Glad Steve's a Buddhist!

Examining the fate of Konfabulator

by David Lang (Posted: 6/30/04)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely my own, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG.]

Arlo Ready to Kill

If you've never heard the song Alice's Restaurant by hippie folk singer Arlo Guthrie, you're missing out on a small piece of cultural history and some big laughs. I'm not even sure you can call it a song, since apart from a couple of choruses, it's basically twenty minutes of Arlo talking about his minor run-in with the law and his Vietnam-era draft induction. One of the funniest parts of the "song" is when Guthrie talks about the psychological evaluation he received at the draft induction. Arlo recounts how he began chanting, "I wanna kill," to the military psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist soon started chanting "I wanna kill" right along with him!

Right about now, I can imagine another Arlo jumping up and down on his desk chanting "I wanna kill." That Arlo's last name is not Guthrie, but Rose, and the reason he's hopping mad is that he feels Apple just stole his idea and is driving him out of business. Rose is the developer of Konfabulator, a Javascript development environment for creating attractive mini-applications known as "widgets." Konfabulator has been around since the beginning of 2003, and there now appear to be more than 600 available "widgets." Unfortunately for the developers of Konfabulator, Steve Jobs just unveiled an upcoming feature of Mac OS X "Tiger" known as Dashboard, which looks strikingly similar to Konfabulator. Jobs even used the term "widgets" to describe the mini-applications which are a part of Dashboard.

Rose is understandably upset, because he knows that once the functionality Konfabulator provides is bundled directly into OS X, the demand for his product is likely to dwindle fast. Of course, this is nothing new. Apple did the same thing to Watson, an internet search utility which bested (and took its name from) Apple's own Sherlock. When Apple upgraded Sherlock with functionality similar to that of Watson, Watson's market effectively disappeared. Third-party developers such as these have long developed extensions, Desktop accessories, and applications whose capabilities were eventually duplicated by Apple. If memory serves correctly, the menu-bar clock, hierarchical Apple menu, and window-shade were all originally third-party innovations which Apple eventually adopted. It may not seem fair, and an argument could be made that Apple should at least license these capabilities or compensate third-party developers whose markets they kill, but history teaches us that Apple is not above duplicating its developers' best ideas.

Glad Steve's a Buddhist

This is why, as a developer of Bible software, I'm personally glad Steve's a Buddhist! It means I don't have to worry that Apple is going to release "Exposit" or "iScripture" (iBible's already taken) anytime soon. Not that I really think Apple could create a Bible study app that would rival Accordance, but anytime you have to compete with free software bundled with the OS, you're in for a serious challenge.

Naturally, I'd be thrilled if Jobs were to come to faith in Christ, and even if he did, I doubt Apple would make a Bible study app a part of iLife. After all, there's no "iZen" or "GarageBuddhist" available today. My tongue-in-cheek point in all of this is that third-party developers who focus on creating enhancements to the Mac operating system or working in areas like digital media are always going to be taking the calculated risk that Apple will decide to compete with them.

From the perspective of a third-party developer, that's a shame, because system enhancements and digital media apps can be some of the most exciting and potentially profitable products to develop. On the other hand, as a Mac user, I have to ask myself whether I want Apple to limit the functionality of the operating system in order to avoid competing with some third-party developer. The danger there is that Apple will miss important opportunities to compete with Microsoft and Longhorn—something which would be far more harmful to all Mac software developers.

So while I feel for Mr. Rose and the other developers of Konfabulator, they need to understand that they were treading on thin ice the minute they chose to develop software that added functionality to the Mac OS itself. They chose to compete in a space which Apple might logically be expected to fill, and they've profited from the fact that they were the first to get there. But the handwriting was on the wall (see Daniel 5:5) from the moment they started, and they shouldn't be the least surprised at Apple's decision to create its own version of "widgets", which are really little more than the "desk accessories" of the classic Mac OS.

The lesson for all Mac developers is this: if you want to become rich and famous, it may be possible to do it by being first to market with a feature Apple should have done in the first place. Just don't expect to have any job security that way. If you want job security (minus the riches and fame), develop Bible software!

Other Bully Pulpit Features:
A Personal Perspective on the Problem of Evil: How God brings good out of tragic loss.
When Speed Trumps Substance: A Dozen Problems with Internet-based Research.
History or Gospel? Can the Biblical accounts of Jesus' passion be trusted?

Recent Articles:
Mac Bible Software Update: Accordance adds Open GL Maps, Unicode Export; MacSword update coming soon.
2004 Mac Bible Software Survey: Let us know your thoughts about Mac Bible Software.
Review of MacSword 1.0: Open-Source Bible Program for OS X Examined.
Getting the Bible's Number: How to Use Strong's Numbers in Mac Bible Study Software.