WIDGETS: Keynote by Konfabulator’s Arlo Rose

Arlo Rose, creator of desktop widget platform Konfabulator — which effectively makes him the grandfather of the widget — keynoted the conference. Notes follow.

Why the word widget? Where did that come from? When I was at Apple, we used the term widget to talk about controls in windows, in an operating system. It’s also the ball of nitrogen that makes Guinness drinkable.

It all started with a cool app built with couple of friends called Kaleidoscope, which was a revolution in themes for the Mac. Apple announces Mac OS X, bye bye theming. Too difficult to adjust, ended life of product.

I thought well crap, what am I going to do now. I was an active user of control strip modules on desktop—instant information in lefthand corner. Anything and everything I needed was in this really ugly strip that was realy poorly designed. Around the same time Audion had amazing UI for MP3s. Wanted to combine Audion and control strip but couldn’t find anyone to do it. Gave up, did dot-com thing instead.

Went to Sun. Two weeks later project canceled. Sun has this weird thing where they overpay people to do nothing. So basically Sun paid us to come up with our own stuff. This was 2002.
About a year later, Konfabulator 1.0. Amazing reviews from press but weren’t getting community of widget developers. Then focused on product rather than community, and community swelled. And this was just on Mac OS X, this was 3 or 4 percent of the market share. Why not do Windows?

Got interesting email from friend at Apple, said call ASAP. He said you’ve got a big problem come around. We were at a design meeting this morning, and the words ‘we need to steamroll Konfabulator’ came up.
Released Windows version, huge success, but nobody likes to pay for their software on this platform. There were free alternatives on Windows, and we were pretty expensive.

We started thinking maybe we should partner with somebody. Yahoo called, said it might be worth partnering with them.
Also got a call from Microsoft, who said we’re putting widgets into Vista (well, Longhorn then) and would you guys want to come work with us? Said, want to come up to Redmond? We said no.

MSN called and said we’re doing widgets, I said, we know. Turns out they weren’t talking to guys up north, but wanted to buy us.

I though, we’re doing a partnership with Yahoo, Microsoft wants to buy us, so I called Google. So Google wants to buy…asked Yahoo to buy. And we ended up at Yahoo.

First charter was to take widget engine and create a platform for developer services—a way to take APIs and show the world how to use them. Then moved to consumer side with Connected Life group.

Audience question: What’s next?

Rose: Now what we’re trying to figure out is make widgets scale into something that’s more powerful. Can you take a widget, and not turn it into a full-fledged utility, but something that’s powerful enough so you don’t have to go to the web?

Audience question: We’re you ever able to figure out a business model around widgets?

Rose: Actually, yes. Just before we went to Yahoo, the biggest thing on my mind was how are we going to sustain ourselves…was cutting partnerships with J. Crew, Staples — e.g. Staples widget on desktop, click it and it opens into catalog. And was about to do deal with Time Warner to do interesting movie tie-ins.