Konfabulator, Dashboard controversy flows out of WWDC

When Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company's next generation operating system, Mac OS X Tiger, at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco on Monday, many of the new features were met with applause and cheers from the crowd. But one new feature, Dashboard, generated an equal amount controversy for the company as Apple demoed a feature that many onlookers claim share many similarities to a shareware application called Konfabulator.

Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke developed Konfabulator, which is a JavaScript runtime engine for Mac OS X that lets you run files called Widgets. Widgets can do pretty much anything you want them to, according to the developers, from simple utilities like alarm clocks to games to AirPort signal strength, stock quote grabs and more.

On its Mac OS X Tiger preview Web site, Apple describes Dashboard as the "home to a new kind of application called Widgets." Widgets, Apple says, are mini-applications written in JavaScript that keep you up to date with timely information from the Internet such as stock quotes or the latest view from your favorite Web cam. They can also provide quick, simple access to frequently used applications such as a calculator, a playback controller for iTunes and a contact look-up for Address Book.

"It doesn't make any sense to me," Arlo Rose, the developer of Konfabulator, told MacCentral. "Why would a company piss off a developer whose whole purpose is to try to get more people to come to this company's platform by doing cool things? If this is what they do with the products they think are the best, then why would anyone have any reason to develop more cool stuff? I certainly don't."

Jupiter Research senior analyst, Joe Wilcox, points out that the integration of technologies into an operating system is nothing new for Apple or Microsoft. Wilcox cites media players, instant messengers and photo management features, which are all part of Windows and Mac OS X -- their predecessors were either shareware or commercial products, Wilcox said.

Wilcox also points out that platform companies have to be careful when dealing with their developers to avoid negative feelings, which could spread.

"Vendors that sell platform technologies other companies build onto run the risk of creating developer animosity when adding new features to operating systems," said Wilcox. "One offended developer could multiple into hundreds. There's a concept that one satisfied customer will tell three friends, but the dissatisfied person complain to 100."

After the keynote address introducing Dashboard, rumors swirled around WWDC that Apple had tried to purchase Konfabulator, but Rose and his partner refused the deal -- a point Rose emphatically denies.

"They never contacted us," said Rose. "Whether or not we would have taken them up on anything, the fact that they didn't even bother is appalling to me."

The use of the term "Widgets" in Dashboard led many people to the conclusion that Dashboard was somehow based on Konfabulator. While Rose readily admits that the term has been around for many years to describe a variety of things, he contends that in the Mac market "Widgets" have been closely associated with Konfabulator.

"What surprised me more than anything else is that they've called their things widgets -- talk about a total rip-off," said Rose. "Now when someone talks about widgets in the context of little floating applications they're not going to know if they're talking about Apple's thing or our thing. Given how studious Apple is about trying to make sure their copyrights and names are protected, I find it appalling that they would take that route rather than calling them something even slightly different."

During an interview with MacCentral following the keynote Apple executives declined the opportunity to discuss the similarities between Konfabulator and Dashboard. However, Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said in a CNET interview that Dashboard is Apple's own creation and that Widgets have long been a part of Mac OS X and the NextStep OS.

"The goal isn't to be like anything else," Schiller told CNET. "It's not his stuff. What we've done is ours."

Rose said he found Apple's marketing campaign surrounding Tiger very ironic. The WWDC conference center is filled with banners mocking Microsoft's upcoming Windows Longhorn release for their lack of innovations.

"When I saw Apple's banners saying, 'Redmond, start your photocopiers' I thought that was the creepiest thing they could have done knowing that half of the technologies they are tossing into Tiger are things they lifted from other people," said Rose.

Rose and business partner Perry Clarke have been working on a longer term plan for Konfabulator that includes an upcoming release for the Windows platform. While Rose, a longtime Mac developer, said he wasn't ready to leave development of Macintosh products, he wonders where the incentive is for developers on the Mac platform.

"It makes it next to impossible for me to want to develop anything cool for the Mac platform," said Rose. "If Apple is just going to take the cool ideas and basically kill off the small developers, what incentive is there? I'm not saying we are not going to continue developing Konfabulator, but it's hard to have an upbeat attitude about it after this.

"The fact they don't stop to think that they are ruining the livelihood of third-party developers is insane," said Rose.

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