These are my notes from the session on Konfabulator by Arlo Rose.
He started with answering the question, why name them 'widgets'? At Apple, a UI control was called a widget. He thought the name meant something more and has always wanted to build widgets that do more.
He was the creator of Kaleidoscope which was one of the key customization and theming applications on the Macintosh. The application was so popular that the CEO of Nokia mentioned it as the inspiration for customization in cell phones.
When Apple announced Mac OS X, he became nervous that this would spell the end of Kaleidoscope and it was because they couldn't make the transition to Cocoa so they killed the product. Arlo then looked around for a new kind of application to build and came across the Control Strip and Control Strip Modules on the Mac which he thought were useful but had a bad user experience. He had also discovered an MP3 player for the Mac named Audion which used cool UI effects to create little UI components on the desktop which seemed transparent. Arlo thought it would be a great idea to build a better Control Strip using Audion-like UI. He talked to his partner from Kaleidoscope but he wasn't interested in the idea. He also talked to the developers of Audion but they weren't interested either. So arlo gave up on the idea and wandered from startup to startup until he ended up at Sun Microsystems
After they got so much praise for the Mac version, they decided to work on a Windows version. While working on the Windows version, he got a call from a friend at Apple who said while he was at a design meeting and he heard "We need to steamroll Konfabulator". He started calling all his friends at Apple and eventually it turned out that the Apple product that was intended to steamroll Konfabulator was Dashboard. The products are different, Dashboard uses standard DHTML while Konfabulator uses proprietary markup. Arlo stated that their use of proprietary technologies gave them advantages over using straight DHTML.
Unfortunately, even though they got millions of downloads of the Windows version not a lot of people paid for the software. There were a number of reasons for this. The first was that in general there is a less of a culture of paying for shareware in the Windows world than in the Mac world. Secondly, there were free alternatives to their product on Windows that had sprung up while there was only a Mac version. In looking for revenue, they sought out partnerships and formed one with Yahoo!. He also talked to people at Microsoft in Redmond who let him know that they were planning to add gadgets to
Longhorn Windows Vista. Microsoft made him an offer to come work on Windows Vista but he turned it down. Later on, he was pinged by a separate group at MSN that expressed an interest in buying Konfabulator. Once this happened, Arlo contacted Google and Yahoo! to see if theyd make counter offers and Yahoo! won the bidding war.
They started working on the Yahoo! Widget Engine and the goal was to make it a platform for accessing Yahoo! APIs as part of the Yahoo! Developer Network. However consumers still wanted a consumer product like Konfabulator and eventually they left the YDN and went to the Connected Life group at Yahoo! which works on non-Web consumer applications such as desktop and mobile applications.
There are now 4000 3rd party widgets in the Yahoo! widget gallery and they are the only major widget platform which is cross platform. Also they are the only widget platform that has total access to Yahoo! data.
Q & A
Q: What's next?
A: The next question is to see how far widgets can scale as mini-applications. Can a picture frame widget become something more but not a full replacement for Flickr or Photoshop?
Q: What do you think of the Apollo project from Adobe?
A: Doesn't know what it is.
Q: Did he ever figure out a business model for widgets?
A: He planned to make deals with companies like J.Crew, Staples, and Time Warner for movie tie-ins.
Q: Why move from YDN to Connected Life?
A: They were 3 people and they couldn't do both the developer side & the consumer application. Also it turned out that the Yahoo! Developer Network turned out not to have the clout that they thought they would in that Yahoo! applications would refuse to provide APIs that could be accessed by 3rd party developers but would create special APIs for writing Konfabulator widgets.