So..you want Microsoft to do it for you eh?

Published on Thursday, October 12, 2006 By Brad Wardell In 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: http://gallery.live.com.  They have a developer's area too: MicrosoftGadgets.com.

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. So..how 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 a...um, 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.  WinCustomize.com 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?