Whining about "Stealing ideas" is pointless

Adventures in software development

Thursday, September 22, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

It seems every time a larger company incorporates a feature that a smaller company has that a bunch of people start screaming bloody murder.  Shrieks of "copying" and "stealing" come up.  What's the point?  Last year the folks who made Konfabulator made a be stink when Apple incorporated Dashboard into the OS.  I totally agreed with Konfabulator's developers that it was pretty lame on Apple's part but in the end, complaining just looks bad I think to most people.  The fact is, if you make something good, other people will want to make something similar. That's life.

And I say that with some experience...

Object Desktop in 1995/1997

This is a screenshot of Object Desktop taken in 1997.  Mind you the product originally was released in 1995 and was in public beta testing in 1994.  It had features that were quite new (Windows 3.1 was the OS in 1994).  It provided featurs such as a skinnable UI for the entire OS (what we call WindowBlinds today), treated .ZIP files as compressed folders, allowed users to package up desktops (Object Package), Had a big sidebar on the right side with virtual desktops, system info, a clock, etc.

So when Microsoft and other companies started treating ZIP files like compressed folders, we didn't make a peep of complaint even though we were the first to do it.  Why? Because we didn't think the idea was non-obvious. 

Similarly, even though (to our knowledge) no product or OS had ever done a sidebar quite like this (NeXTStep's dock is pretty dissimilar), we haven't made a peep about other sidebars and such when they came along.

Even in 2001, when Microsoft incorporated GUI skinning into the OS using the exact same mechanism as WindowBlinds (uxtheme.dll in Windows XP might as well be WindowBlinds LE or something) we didn't complain or make a huge uproar. 

When in 2003 Konfabulator came out with a program that essentially did a subset of features of what DesktopX had been doing for 3 years, we didn't accuse them of stealing their ideas from us.  The only thing we objected to was their claims that they had somehow invented the concept.  It should be noted that we never claimed to have invented the concept.  We were inspired by IBM's work on an OpenDoc based desktop back in 1996.

And when we learned that Microsoft was going to be doing gadgets some time ago, we could have made a huge stink about that too.  Gone to CNET and Wired and other media outlets and talked about how Microsoft was "stealing" from us.  But we didn't.

Why don't we? Because nobody likes a whiner.  And in our experience, each change brings a new opportunity. Software companies must endeavor to adapt and change to new circumstances.  The only metric that should be used in my mind is whether a change is good for users/customers or not. 

To be sure, it's annoying when users will say "Oh, Stardock's screwed." Or even more annoying when someone else gets credit for what we were doing first simply because they squeaked louder.  But the reality is, in the long-term, changes bring new opportunities.

For example, looking at that Object Desktop screenshot from 1997 (which has the same features as were present in 1995) you can see a proto-Sidebar, Compressed Folders, ObjectDock, widgets/gadgets, WindowFX, WindowBlinds.  But changes have spark new innovation.

Most people don't realize this but WindowBlinds didn't really take off until after Windows XP shipped.  When Microsoft embraced GUI skinning, it opened the door to far greater opportunities.  It legitimized what we were doing.   Similarly, we had long discovered that users were generally not willing to pay money to run someone else's widget, we had already begun to migrate towards stand-alone widgets (gadgets).  But for us, the challenge was, how do we spread the word about why they'd want to use gadgets? Voila, Microsoft comes in and is going to do much of that evangelizing for us.  People don't care how their little RSS reader is made.   Does anyone care what compiler we use to make TweakVista? No.  Will people care what program is used to create gadgets? No. They will only care about what the gadget does.

Object Desktop in 2000.

This pattern will keep repeating itself as long as we continue to make software that extends and enhances the operating system.  And those that bitch and moan the loudest about being copied from will probably continue to receive unfair credit for "innovation" over us. But in the long term, I think people are more comfortable dealing with companies that look challenges as potential opportunities rather than looking for pity. 

First Previous Page 1 of 2 Next Last
Reply #1 Thursday, September 22, 2005 1:12 PM
You hit the nail on the head, Brad. Ideas are reused, borrowed, and re-invented all the time. In a recent article, I wrote:
... Ideas are borrowed, reproduced, and expanded upon all the time. It is an accepted method of invention and innovation. That is why there is not only one kind of car or one kind of operating system. For instance, when Bill Gates saw that first new method of user interaction with a computer, commonly known as the GUI, he took the idea, reproduced and expanded upon it. Apple did the same. When that first motor driven vehicle was first made, there were plenty of would be car makers taking the same idea and reproducing and expanding upon it to produce their own. Again, this is taking someone else’s idea, their Intellectual Property, and using it. It is the way things are done.

It's the innovators that continue to do what they do best that last and become a recognized force; not the complainers, who come off as whining wannabes.
Reply #2 Thursday, September 22, 2005 2:32 PM
As long as you build a quality product and have integrity as a company you will continue to survive and make a profit. Those people who complain and whine also don't realize that if software was not able to be re-worked and improved upon we wouldn't have innovation. The sincerest form of flattery is imitation.
Although when it comes to MS, there are occasions where their "ideas" seem to be an attempt to take over a marketplace rather than infuse it with new ideas.

Posted via WinCustomize Browser/Stardock Central
Reply #3 Thursday, September 22, 2005 3:35 PM
You're right about that! It's the same in every industry really. There's always a copy made of something, whether it be software products or even clothing designs! As long as there is a market for the original and it's a very good product, it will be copied and sold on the black market and these days, even the ligit consumer markets!
Reply #4 Thursday, September 22, 2005 4:45 PM

I agree, Brad.

Whining does not leave a good impression, whether justified or not.

The better impression is made by adapting to the adversity, or fluidity of the situation, and coming out strong.

Microsoft limited the themes service in many ways, most notably in the lack of color choices and ability to combine two or more colors in the shell, without reverting back to classic. A very good thing for WindowBlinds, which allows all of the above, and more.

I am not a coder, and have not had the opportunity to play around with Vista, but I would suspect that this symbiotic relationship between Stardock and Microsoft (whether by fortunate design, or simple circumstance) - may work out quite well in regards to Vista supporting gadgets, and DesktopX enabling the creation of gadgets that (hopefully) will be fully compatible with Vista.

Unless there is some obstacle that I do not understand to make the DesktopX gadgets completely compatible, I would say the future looks quite bright.........WindowBlinds, DesktopX, ObjectDock..............hmm............IconPackager?

Island Dog
Reply #5 Thursday, September 22, 2005 6:36 PM

I agree also.

Reply #6 Thursday, September 22, 2005 7:13 PM
For me the whining itself turns into something inspiring humor and ideas, although they were not based on my own things either, main thing is I can keep on working for myself instead of finding hundreds of fictitious ids clogging up search function at renderosity when I look for specific people I want to find there and plagiators, who cares what they submit, also invent so many fictitious help quests at skinbase I am kept of my own work cause I feel I should help a bit inbetween I wonder whether its a bot or someone wrote an interactive php to keep me busy the way he wants instead of the way I want. This was insightful and did not keep me off good things, nobody can plagiate me anyway, I dont exist on my own yet. These tool updates and reports on MS and Stardock are in fact 1 of the reasons to stay tuned inspite of not everything being possible, which is normal everywhere in a way. Thanks for info and keeping up the updates- many need vista encouragement no matter how when I decide - and tool updating will which costs more than windows updating will yet coheres viciously
Reply #7 Thursday, September 22, 2005 9:16 PM
In 2003, the centennial of flight, I was fascinated by the early flight photos & read alot about the Wright brothers. I always thought this part of the story was so sad: "...instead of focusing on improving their original biplane design, the Wrights chose to launch lawsuit after lawsuit against rival plane-makers, such as Glenn Curtiss. The Wrights claimed that these competing manufacturers infringed upon the patents they owned. The legal battles continued for years. The case was eventually decided in 1914. While the courts sided with the Wrights, their victory was ultimately a hollow one. Wilbur Wright had died of typhoid fever two years earlier. Orville Wright, in the meantime, was in the midst of selling the company he and his brother built. In the years ahead, other plane designers and manufacturers would pick up where the Wrights had left off, continuing to soar higher, faster and farther."

So much knowledge, energy & innovation was lost to pursuing lawsuits while technology flowed around & past them.

Reply #8 Thursday, September 22, 2005 9:49 PM
The trick is to make the best version.


Reply #9 Thursday, September 22, 2005 10:58 PM
Since Microsoft unveiled Gadgets, there have been a few articles on here about how nobody from Stardock is complaining. Even though in every article written on here, they say the same thing of how Konfab stole DesktopX and Apple stole Konfab and now Microsoft is stealing Apple. You guys are doing just as much whining saying you're not whining, than just coming out and saying what you mean. It doesn't look any better to try and be pretentious saying you're above complaining about theft. Especially if you go and do it anyway. If you don't want anyone stealing your idea, get some copyrights and patents. Otherwise stop 'non-whining.'
Reply #10 Thursday, September 22, 2005 11:01 PM
Very well put, Brad, a healthy attitude that should be commended in a highly competitive business where variations on innovation will never cease. This in itself constantly propels the industry forwards, which is benificial to the end user by way of better options. When I finally install my copy of Vista, I'll not care if Apple or Linux thought of this and that first. In fact, I thank them for not allowing Microsoft to rest in its laurels. In that context, yes, I'm glad it's a tit for tat industry
Chris TH
Reply #11 Friday, September 23, 2005 1:05 AM
get some copyrights and patents

Which basically leads to the "Wright Brothers Scenario" (#7 above) - totally pointless for any company trying to get ahead in the business.

Posted via WinCustomize Browser/Stardock Central
Reply #12 Friday, September 23, 2005 6:29 AM
Good article!!
Reply #13 Friday, September 23, 2005 8:02 AM
Yeah, some 1000 years ago religious Monks decided to invent a new law, we now call Copyright, in order to protect their fancy bibles from being copied. Bibles would in turn keep their high price and monks would make a lot of money for their fancy illustrations. However, Bibles in turn became in short supply because no copying was allowed. There were no other books, people became more stupid and neglected the written language for centuries, come in... The Dark Ages.
Reply #14 Friday, September 23, 2005 10:05 AM
Again, this is taking someone else’s idea, their Intellectual Property, and using it. It is the way things are done.

If it wouldn't be done like that, there would be no competition, ever.
Reply #15 Friday, September 23, 2005 11:20 AM
Yeah, some 1000 years ago religious Monks decided to invent a new law, we now call Copyright, in order to protect their fancy bibles from being copied. Bibles would in turn keep their high price and monks would make a lot of money for their fancy illustrations. However, Bibles in turn became in short supply because no copying was allowed. There were no other books, people became more stupid and neglected the written language for centuries, come in... The Dark Ages.

You're blaming the Dark Ages on copyrights? Are you serious? Ever hear of the plague? Tyrannical leaders? Not enough food for the expanding population?

And besides, nobody tried to copyright the Bible. Maybe certain illustrations, but not the bible itself. They were in short supply because they had to be handwritten.

Every company knows that the only reason they could get successful is if they take an idea, theirs or someone elses, and make it accessible to a large portion of the market. Microsoft and Dell, for example understood this. Neither one 'invented' what they are selling, but they made it cheap and easy and that's why they're so successful. Apple could cut their prices and stop being so full of themselves, but they dont want the responsibility of having such a huge portion of the market. Certain things work for certain companies. Stardock could invest in marketing all over the place to everyone, but they don't want the responsibility of handling such a large amount of the industry.
Reply #16 Friday, September 23, 2005 8:00 PM
The Dark Ages

Hm... the dark ages ended some 1000 years ago, so I tend to believe that maybe the monks you mentioned did not have a terrible direct influence on the beginning of the dark ages (in about 500 CE).

And before the invention of the printing press copying the Bible was not really an act one needed a law to dissuade people from.

But your point is true. Copyright law as a mechanism does interfere with the free flow of information. At some point society will have to decide between the two.

I know what will happen. An elite will decide and society will gladly approve of laws that everybody wants to break.
Reply #17 Friday, September 23, 2005 9:36 PM
Hey, his just a boi!!! LOL ...but a valid point.

Damn, so good to catch up on some history here Brad, I have a lot more respect for the crew now.
Reply #18 Saturday, September 24, 2005 2:17 AM
Wow! Is Object Desktop a decade old!? There should be some sort of celebratin' going on!

I did not know that Windowblinds came before WinXP and its "theme" capabilities. YOU guys are the innovators!

You guys are so cool and have earned a bunch of respect from me!

All of you at Stardock have my full support in whatever coolness you guys do and I'll keep renewing my Object Desktop subscription! ::yay, money to you!::

Man, you guys are cool!!!

Fuzzy Logic
Reply #19 Saturday, September 24, 2005 4:12 AM
I've been using Windowblinds since version 0.9 something... That was just after I got my first pc, with the then relatively new Windows98. Having been used to Win 3.1 and briefly Win95, seeing what (the then basic in skinning) Windowblinds could do to a pc changed the way I would look at a pc forever.
Fourth Letter
Reply #20 Sunday, September 25, 2005 5:39 AM
"there is nothing new under the sun" i always think its how you do business and ill always respect Stardock for making me see windows in a whole new way thanks to windowblinds

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