Arlo Rose, creator of Konfabulator, the "widget engine" that allows third parties to create small applications that sit in their own translucent layer on screen, is set to release the first version of the product to run on the Windows operating system.
Konfabulator has a troubled history. Widely acclaimed by Mac users after its initial release, it suffered a setback in June when Apple announced that Mac OS X 10.4, code-named Tiger, would include a similar feature called Dashboard when it is released next year. Despite fundamental differences under the surface, Rose said at the time that Dashboard was a copy of Konfabulator, adding, "We are either going to have to move to another platform, or work on some other project."
The spat over Konfabulator is the third time in recent history that Apple has incorporated a feature remarkably similar to an existing third-party product into its operating system. In 2002, the company released Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" with Sherlock 3, a search application that bore a close similarity to Karelia Developments Watson. In October, Karelia announced it had sold the technology behind Watson to Sun Microsystems Inc. for an undisclosed sum, for use in a cross-platform Java product.
Karelia continues to develop for the Mac and has a new product—TuneFinderX—in beta. But Dan Wood, creator of Watson, said the experience "has made us very wary of competing with Apple. We are continuing to develop for the Mac platform for our next product, because thats the platform on which its easiest to be creative. However, were certainly planning on getting a Windows version built as soon as possible, so were not putting all our eggs in one basket."
In 2003, the release of OS X 10.3, code-named Panther, saw a second controversy with a claim from small developer Proteron that an updated application switcher was similar to its own product, LiteSwitch X. In an open letter to Apple, Proteron co-founder and president Sam Caughron described the new application switcher as "a near pixel duplication of a Proteron product, LiteSwitch X. And despite the obvious similarities, Proteron has received no recognition or credit."
Yet despite this history, many Mac developers remain extremely committed to the platform and to adding new features to the operating system, even when their products compete directly with Apples own. Cabel Sasser, co-founder of Panic, whose popular Audion music player goes head-to-head with Apples free iTunes, said: "While the whole idea of being iCrushed is always a concern for us, at this time wed never consider developing primarily for Windows. Not only does the Mac allow a small company like ours to make a big impact, but the sheer joy of developing and designing Mac software is what keeps us interested and inspired to do more."
Foad Afshari, CEO of Defaultware, concurred. Afshari, whose company created Proteus, an instant messaging client that competes with Apples iChat, said: "We are far from feeling like Apple is making us want to flee from developing on the Mac. If anything, I feel that Apple is pushing developers to work harder to innovate. Apple provides a great platform to develop on."
Other developers who have found themselves in the firing line of some of Tigers features also reaffirmed their commitment to the Mac. Despite the inclusion of some RSS-reading features in Tigers version of Safari, Brent Simmons, creator of NetNewsWire, said, "I dont see the situation as any better on Windows—in fact, I think its much worse. So I stick with developing for Mac OS X, since I like OS X."
Simmons cautioned against worrying too much about whether Apple competes with small developers or not. "I think this situation gets far more attention than it warrants," he said.
"If you go to Versiontracker, youll see tons of application by many small developers [and] only a miniscule amount of them end up with competition from Apple. That Arlo Rose brought Konfabulator to Windows is cool, but every developer is different, and whats right for him isnt necessarily right for me. What I would do is continue to improve NetNewsWire and continue to develop new OS X applications."