Konfab vs. Dash – A Second Look

After reading ***Will’s post|http://pulchersentio.prwdot.org/001875.html*** and then following up and reading ***this|http://daringfireball.net/2004/06/dashboard_vs_konfabulator*** and ***this|http://daringfireball.net/2004/07/konfab_confab*** on ***John Gruber’s blog|http://daringfireball.net***, I’ve decided to rethink my position on Konfabulator vs Dashboard. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

I think ***Dashboard|http://www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/dashboard.html*** is a cool looking feature. Being a web developer, I am intrigued by the possibility of being able to build a Dashboard “gadget” by using JavaScript, CSS, and XHTML. For the moment, that is where my happiness ends.

Gruber encourages us to “look under the hood” to see the real differences between Konfab and Dash. Yep, ok, they’re both different under the hood. Konfab uses its own proprietary XML parser and JavaScript engine, while Apple uses its own WebCore technology. But I didn’t need to be convinced that they were different under the hood.

Gruber puts on a pretty good razzle-dazzle show, pointing us to these under-the-hood differences, as well as showing how Dashboard is similar in scope to Apple’s own Desk Accessories functionality of many years ago. But he doesn’t give adequate treatment to my primary concern. By way of analogy:

Say I want to design my own car. I come up with some really great ideas for new components that will produce tremendous horsepower, amazingly efficient fuel consumption, and a silky-smooth ride. I build these components, and put them all together in a frame that could withstand a drop off of the Grand Canyon (while protecting the passengers). Then, I need to design a body. I look at the Audi TT, and think that it looks really sweet. I have had some trouble coming up with my own design for the exterior, so I “borrow” a lot of elements from the TT, and whip up a “new” body for my car, calling it the PT. When the PT is released, the public is going to think that my car looks a heck of a lot like the TT, and they’d be right. But when they got in and took it for a test drive, they’d realize that it was infinitely superior – especially after they drove it into the Grand Canyon. So, the public would eventually discover that it really was a different machine – under the hood. But does that excuse me from borrowing the TT’s body design to use in my PT? I don’t think so.

Neither should Apple be excused for borrowing the look, feel, and functionality of Konfabulator for use in their Dashboard technology. Look at this now. I don’t really have any thoughts on what would have been the “right thing” for Apple to do with respect to Konfabulator, but I am pretty sure that whatever the “right thing” is, it has not been done yet.

One last point – I do understand the comparison between Dashboard and Desk Accessories, at least in terms of scope. They were both designed to be small, lightweight mini-apps that could be run on screen alongside other applications. But I feel that Gruber is trying to read this comparison into Apple’s actual design philosophy, on their behalf. I haven’t seen any proof as of yet that Apple really did use this as a basis for developing Dashboard. I’d love to see a statement or article on Apple’s website that says something to the effect of “Our idea for Dashboard started way back in the 80’s, when we designed Desk Accessories…” If Desk Accessories was truly an Apple innovation, and if it truly is an ancestor to Dashboard, then why hasn’t Apple made that public knowledge? I’m sure that most modern consumers wouldn’t have any clue what a Desk Accessory was, so I can understand not putting the information on an Apple marketing website. But how about tossing it into a developer note? Or maybe, when Dashboard is finally released, there could be a note in the ‘About’ menu that says “Inspired by Desk Accessories”. I’m waiting.

3 thoughts on “Konfab vs. Dash – A Second Look

  1. Peter

    Gruber states that the reason LightSwitch X and Panther’s switcher look so much alike is that they were both designed to look like “something from Apple”. I don’t share his opinion on this. Like his assertion that Desktop Accessories were the inspiration for Dashboard, I think he’s just reading his own ideas into Apple’s history.

    I’m a also bit disappointed in his referring to the non-developers as a “peanut gallery”, as though we had no right to take interest in technology we don’t have a hand in developing.

    Then again, he is a self-declared “curmudgeon,” so it’s his job to be, er…. curmudgeonly about things like this.

  2. Will

    Heh. Good point. I thought both articles were interesting. Even if you don’t agree with him, he raises some good points that I hadn’t really seen mentioned anywhere else.


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