A lot of the comments in the initial post on the Microsoft Gadgets blog are complaints that the Microsoft is copying ideas from Apple's dashboard. First of all, people should give credit where it is due and acknowledge that Konfabulator is the real pioneer when it comes to desktop widgets. More importantly, the core ideas in Microsoft Gadgets were pioneered by Microsoft not Apple or Konfabulator.

From the post A Brief History of Windows Sidebar by Sean Alexander

Microsoft "Sideshow*" Research Project (2000-2001)

While work started prior, in September 2001, a team of Microsoft researchers published a paper entitled, "Sideshow: Providing peripheral awareness of important information" including findings of their project. 
The research paper provides screenshots that bear a striking resemblance to the Windows Sidebar.  The paper is a good read for anyone thinking about Gadget development.  For folks who have visited Microsoft campuses, you may recall the posters in elevator hallways and Sidebar running on many employees desktops.  Technically one of the first teams to implement this concept

*Internal code-name, not directly related to the official, “Windows SideShow™” auxiliary display feature in Windows Vista.

Microsoft “Longhorn” Alpha Release (2003)

In 2003, Microsoft unveiled a new feature called, "Sidebar" at the Microsoft Professional Developer’s Conference.  This feature took the best concepts from Microsoft Research and applied them to a new platform code-named, "Avalon", now formally known as Windows Presentation Foundation...

 Microsoft Windows Vista PDC Release (2005)

While removed from public eye during the Longhorn plan change in 2004, a small team was formed to continue to incubate Windows Sidebar as a concept, dating back to its roots in 2000/2001 as a research exercise. Now Windows Sidebar will be a feature of Windows Vista.  Feedback from customers and hardware industry dynamics are being taken into account, particularly adding support for DHTML-based Gadgets to support a broader range of developer and designer, enhanced security infrastructure, and better support for Widescreen (16:10, 16:9) displays.  Additionally a new feature in Windows Sidebar is support for hosting of Web Gadgets which can be hosted on sites such as Start.com or run locally.  Gadgets that run on the Windows desktop will also be available for Windows XP customers – more details to be shared here in the future.

So the desktop version of "Microsoft Gadgets" is the shipping version of Microsoft Research's "Sideshow" project. Since the research paper was published a number of parties have shipped products inspired by that research including MSN Dashboard, Google Desktop and Desktop Sidebar but this doesn't change the fact that the Microsoft is the pioneer in this space.

From the post Gadgets and Start.com by Sanaz Ahari

Start.com was initially released on February 2005, on start.com/1 – since then we’ve been innovating regularly (start.com/2, start.com/3, start.com and start.com/pdc) working towards accomplishing our goals:

  • To bring the web’s content to users through:
    • Rich DHTML components (Gadgets)
    • RSS and behaviors associated with RSS
    • High customizability and personalization
  • To enable developers to extend their start experience by building their own Gadgets

Yesterday marked a humble yet significant milestone for us – we opened our "Atlas" framework enabling developers to extend their start.com experience. You can read more it here: http://start.com/developer. The key differentiators about our Gadgets are:

  • Most web applications were designed as closed systems rather than as a web platform. For example, most customizable "aggregator" web-sites consume feeds and provide a fair amount of layout customization. However, the systems were not extensible by developers. With start.com, the experience is now an integrated and extensible application platform.
  • We will be enriching the gadgets experience even further, enabling these gadgets to seamlessly work on Windows Sidebar

The Start.com stuff is really cool. Currently with traditional portal sites like MyMSN or MyYahoo, I can customize my data sources by subscribing to RSS feeds but not how they look. Instead all my RSS feeds always look like a list of headlines. These portal sites usually use different widgets for display richer data like stock quotes or weather reports but there is no way for me to subscribe to a stock quote or weather report feed and have it look the same as the one provided by the site. Start.com fundamentally changes this model by turning it on its head. I can create a custom RSS feed and specify how it should render in Start.com using JavaScript which basically makes it a Start.com gadget, no different from the default ones provided by the site.

From my perspective, we're shipping really innovative stuff but because of branding that has attempted to cash in on the "widgets" hype, we end up looking like followers and copycats.

Marketing sucks.


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Thursday, September 15, 2005 4:14:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Waiting for the slashbots to pop in and punish you :) Come on, ALL cool stuff comes from Apple, there's no way Microsoft could innovate ;-)
Thursday, September 15, 2005 7:36:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I guess Marketing are also responsible for the Quartz app, regardless that the name means something else to a lot of people.

It is mildly ironic that a page about an app that claims to generate standards compliant and cross-platform pages doesn't
a. comply to standards
b. work in anything but IE.

Marketing guys have a lot to answer for.
Thursday, September 15, 2005 10:24:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
You guys should also mention that Active Desktop had widgets back in 1997, way before Dashboard and Konfabulator were around.

The real thing that makes Gadgets (that is, when in the Sidebar) different is that they are on-screen. The whole "peripheral awareness" thing is vastly different from Active Desktop, Dashboard, Mac's 1984 desktop accessories, etc.
Thursday, September 15, 2005 11:58:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
You have got to be kidding me, so now you are saying that simply "thinking of the idea" first makes Microsoft the pioneer? What, you don't think Google has been planning Google Desktop Sidebar for years? You don't think Apple planned their Dashboard for years? What's to say they didn't *think* of it first? The reason those groups are pioneers is that they thought of it and they SHIPPED a working implementation. Yes, you may point out that Google shipped a beta, and I can accept that (even though Google's betas are superior to Microsoft's 2.0s). But Apple has a FINAL version. Konfabulator SHIPPED something. Microsoft... has not SHIPPED anything.
Friday, September 16, 2005 2:18:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Even though I know better than to argue with someone who irrationally claims that coming up with an idea is somehow less innovative than someone who copies the idea and ships it...I still have to bite your troll and point out that MSN Dashboard shipped long before Google Desktop was a twinkle in anyone's eye.
Friday, September 16, 2005 6:12:10 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ok, MS had some related research that kinda sorta could have turned into "gadgets". Even if there had been no Konfabulator/Apple/Google widgets? I'll have to assume that's just the Kool-aid talking. "I thought of something kind of like that first!" isn't exactly something to be proud of, much less shout from the rooftops. This isn't quite up there with the folks who refuse to call Ajax by its new name ("Outlook did it first. Therefore, um, we win."), but it's the same sort of undignified whine, unbefitting the long list of great posts normally found here.

Shoulders of giants and all that. There are varying, pretty trivial claims to originality, but it ought to be clear MS is being led to this new kind of market, not blazing the way for others.
Friday, September 16, 2005 2:10:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So you put words in my mouth and then insult me (even though I expect no less from kool-aid drinking Microsoft employees, I thought you personally were above that). I did not say that Apple copied Microsoft's idea and shipped something (something I am sure Microsoft knows nothing about), but that you ignore the remote possibility that Apple and Google have their own research departments (granted, they may not have websites like Microsoft's does) that had research implementations long before Microsoft did. In fact, I would postulate that since they both shipped something long before Microsoft will, that they must have had these in research long before Microsoft did. You cannot shout from the rooftops and say "WE THOUGHT OF IT FIRST! WE ARE PIONEERS!" with nothing shipped. Face it, shipping stuff is the key. Your buddy at Mini-Microsoft would agree on that. I can sit around all day and say "Gee, I thought of that" with nothing to show for it, and do you think I should deserve glory and admiration? NO! An idea is an idea. Implementing that idea is what is worthy of glory and admiration. And to this date, Microsoft has not implemented anything in the desktop widget space. Can you refute that? Please try to.
Friday, September 16, 2005 2:12:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Like I said the "Gadgets" branding is what makes this look like a follow on. Gadgets is an extensible Sidebar + an extensible portal page. The former is something that Microsoft employees have been using internally since the turn of the century and we shipped to customers as MSN Dashboard. The latter is something that NO ONE in the industry is doing today.

Friday, September 16, 2005 2:31:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
> And to this date, Microsoft has not implemented anything in the desktop widget space. Can you refute that?

I'm pretty sure we shipped MSN Dashboard in 2002, here's a review at http://www.winsupersite.com/reviews/msn8.asp


I await your next bit of wisdom as to how we are less innovative than Google because they copied one of our ideas and shipped it after us.
Friday, September 16, 2005 7:51:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
> And to this date, Microsoft has not implemented anything in the desktop widget space. Can you refute that?

Again I say, Active Desktop!
Monday, September 19, 2005 11:23:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Im not trying to flame anyone here, but in 1981 Apple had a dashboard like system called Desk Ornaments (later called Desk Accessories). The only difference between Tiger's Dashboard and 1981's Desk Ornaments is that the ornaments were coded in ASM and Pascal, while Tiger's Dashboard uses HTML + CSS and JS.

While I wouldn't be surprised if Konfabulator revived the interest back in creating dashboard apps, Apple was certainly the first to create and ship a dashboard system.

Elliot Anderson
Comments are closed.