesite up I did notice an awful lot of RSS feed widgets. It looks to me as if the RSS feed objects are a curse to Konfabulator as the abundance of weather objects are for DX2
on Nov 08, 2004
Brad are you being fair with your memory comparison? Wouldn't it make more sense to compare Konfabulator to DesktopX with all the widgets running as exe's? Just out curiousity, is there any reason why Stardock doesn't make more format converters? It seems like the biggest knock against your products is content and this seems like it could be a way around that. I mean looking at these konfab widgets they're just a script inside of a zip file with some images (I realize how much effort is involved and that I'm grossly over-simplifying, but still). There's a similar situation with Windowblinds toolbar icons, why don't you allow SkinStudio to import Y'z Toolbar's image format?
on Nov 08, 2004
I have used Stardocks stuff, and I have used gDesklets under Linux.

I find that both gDeskLets and Konfabulator have stunning visual quality, and I can control how the widgets show up in the layers of my desktop. This was something I could not find in DesktopX.

The other widget tools are not very good when it comes to the slick visual presentation of desktop items.

In my opinion, Konfabulator wins hands down in all comparisons:

1 - It's much easier to use than other options.
2 - It uses LESS memory and system resources - I am using about 8.8 MB of ram, I don't know where the 150 MB comes from except maybe that's a dev version?
3 - The whole system is very intuitive. I don't care abno8ut saving the items as themes.
4 - It's cross platform from the start, so I can have the same widgets running for Mac and PC.
5 - It has transparency. Maybe DesktopX has this, but it was very easy to find in Konfabulator.
6 - There are many more very good widgets than for any other tool.

I can't stress enough that Konfabulator has the top quality visual display I want. Samrize was just plain ugly and hard to use, DesktopX was not much better. There is no doubt I will be sticking with Konfabulator for all my PCs.

LinuxGuy
on Nov 08, 2004

Konfabualtor on Windows does not use 8 megs of ram. No way. Each widget uses around 10 megs of RAM on Windows.

Here's a straight apples and apples comparison. Weather vs. Weather:

That's 23 Megabytes vs. 6 Megabytes.

 

 

on Nov 08, 2004

BTW Linuxguy, based on what yo've written, you've clearly never used DesktopX to any serious degree. Konfabulator on the Mac is obviously way better than DesktopX is on the Mac since DesktopX doesn't exist.  But on Windows, Konfabulator has serious competition and Mac enthusiasm isn't going to save the day.  If you go around insisting that Konfabulator only uses 8 megs for a bunch of widgets rather than the 10+ megabytes PER widget it currently does you'll alienate people as they find out the truth.

on Nov 08, 2004
What do you think about Samurize? http://www.samurize.com
on Nov 08, 2004
I think Samurize is very good. Check out the article on it (I'll update this to show a related article).
on Nov 08, 2004
I'd really love to see a slick Gmail notifier for DX that would allow you to get the subject and first few lines of your messages (like a back/forward button to cycle through the messages).
on Nov 08, 2004
Samurize really doesn't fulfill the same function as DesktopX, Kapsules, AveDesk & Konfabulator do.

I'll take this oppurtunity to pimp my latest blog entry: Konfabulator for Windows: Huge Dissappointment. Check it out and give me some point whoring love.
on Nov 08, 2004
Strangly enough in the screen shot, that you obviously tried to use simular widgets, I thought the DX ones were slicker.

I'll have to test the mem thing for myself.
on Nov 08, 2004
Yea, I used the default Konfabulator ones and then found DesktopX widgets that were similar.
on Nov 08, 2004
Ok on my system,

Konfabulator with thier default Clock and weather objects errrr widgets 38,880 mem

DesktopX 16,180 with
Areo Weather object
Digital Clock
Mem monitor
processor monitor
Date
Uptime

With iconX also running the mem usage was 20,616 ( I am Hooked on IconX my desktop is just wrong without it! )

That my friends is all I need to know.

And yes I know this is not an equal widget to widget test, however I have 6 widgets running on DX to 2 on konfab and DX still prevails, I was just to lazy to change my Desktop.

PS Brad you really should study the ease of use issue between the two. A newbie could be intimidated by DX where Konfab holds their hand.

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