want Microsoft to do it for you eh?

Never have the disinterested take over..

Thursday, October 12, 2006 by Frogboy | Discussion: Community

Every so often you will hear people loudly and broadly argue that such and such customization feature should be done by the OS maker instead of some "bloated, buggy third party app".

And as if to say "Your wish is our command" Microsoft has not only introduced gadgets into Windows Vista (yay?) but also created a skin site.  I'd show you that skin site but it's down right now. Perhaps you can get to it when you read this:  They have a developer's area too:

Now, a couple years ago, mini-applications were the hottest thing. Konfabulator (now Yahoo Widgets) was getting a lot of press. Kapsules had just come out. .Widget was announced. AveDesk was in development and of course DesktopX was growing in popularity too.  But then... well...

Apple came out with Dashboard and then Microsoft announced gadgets would be in the OS.  Yay for users right? I mean finally, FINALLY real good stuff would be part of the OS and users wouldn't have to put up with that "bloated" third party bugfest crap. has it worked out for users? Well, Apple Dashboard was used as a marketing bullet point, put into Tiger and then..well forgotten.  Apple put up, website for Dashboard widgets here

But since this stuff is part of the OS, the incentive to keep innovating basically dried up.  Remember how Konfabulator was being updated constantly?  Well, since Yahoo got it, it released 3.0 and then 3.1 and that's about it.  The featured widget on their page is...(wait for it) a media player.  Not that Stardock should get cocky, a quick trip to the DesktopX widget area gives us...more weather widgets.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the OS vendor will never care about a niche as much as the people who live and breath that niche every day.  So when the OS vendor puts in a niche feature like widgets/gadgets, they include enough features to suck out the bulk of the casual users (known as "low hanging fruit" in sales terms) that the incentive to keep innovating almost completely disappears.

It's even worse when the OS vendor puts up some gallery since it takes away traffic. will probably have a MS Gadgets section but talk about a lost opportunity. Microsoft's gallery is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.  It splinters the community up so that you can't quite get critical mass for good stuff to be made and the sites won't ever get the kind of budget or attention that a site that is dedicated to the topic is going to do. 

The net result is that widgets/gadgets, which two years were the HOT item are basically dead, killed by Microsoft and Apple. Innovation has just about stopped. That doesn't mean that Yahoo Widgets or DesktopX and such are "dead". New stuff is being made for them (and I know DesktopX is being updated in a big way still). But it has definitely put a big wrench in the market and I doubt you'll see any new widget/gadget enablers. Which is a real shame.

So next time some user demands that Microsoft (or Apple) toss some niche feature into the OS, point out what has happened to widgets. If someone had said 2 years ago that widgets would basically be dying on the vine, I think most would laugh at that.  And yet here we are, two years later, Yahoo Widgets basically in stasis.  Dashboard in statis.  Avedesk 1.3 (January 2006). The Kapsules site is currently down. DesktopX 3.2 was just released but I can tell you it's future is going to concentrate on creating stand alone gadgets (DesktopX Pro), building desktops, and providing libraries to make Microsoft .gadgets (so that hopefully it can generate more revenue to justify further development).

I submit that the worst thing that can happen to a niche customization community is for the OS vendor to put it in.  What do you think?



Reply #1 Thursday, October 12, 2006 12:24 AM
I agree.
Reply #2 Thursday, October 12, 2006 12:48 AM

MS = Jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none...

Skill focus/dissemination makes more sense in the long run.  Get a plumber to wire your house and you'll have leaky wires...

Provided no-one outside your sphere of expertise creates waves for your own work your one-eyed devotion to it has to be 'a better way'.

Microsoft's foray into Window skinning was/is lackluster at best, so that too stands as an example of how and why a third-party input can/will be/is better...

Reply #3 Thursday, October 12, 2006 7:36 AM
Those with a finger in every pie ruin a lot of pies. Why would this behavior from Microsoft surprize anyone? Been going on for years. Must seem worse though when its your pie.
Gene Nash
Reply #4 Thursday, October 12, 2006 8:20 AM
It goes beyond the OS (and even computers). Frankly I thought Hotmail was better pre-MS. For a better example, look at what Yahoo did to eGroups, or Google to DejaNews. And if you want a brick-and-mortar example, Wal-Mart may be able to change your oil and shove tires on your car, but if you really want service and know-how, you'll have to go to a shop that specializes.

kenwas nailed the expansiveness of the problem when he said, "Those with a finger in every pie ruin a lot of pies."

Insightful article.
Reply #5 Thursday, October 12, 2006 8:57 AM
I agree that for a company which has been involved in a small yet successful market, the loss of revenue resulting from a large company incorporating the technologies/ideas of the smaller business is a typical and problematic issue in the world.

I do however believe that the user would not suffer if the developers (in this case 'gadget' developers) simply develop their product and sell them on either the Microsoft gadget site, or on another site that allows third party sales.

I would suspect that the most difficult part of this idea would be swallowing the 'jagged pill' born of competition with a company like Microsoft, and (if relevant) getting the product certified by Microsoft for 'Vista'. In the case of gadgets this may not be necessary, although I am not up to speed on the requirements there.

The upside to this issue is that Microsoft has been fairly consistent in offering a limited amount of said customizations, leaving an open door for third party developers. Case in point:

1 - The new Vista shell has some colorization adjustments available, but they are not infinite. This would suggest that a third party program (that does not significantly reduce performance) would do well for skinning the shell.

2 - The icon presentation and dynamics in Vista are a huge improvement over any Windows predecessor, but are still only one set of icons. This would suggest that any third party program that can change the icons, yet maintain all the dynamic functions of the default icons, would do quite well.

3 - Any program that can offer the ability to 'relatively easily' create gadgets that are fully compatible with the 'Vista' support system, would do well in the developers community.

These are the three big areas that I can think of that would be viable avenues for research and development for a smaller company to take advantage of the technologies supported in a larger company's product.

I think it was inevitable - with the introduction of widescreen monitors - that some form of information functionality would be developed for the additional space afforded. IMO - users will adopt the use of items that allow them to check information at a glance (e.g., scheduling data, news data, time and date).

Note - performance is of primary importance to most users now, especially with the cost of purchasing a mainstream computer system and the professional software that is needed. If the large companies (in this case Microsoft and Apple) are not allowing for the development of third party software that can integrate with the Operating System without reducing performance, then indeed the large company is not interested in the third party software companies. This may prove to be the downfall for any large company.
Reply #6 Thursday, October 12, 2006 7:24 PM
I think the problem is that when features are implemented into the OS they are often implemented to the point that it can be added to a comparison list. And then further development slows down from there.
Reply #7 Thursday, October 12, 2006 7:45 PM
ditto.... let the pros handle the extras "MS". Stick to patching holes and dismantling the PC gaming community.  
Reply #8 Saturday, October 14, 2006 3:33 PM
phew Id rather have desktop x than the sidebar ...but i would like to see the vista sidebar gadgets in dx .. that sidebar is way too resource hoggy .. dx uses nothing
Island Dog
Reply #9 Sunday, October 15, 2006 7:37 AM
The sidebar never really impressed me in the Vista builds I have been testing. Especially the fact that they are not able to auto-hide. MS also informed me that auto-hiding will not be a feature in the final version, and it's only being "considered" for future update.

I will also be sticking with DesktopX.

Reply #10 Sunday, October 15, 2006 8:44 PM
I know this is article is about the new OS but, I have been working with the MS Office 2007 beta and I cannot customize it at all. It will not skin. My hope is this is not a forced evolution to a fully uncustomizable (is this a word) OS and Office systems.

I rely a lot on third party builds and use Windows XP 64-bit since is does not contain many of the heavy gimmicks that I had to undo with Windows XP to make it an efficient OS for me. As a side note: At work we do not even consider using IE due to the holes in it, we use Opera.

Anyway, I am not an artist but I wholeheartedly admire the creative atmosphere at Stardock and use Wincustomize almost daily here at home and at work. Microsoft ought to be looking at the next generation of computer wizards; the Geek of today is the paradigm of tomorrow.

I do not know anyone in my computing world that is happy with the boxed approach to their desktops and I am not in the computer field or a tech. Do we have to sit at our desks all day and stare at the green start button or even the enhanced 256x256 standard Icons? Yuk. A couple of skins on a website is not any better than the right click to properties on desktops now. The limited selection is boring.

We, as a generation, are building our own computers since the online stores strap together anything but a truly customized machine (with the exception of a few that are not the "brands"). We also do not have the money to buy from the makers and the components are widely available with great competition to keep the prices low.

Microsoft should be anticipating this rise of do-it-yourself (as well as the baby boomers who will have a lot of time on their hands, are very smart and have a lot of capital) computing culture and create an OS that is truly barebones; what a seller that would be!!
Reply #11 Sunday, October 15, 2006 9:09 PM
I just looked at the 'gallery' and posted feedback using some of my comments above since it would only allow me 1000 characters. Hhhmmm, oh well. I guess, for now, I'm with the other drummer.
Alpha Tellurian
Reply #12 Thursday, November 2, 2006 12:56 AM
The whole thing sound (IMO), like the big corporations eleminating the competition. Greed is the motivating factor. The big fish swallow up the little ones. If you want to stay on top of the mountain, you have to push everyone else back down. They threw in Gadgets as a way to diffuse a potention threat. The popularity of this stuff makes them a target. Big gaming corps swallow up the competion (EA). When a smaller game company puts out a good product, shortly after a larger co. buys them out. Gene mentioned WalMart. There's a perfect example of what I'm trying to say. Before WM, you could go to a Mom & Pop hardware store, get real service, not an assembly line for shopping, and pay the same or less. Now they are all out of businees. In the last 2 years I have watched several local businesses close up shop, only to be replaced by a huge company within months. MS saw a product that could hurt them. The easiest way to fix that problem is to eliminate it. Stick the same material into your package, under a different name of course, and kill the competition. Now that it's part of the OS it's not exciting anymore, it becomes the norm. The craze dies and MS either purchases said product and/or company, or simply watches them die. Either way they still win. They never really cared about widgets or gadgets. They had some advisors tell them it would be financial viable to take over that market, so they did.
Reply #13 Thursday, November 2, 2006 3:05 PM
MS has always wanted to "brand" Office with its own GUI and has made it mostly unskinnable since the very beginning. Would not surprise me in the least if they lock the GUI of the entire program in future versions.

As for the OS itself, I don't think they'll incorporate customization to the point that programs like Stardock's are locked out - I think they would hurt sales of Vista if they tried (why would anyone give up a customizable OS that works (OK, sort of works) for one that has limited customization & may not work with all/any your peripherals for months?) - they've made a point of partnering with Stardock (whatever that means) up to now & it will probably remain in their interest to continue a mutually beneficial relationship.

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