The Konfabulator Controversy

By Deane Barker on June 30, 2004 Weblog: What should Apple do?: There’s a bit of a controversy brewing in Macland about the WWDC conference and the Konfabulator knockoff Apple introduced called Dashboard. The theory is that Apple saw a great third-party app that people loved, and decided it needed to be part of the OS itself.

Apple can’t do everything — they need other developers to make software for OS X too. What concerns me is the message the Dashboard thing sends. It goes like this, “If you come up with a good idea and develop a successful product, we might copy it and bundle it for free with the OS.”

The Konfabulator folks, for their part, are having some fun with it, poking fun of the posters that poked fun at Microsoft with a banner on their site that says, “Cupertino [where Apple is based], start your photocopiers!”

Konfabulator was apparently written by some ex-Apple employes, and they had this to say:

Regarding the conspiracy theory about Konsposé and prior knowledge of Dashboard, here’s the scoop. We knew Dashboard was coming, and we’d been told by *many* people that it was being developed as a “Konfabulator Killer”. We never knew the specifics of it other than it was rumored to be the exact same thing as Konfabulator integrated at the system level. We didn’t know that it was going to be touted as part of Exposé, and we didn’t know that their format was going to be closer to a web page than a structured XML file.

The threat of having the OS subsume your original work is a threat Windows developers have lived with for years. I’ve always wondered what happened to WinZip and PKZip sales when Windows XP was introduced with integrated zip functionality.



  1. This isn’t a new trick for Apple, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Dashboard not being quite the package that Konfabulator is.

    I used to use a freebie OS 9 application switcher called LiteSwitch from Proteron. When it was updated for OS X they started charging $15 for it, and it’s worth that and more. Then Apple included a switcher with Panther that is a dead ringer for LiteSwitch, but not nearly as configurable. Check their website for Proteron’s beef with them

  2. As per Dave’s experiences, it seems like most of the time when an OS company integrates these features, they won’t have enough options to satisfy the power users completely. Yes, XP does have zip features now, but WinZip is much easier to use and does a much better job (I can just unzip with a menu item, instead of running a stupid wizard). I wonder if Apple looked at this as something a lot of people seemed to like, so they just threw it in, or if they really spent a lot of time making Dashboard something that even the power users will like. My guess is the former.

  3. To echo Rob, the article over at Daring Fireball by John Gruber ( seems to be a very balanced and fair look at the whole controversy. Sure it may carry some resemblance in design and feel, but under the hood, it is whole different beast. Konfabulator is a javascript runtime engine and the Widgets are XML and Javascript, Dashboard is run by WebCore (think Safari) and Widgets, (doodads, gidgits) are regular web pages that can have Flash, Quicktime, CSS, html, and even JavaScirpt.

    Another thing that John points out is that each of the Widgets in Konfabulator run in there own process and are quite memory intensive. I ran Konfabulator for a week or so before I noticed that and stopped using it myself.

    This really seems to be a flap about two different beasts here.

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