TMO Reports - Konfabulator Inventors Not Flattered by "Apple Rip-off"

by , 2:00 AM EDT, June 29th, 2004

Whoever said 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' never met Arlo Rose.

The co-inventor of the Mac shareware widget application Konfabulator is more than a little mad that Apple's new Dashboard feature that will be part of Mac OS X Tiger is so similar to his product.

"They have come up with an idea that is a complete rip-off of our product, plain and simple," Mr. Rose told The Mac Observer, Monday. "This could potentially drive us out of business."

Konfabulator is a US$25 Macintosh program that runs small JavaScript programs called Widgets, which perform various tasks from monitoring weather, news, sports and stocks to adding newly designed clocks, tasks bars, search banners and more. Rose and co-creator Perry Clarke released the product in February 2003.

Apple announced a similar feature Monday at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) that will be part of its new OS to be released next year. Dashboard will perform very many of the same small programs as Konfabulator in the same exact way, but will be part of the new OS X version, that will be sold for $129 in the first half of 2005.

Mr. Rose thinks for Apple to copy his product feature for feature is wrong.

"It's okay for companies to compete and do products with similar functionality. That's just part of business," Mr. Rose commented. "What's not okay is for the company making the OS to turn around and give away third-party functionality for free."

An Apple spokesperson or executive was not available for comment to The Mac Observer, but Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller told CNET News Monday, "The goal (of Dashboard) isn't to be like anything else. It's not his (Mr. Roses') stuff. What we've done is ours."

Mr. Rose reacted to Mr. Schiller's comments by saying, "I know for a fact both Mr. Schiller and Mr. Jobs have used and enjoyed our product. This is their product? They came out with it first? They know better than to say that because it's a lie.

"They could have come to us and tried to work with us to buy the product. We probably wouldn't have taken them up on it, but it would have been a nice gesture. They could have done a number of things, but they stayed quiet about it until today."

Mr. Rose thinks what Apple has done has an even deeper meaning for the Mac development community and customers who could end up the real losers if developers leave the platform because their ideas are being used by Apple in its own products.

"It says to developers that if they have a really good idea, expect Apple to take the idea and use it as their own. We have worked our butts off now for two years and the thanks we get is for Apple to completely copy us. It's nuts."

Mr. Rose mentioned a similar situation with another independent shareware developer -- Karelia Software and its Watson search application. Apple used many of the same features of Watson in a recent upgrade to its built-in OS search product, Sherlock. In an ironic twist of fate, Karelia announced Monday it had licensed the technology behind Watson to another company, presumably for use on another operating system.

Rose is trying to make the best of the situation, but he knows that he and Mr. Clarke will have a tough time selling their product after next year when Apple comes out with Tiger.

"We're going to continue to develop software and do what we do best, but we're going to be cautious to watch out for Apple," he said.

Mr. Rose added that he and Mr. Clarke have been working on a Windows version of the product for some time – something that now appears to have been a good decision if business falls off after the release of Tiger next year.

"We have to make Konfabulator for both Mac and Windows," Mr. Rose said. "We have no choice and I defy anyone to tell me this is a bad business decision. It's kind of depressing to think we've have to resort to this strategy, but we see no other way around it. I love the Mac platform and have been developing on it for over a decade now and it's kind of depressing to see how I'm being re-paid for it by having my idea ripped off."