29 June 2004

Compete or die

Regarding the Apple “copying Konfabulator” controversy:

The idea of desktop widgets that pop up on the screen when you press a key is far from new. In 1984, Borland launched Sidekick 1.0 for MS-DOS. When you pressed a magic keystroke, a calculator, notepad and calendar would appear overlaid on your screen. Push the key again, and they vanished.

Also in 1984, Apple’s original Macintosh operating system had Desk Accessories, small tools which weren’t full applications, but which could be launched on top of your application windows.

It’s pretty clear to me that if you take Sidekick plus Desk Accessories, and use JavaScript to write the code, you have both Konfabulator and Tiger’s Dashboard. Sure, Konfabulator was a worthy innovation over the state of the art circa 1984, in that it made it easier for people to write desk accessories by using a scripting language instead of a compiler. However, Dashboard is a worthy innovation over Konfabulator.

I liked the idea of Konfabulator, but I didn’t want the widgets to get buried under my windows, or to take up screen real estate all the time. I had started designing my own desktop widgets system, in fact, which would appear and disappear somewhat like Dashboard. I’m sure that if I had started serious coding or had released my desktop widget system, I’d be pretty annoyed to see Apple release the same thing. As it is, I’m glad they’ve saved me the effort, though personally I wouldn’t have chosen JavaScript for the scripting engine…

This is the way the software industry has always been—you have to keep innovating, or someone else will do what you’ve done, and do it better. If the Konfabulator guys want to innovate and compete and try to jump ahead of Apple again, I have some ideas I’d be happy to share with them for free if they contact me. (I’d much rather pay them $25 than write and support the code myself.)

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