Microsoft Gadgets, and Innovation: "

A lot of the comments in the initial post on the Microsoft Gadgets blog are complaints that the Microsoft is copying ideas from Apple's dashboard. First of all, people should give credit where it is due and acknowledge that Konfabulator is the real pioneer when it comes to desktop widgets. More importantly, the core ideas in Microsoft Gadgets were pioneered by Microsoft not Apple or Konfabulator.

From the post A Brief History of Windows Sidebar by Sean Alexander

Microsoft 'Sideshow*' Research Project (2000-2001)

While work started prior, in September 2001, a team of Microsoft researchers published a paper entitled, 'Sideshow: Providing peripheral awareness of important information' including findings of their project.
The research paper provides screenshots that bear a striking resemblance to the Windows Sidebar. The paper is a good read for anyone thinking about Gadget development. For folks who have visited Microsoft campuses, you may recall the posters in elevator hallways and Sidebar running on many employees desktops. Technically one of the first teams to implement this concept

*Internal code-name, not directly related to the official, ‘Windows SideShow™’ auxiliary display feature in Windows Vista.>

Microsoft ‘Longhorn’ Alpha Release (2003)

In 2003, Microsoft unveiled a new feature called, 'Sidebar' at the Microsoft Professional Developer’s Conference. This feature took the best concepts from Microsoft Research and applied them to a new platform code-named, 'Avalon', now formally known as Windows Presentation Foundation...

Microsoft Windows Vista PDC Release (2005)

While removed from public eye during the Longhorn plan change in 2004, a small team was formed to continue to incubate Windows Sidebar as a concept, dating back to its roots in 2000/2001 as a research exercise. Now Windows Sidebar will be a feature of Windows Vista. Feedback from customers and hardware industry dynamics are being taken into account, particularly adding support for DHTML-based Gadgets to support a broader range of developer and designer, enhanced security infrastructure, and better support for Widescreen (16:10, 16:9) displays. Additionally a new feature in Windows Sidebar is support for hosting of Web Gadgets which can be hosted on sites such as or run locally. Gadgets that run on the Windows desktop will also be available for Windows XP customers – more details to be shared here in the future.

So the desktop version of 'Microsoft Gadgets' is the shipping version of Microsoft Research's 'Sideshow' project. Since the research paper was published a number of parties have shipped products inspired by that research including MSN Dashboard, Google Desktop and Desktop Sidebar but this doesn't change the fact that the Microsoft is the pioneer in this space.

From the post Gadgets and by Sanaz Ahari was initially released on February 2005, on – since then we’ve been innovating regularly (,, and working towards accomplishing our goals:

  • To bring the web’s content to users through:
    • Rich DHTML components (Gadgets)
    • RSS and behaviors associated with RSS
    • High customizability and personalization
  • To enable developers to extend their start experience by building their own Gadgets

Yesterday marked a humble yet significant milestone for us – we opened our 'Atlas' framework enabling developers to extend their experience. You can read more it here: The key differentiators about our Gadgets are:

  • Most web applications were designed as closed systems rather than as a web platform. For example, most customizable 'aggregator' web-sites consume feeds and provide a fair amount of layout customization. However, the systems were not extensible by developers. With, the experience is now an integrated and extensible application platform.
  • We will be enriching the gadgets experience even further, enabling these gadgets to seamlessly work on Windows Sidebar

The stuff is really cool. Currently with traditional portal sites like MyMSN or MyYahoo, I can customize my data sources by subscribing to RSS feeds but not how they look. Instead all my RSS feeds always look like a list of headlines. These portal sites usually use different widgets for display richer data like stock quotes or weather reports but there is no way for me to subscribe to a stock quote or weather report feed and have it look the same as the one provided by the site. fundamentally changes this model by turning it on its head. I can create a custom RSS feed and specify how it should render in using JavaScript which basically makes it a gadget, no different from the default ones provided by the site.

From my perspective, we're shipping really innovative stuff but because of branding that has attempted to cash in on the 'widgets' hype, we end up looking like followers and copycats.

Marketing sucks.


(Via Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life.)

Posted for historic annotation purposes (re. Widgets as Microsoft didn't copy Apple here at all; Apple just packaged this better at the expense of Konfabulator as already noted above). And yes, Marketing sucks big time!!