No Mac zealots, Apple didn't invent the dock

Published on Monday, July 21, 2008 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

With Dell taking the Windows experience to the next level with the introduction of the Dell Dock, I've seen a lot of online buzz about it.  Most agree that the Dell Dock is really good but intermixed are a lot of Mac fans who use terms like "Mac rip off" or how it's a copy of the Mac dock.

imageMac zealots have a long and glorious history of retroactively claiming pre-existing concepts as being invented by Apple.  For example, the modern "widget" (end user created applets that use Javascript) was not invented by Apple.  They also didn't first appear in Konfabulator either. They appeared in Stardock DesktopX years earlier. Apple zealots usually counter by arguing that things like desktop accessories from 1981 "invented" the concept (as if the average user was going to whip out small assembly language programs).

imageI think most rational people agree that the modern widget is a mini application that can be created by end users that are tied together with a high level scripting language (i.e. Yahoo Widgets, Dashboard, Sidebar Gadgets, DesktopX).  And DesktopX borrowed the concept from IBM's worksplace shell which in turn was inspired by prior art as well.

But the controversy over widgets is nothing compared to the claim that Apple somehow invented the concept of docks.  Even allowing for the history of NeXT with its side dock, the dock concept is ancient.

 Stardock, for example, has been doing "docks" since 1994.  Object Desktop for OS/2 included things like Tab LaunchPad and Control Center. You don't see Stardock fans complaining that every sidebar is a "rip off" of Control Center. And Control Center certainly didn't invent the concept of a side-based bar or dock either.

You would be hard pressed to find many companies that have been continuously producing a dock and a sidebar as long as Stardock has -- 14 consecutive years of development. I think it's fair to say that we weren't "inspired" by an Apple OS that wouldn't exist for 7 more years from the time we started doing this sort of thing.

Tab LaunchPad on OS/2 circa 1994

Stardock makes no claims of having invented the dock.  We called our first dock Tab LaunchPad because IBM itself had created a dock for OS/2 2.0:

IBM OS/2 LaunchPad circa 1992

But let's say you're a true die-hard Steve Jobs zealot and want to argue that NeXT "invented" the dock. You'd still be wrong as docks were part of Acorn computers from the early 80s.  The point, of course, isn't who invented the dock, the argument of course is whether companies like Stardock (who wrote the Dell Dock) were somehow ripping off or stealing or what have you from the MacOS dock and I think you can see why this is such an obnoxious and offensive argument - we've been making docks since before Apple had figured out how to do preemptive multitasking.

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words.  Here is a picture of what the Macintosh looked like in 1996 (System 7.5) along with a picture of Stardock Object Desktop in 1996:

image vs. image
Mac 1996 vs. Stardock Object Desktop 1996: Which desktop do you think more closely resembles today's modern desktop? Note that Object Desktop was written during the Windows 3.1 era.

Stardock doesn't run around claiming that it invented the modern desktop experience. We don't imply or assert that everyone else is "ripping us off". Some ideas are just obvious.

The Dell Dock represents the continuing evolution of the desktop experience. Like all improvements to the user experience, inspiration can be found everywhere. But when advocates of a company or an operating system try to lay exclusive claim to all such improvements, they diminish the hard work, innovation, and inventiveness by thousands of other people from around the world who often have worked in obscurity with little glory. It is bad enough that these innovators don't get credit they deserve, it's even worse when they are so often smeared as copying those who came after.

Other Pictures:

Dell Dock

Stardock ObjectDock

Stardock ObjectDock Plus (4 different docks)

Stardock Impulse Dock