A tale of two developer's attitudes

So, what makes one developer (NetNewsWire's Brent Simmons) so different in attitude from another (Konfabulator's Arlo Rose? Is it just basic bent? Viability of their idea? Or a lack of understanding of the creative and industrial processes.

What's the deal?

At Apple's World-Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) this week, Apple announced two technologies, Safari RSS (the Apple browser with additions to support Really Simple Syndication) and Dashboard (Apple's Exposé with additions to support what are, in effect, Desk Accessories).

The problem is that there are already RSS readers for the Macintosh (chief among them NetNewsWire) and there is already a program that imitates Apple's small application framework that was used in the early days of the Mac, called Desk Accessories (Konfabulator).

OK, I've been a Macintosh developer since 1984 (yep, that's 20 years this year, OMG!). I've made commercial software and helped build a company based on the sale of Macintosh software. And, at least once or twice, Apple has come along and stomped all over a product that our company was selling (initially MacTCP's destruction of the stand-alone TCP/IP market, later Apple's inclusion of a competitor's PPP product in the operating system, etc.). Many, many Macintosh software developers have experienced this, and not a small number of Microsoft developers. The difference seems to be that Microsoft placates at least one of the companies by purchasing them.

Here's where the attitude and understanding issues come into play. After the announcement, Brent Simmons of Ranchero Software was excited about Apple's announcement and indicated that it was going to increase the number of users interested in syndication. His view is that he has a year before this "competition" comes into play and there will always be a need for a product that does more than Safari RSS does. I agree.

After the announcement, Arlo Rose changed his web site to read "Cuptertino, Start your photocopiers" and then spoke to anyone who would listen about how appalled he is that Apple didn't talk to him or pay him money before "copying his idea".

I've read some of the complaints and I don't quite see the issue here. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that Konfabulator is a swell package, but I downloaded it when it first came out and played with it, and I didn't like it. Why? Because their "widgets" sat in the same place as the applications and were difficult to manage. They were in the way.

According to Arlo, the only thing that Apple added to his ripped-off idea was the use in the Exposé layer. I can say, after having watched the demo, Dashboard looks useful because it is in the Exposé layer. In the end of the day, it was the most important feature of Dashboard.

Now, Arlo would have some complaint here if the "widgets" were actually some new idea, but even when Konfabulator started, it looked like just a pretty version of Apple's Desk Accessories, or a really pretty version of Borland Software's Sidekick (ok, this is showing some serious age on my part...). Also, on MacSlash a user pointed to StarDock's DesktopX software for the PC that has been around for four years and looks a lot like Konfabulator.

In the end of the day, your competitors, and even your suppliers, will imitate you if your ideas are good. You can either move forward and compete (even with free competition) or you can step aside and find something else to do.

Although I personally spent a lot of time on web browser that we created at InterCon, it became clear (at the time) that there weren't that many interesting ideas differentiating web browsers and the key issue at the time (being fought about between Microsoft and Netscape) was the compatibility with one, the other, or both. Unfortunately, because of the screwy way that the "standards" were being adopted at the time, it was necessary to be pixel-for- pixel compatible, so we were pushed to the side.

However, that wasn't the case with our email product. Despite well-defined standards (actually, perhaps it was because of them), a lot of the feature set was left to the developers and we created a piece of software that only in the last few years has been rivaled by Microsoft or Apple.

Perhaps Arlo will take his development to Windows (people have indicated that he had already been talking to developers before the announcement by Apple) and that platform will let him sit idly by and rake in the cash. If that's the way he wants to do it, that's just fine.

However, developers like Brent are going to continue spending a lot of time coming up with new, interesting, unique ideas and will continue to make money on any platform that they take them to.