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Konfabulator developer pissed at Apple, says OS

Konfabulator developer pissed at Apple, says OS X 10.4’s Dashboard is a copy of his program. Haven’t there been several Konfabulator-type apps on various OSes before Konf. came along? Anyone remember any of them?

Reader comments

robJun 28, 2004 at 11:34PM

I can't remember the details (which may be the point, for apple), but doesn't this happen a lot? didn't someone lay claim to something in a recent release as well? I'd like to be sympathetic (as a developer), but the truth is there aren't a lot of truly original ideas anymore. Most of the stuff I see today resembles something else.

JohnJun 28, 2004 at 11:49PM

Desk Asscessories from System 1, for example. The idea is pretty old, it's just that Konfabulator had implemented it better than anyone else. Konfabulator still, for that matter, looks better than what I've seen of Dashboard, although the water-ripple and flipping-window effects are pretty damn cool.

Copying software is one thing, but when a platform vendor does it, it stifles rather than increases competition. But that would have been the case even had Apple just bought Konfabulator.

jkottkeJun 28, 2004 at 11:49PM

When Apple released the new version of Sherlock, Karelia Software, several commentators and the makers of Watson, cried foul, saying Apple had ripped them off. Which I find humorous considering they named the thing Watson to Apple's Sherlock.

ZeibinJun 29, 2004 at 12:20AM

Kinda underhanded, yeah. I think Apple should be allowed to have their idea back, even if they've let it flounder over the years. Here's an excerpt from a post by a someone named Trillan over on slashdot:

I really hate reading this panic "they're stealing!" attitude every time.

Let's do a review here, okay?"

1984: Apple introduces desk accesories. Little programs that go anywhere on the desktop and can be run in parallel to other applications.
1986-ish: Apple introduces Multifinder.
1990-ish: Apple introduces System 7, and deprecates DAs.
1998: Windows 98, complete with active desktop and on-desktop widgets.
2000-ish: Apple introduces Mac OS X. Widgets now go in the dock.
2002-ish: Apple moves widgets to the menu bar.
2003-ish: Konfabulator is born.
2004: Apple moves widgets to the desktop and adds javascript.

Frankly, Konfabulator was a low hanging fruit. It didn't really introduce anything except using Javascript, it just tied together a batch of old technology with a very old Apple idea. It's common sense to realize that Apple would move widgets back onto the desktop and add Javascript support once they realized how well it would work out. About the only thing you can really take issue with is Apple's decision to use Javascript.

If Konfabulator took the idea and ran with it, and made it better and now make a far superior product, should they really feel threatened? I guess it's not unlike Microsoft distributing MSIE or WMP with every copy of Windows.

On a personal note, I tried Konfabulator back in the day and didn't really like it (widgets were too distracting), but I hear they have the Exposé-like feature. I might check it out again....

SunnyJun 29, 2004 at 1:12AM

You have to admit that the revamped website is funny!

ScrivsJun 29, 2004 at 1:50AM

Yeah the site was classic. I love all this bitching and moaning and I don't even own a Mac.

EdJun 29, 2004 at 7:40AM

An easy earlier example for Windows: google for 'samurize'.

jasonJun 29, 2004 at 8:56AM

the one for the pc is caled Samurize. I use it at home and really enjoy its features. Anyway I hope the Konfabulator people sue apple.

MichaelJun 29, 2004 at 9:01AM

I personally don't understand why Apple isn't more into the 'buy them out' attitude. They have top notch developers doing some crazy things that're only available on OS X. But instead letting these developers come in and integrate their product into the OS, Apple backstabs them.

And really, if I were a programmer, what security would I have that my idea wouldn't be the next to be nicked?

Luckily i'm not, and these changes will end up benefitting me when Tiger comes out (even though I did just buy a license for Konfabulator).

jkottkeJun 29, 2004 at 9:42AM

Here's an interview with Arlo Rose, one of the Konfabulator developers. What bugs me about their attitude is the extent to which they would have us believe that the Konfabulator idea came out of thin air. They didn't invent the concept of widgets. When it came out, I remember a lot of people thought it was neat, but no one thought that it was revolutionary in any way. It sucks being sideswiped by Apple like that and Apple will have to deal with the consequences of such behavior in the future if they want to continue to have a community of developers making apps for their platform, but as a business, you've got to be prepared for stuff like this.

David JacobsJun 29, 2004 at 9:50AM

I first encountered tiny applications in Xwindows - xbiff, xeyes, xcalc. The Konfabulator developers are lucky that they've ridden this far - now they can turn their creative energies towards new projects.

Peter CooperJun 29, 2004 at 10:13AM

Konfabulator is good, although it does lack a good calculator widget so far. The other thing I can't work out (and I don't think is possible, from the documentation) is hiding all widgets UNTIL you use Konsposé, which is exactly the way Dashboard will be working. With K, you have to at least keep them at desktop level, which causes clutter.

All the talk of copying isn't worthwhile though, it happens all the time, and so it should! That's how we innovate.. we take ideas from here and there and make other things, and so the cycle goes. Even the new 'Spotlight' search feature is basically a creative interpretation of Dashboard and Beagle.

Lisa ClarksonJun 29, 2004 at 11:25AM

Desk accessories and little apps aren't anything like Konfabulator. That Samurize is kind of close (if fugly), but if you compare screenshots between Dashboard and Konfabulator, you'll see they are very similar, much more similar than either product is to any of these other predecessors offered up as rebuttal.

If a web designer created a website that similar, you'd be rightfully pissed. Especially if that designer was a regular known reader of your site (Phil Schiller, Apple SVP, is a registered user of Konfabulator, and Pixar is site-licensed, according to Arlo Rose).

jkottkeJun 29, 2004 at 12:27PM

If a web designer created a website that similar, you'd be rightfully pissed.

Untrue. Lots of people have created sites similar to and it's not a problem. A little permalink icon I created four years ago is all over the place...I see it on a new site at least twice a week. I even encourage people to take whatever they want.

jkottkeJun 29, 2004 at 12:40PM

A reader sent in the following relevant links:

DesktopX for Windows preceded Konfabulator by 3 years and the story behind Desk Accesories from the excellent

chrisJun 29, 2004 at 2:02PM

Back when I used to use Win2k at my old job I would embed web pages on my desktop. They could have ActiveX components or javascript, pretty nifty but tended to use up too much CPU.
Now I don't use Konfabulator (or its clones/twins) as my desktop always has about 20 windows on it (exposé is my friend)

Alexander MicekJun 29, 2004 at 5:06PM

Well, Apple is a large coporation with powerful legal teams. Suing them would do little, and it would not prove anything either.
Besides, once Apple gets a "new" feature under their belt, they promptly make it intellectual property, as evidenced by the issue with Y'z Dock, an Apple Dock emulator for XP machines. (Y'z dock, I might add, is an excellent piece of software.)

I really do not think this situation makes Apple an "evil corporation," but the conditions are frusterating for small developers.

Nick SweeneyJun 29, 2004 at 6:24PM

There have been similar things on Linux for a long, long time -- primarily geeky things like CPU/network-traffic analysers -- but Konfabulator has the advantage of being prettier thanks to the OS X display loveliness. Still, it's more than a bit shitty of Apple.

Chad PoirierJun 29, 2004 at 7:00PM

Besides, once Apple gets a "new" feature under their belt, they promptly make it intellectual property

Yeah, right down to the staircases in the Apple Store in Tokyo. :P

It's not the fact that Apple's taken their idea that probably bothers them, it's that they've been developing this software for about a year now (give or take a few months) and now Apple's basically giving a better version of it away for free with their next release.

The reality is pretty black and white, I think. It's called competition. Make better software and people will buy it. Konfabulator's already got a large enough userbase that if they made software that was genuinely better than anything Apple had to offer as far as desktop widget applications go, it would sell.

How do they think RealNetworks felt when Microsoft developed Windows Media Player? The only big difference is RealPlayer sucked before, and it continues to suck to this very day.

FYI: Most Konfabulator widgets are available as ports for either Samurize or DesktopX. However, both of these programs cause more clutter than I think they're worth.

JesperJun 29, 2004 at 7:47PM

"and now Apple's basically giving a better version of it away for free with their next release." Be careful with sprinkling in your own opinions when trying to summarize. Noone yet knows if the final product will be better than Konfabulator's release, and so we shouldn't assume anything. From the looks of it, they look pretty even, but Konfabulator's been in development for quite some time already (not saying Dashboard hasn't).

A whole different thing is that it's also known that some Apple engineers have purchased Konfabulator licenses, which makes the "they stole it" angle a little more credible than the other cases. People who had seen the offending Sherlock in question before Watson came around noted that it looked a lot like the final version. And as for LiteSwitch, it looks like they stole it because Apple's implementation looks like Apple built it, which also happened to be the case with LiteSwitch.

However, the Dashboard accessories certainly doesn't look like anything else built into OS X, nor does it look like anything else done by Apple before. OS 8's desk accessories were pretty sparse with colors last time I checked. All this mixed with Konfabulator users who are also Apple employees, and I can see why Arlo's tackling this the way he is.

Lisa ClarksonJun 30, 2004 at 11:02AM

Lots of people have created sites similar to and it's not a problem.

Okay, but not all web designers feel that way. Would you feel the same way if someone sold a design copied from Susan Orlean's site? (I realize that the copyright belongs to her, I'm talking feeling, not legality.)

That folklore link is amazing, though -- that original control panel is so beautiful.

Dave M.Jun 30, 2004 at 2:16PM

It may very well be something completely different on the inside, but it's what's outside that counts. Just ask Apple. They send out cease and desist letters to just about everybody for things that look like thiers, works like theirs, etc...

It's a shame that Arlo and Perry can't afford to take them to court over it. With the precedence that Apple has set, the suit would probably be resolved very quickly.

Aled DaviesJun 30, 2004 at 2:34PM

> They send out cease and desist letters to just about everybody for things
> that look like thiers, works like theirs, etc...

Typically they now only do this in cases where the things include Apple trademarks such as the Apple logo and the like. They have to do this otherwise under current law they risk losing the trademark.

Aled DaviesJun 30, 2004 at 2:45PM

> It's a shame that Arlo and Perry can't afford to take them to court over it.
> With the precedence that Apple has set, the suit would probably be resolved
> very quickly.

Not really. Given that there is enough prior art with similar products it would be hard pressed to prove that the idea was new and innovative. ActiveDesktop, Desk Acessories and the like were all forerunners that did roughly the same thing with only the implementation being different.

While Konfabulator is a good implementation, it is a good implementation of an old idea. The history of the computing industry is full of ideas being "borrowed" and "expanded on" and made "better" by other companies. Heck Microsoft built an entire empire on it, and Open Source does it all the time.

Lisa ClarksonJun 30, 2004 at 4:48PM

At this point, I'd be interested in hearing what esteemed commentators like Jason and John Gruber have to say directly to comments from Arlo Rose:

"As for Apple having Dashboard technology in Copland or Mac OS 9, they didn't. My idea for Konfabulator was born from wanting to have a really simple run-time environment for people to develop small specialized applications that could look and behave however they wanted. The key point being that it is up to the user to make the cool Widgets. The user would know what they needed, and the user could then create that. The concept had nothing in the slightest to do with Desk Accessories, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Active Desktop. It was about empowering the user to make their own little apps that did what they wanted.

But what about Desktop X, you ask? I have to be honest, as far as I'm aware Desktop X wasn't anything like Konfabulator until after Konfabulator came out. During development someone pointed us at their site, and all I saw was an app that let you run applets in a controlled windowed environment. Heck, even after we released Konfabulator 1.0 there was an article on their site talking about how their app needed to be more like Konfabulator because we had "gotten it right".

Mind you, I've never said we were the first to introduce the concept of little apps running on your desktop that are informative rather than functional, what I have said is that we were the first to come up with a run-time environment closely integrated into the system where you could build your own little apps with no prior knowledge of a complicated programming language."

JRJun 30, 2004 at 5:12PM

The esteemed John Gruber has written a novel on the subject in his trademark blowhard style.

BradJul 01, 2004 at 5:05PM

Here's a history of the widget wars here:
Dashboard vs. Konfabulator vs. DesktopX

I think Dashboard is a rip off of Konfabulator. The million dollar question
is whether Apple would have done Dashboard as it is if Konfabulator didn't
exist. I don't think anyone can honestly say that Apple would have done this
when it did. I think Apple just saw how much attention Konfabulator has received
and wanted to get some of that for itself to get those upgrades to 10.4.

The question isn't a matter of legality but one of respect. Why is Apple
going out of its way to compete with its own ISVs when the platform as so few
ISVs to begin with?

BrandonJul 06, 2004 at 11:52PM

I echo the statement that that's a sh**ty way to treat developers that are loyal to your platform. They (Konfab developers) saw a niche that Apple did not fill at the time much as Watson deveoplers extended the Sherlock model to produce (IMHO) a more useful tool.


Perhaps that's what he (Jobs) meant by "Better to be a Pirate than join the Navy"....

I'll end today's inflamatory sermon with a quotation.

"But on another level entirely, it's just wrong to steal. Or, let's put it another way: it is corrosive to one's character to steal."

Steve Jobs - Rolling Stone Magazine interview

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.