It's Elementary Watson
July 18, 2002 10:33 PM   Subscribe

It's Elementary Watson Apple is a big fat thief, and stealing fromthe third-party devleopers it claims to support no less. An Apple faithful, this ticks me off. Apple stole the look, very features and functions of a shareware app called Watson and put it into Sherlock3. Watson is the the very product Apple itself named a few months ago as the "Most Innovative Mac OS X Software". So, they know it exists and what it does, and instead off topping it, they took it. Pure and simple. Did Apple pay for this? Did they buy them out? Did they even ask? Nope. This is the final word from Watson's developer. Man they sound mad. I know I am. If anyone can get the word out, MF can.
posted by Dome-O-Rama (30 comments total)
How come in the FAQ it says:
When Watson -- openly inspired by Sherlock for the concept of bypassing the Web browser -- was first released in 2001, it was envisioned as Sherlock's "companion" application, focusing on Web "services" rather than being a "search" tool like Sherlock.
Sounds to me like Sherlock came first, then Watson, and Sherlock has slowly added features kinda like Watson...
posted by ericdano at 10:36 PM on July 18, 2002

Watson is pretty great (I bought it after being blown away by the movies feature), and if Sherlock 3 isn't a ripoff, it's as close as can be.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:55 PM on July 18, 2002

stealing fromthe third-party devleopers it claims to support

heh, my first thought was that you were talking about BSD.
posted by dorian at 11:31 PM on July 18, 2002

This is fucked up, basically Apple has stolen their little shareware business. Though, many could say the same thing about windows xp, which now includes zip file functionality out of the box, certain to put companies like WinZip out of business.

When I saw the jaguar preview screenshots, I thought for sure that Apple acquired the Watson guys. I just paid for Watson a couple months ago, knowing that most of the tool would show up in 10.2, but I had used it for a while before that and figured the coders deserved the money. I'm really surprised at this, I could tell they were basically folding Watson into Sherlock, but I had no idea there wasn't any deal between Apple and the developers of Watson.

Even though Watson was inspired by Sherlock, they took it in a completely different, novel direction. The beauty of Watson is that it presents an alternate view of the web, it gathers just the data you need, automatically, sans popup ads or other nonsense.

I know the Watson guys were talking about making a windows client, and I wish everytime I'm on a PC that I had Watson handy for things, so my guess is that if they port to Windows, they have the potential to sell more copies than they could to OS X users (based on raw numbers of the userbase sizes).
posted by mathowie at 11:55 PM on July 18, 2002

Mathowie, I agree. I'd never heard of Watson until this post, but now I'd like very much to have it on my PC - or at least try it out. Hopefully they'll make a PC version and still have a viable business.
posted by Xkot at 12:04 AM on July 19, 2002

Talent borrows, genius steals.

Regular MeFi readers will note that whenever we have discussed a competition whose legal terms & conditions demand that copyright in resulting ideas is handed over to the corporate sponsor, most people respond that it's fair enough, corporations need that legal safety net, and the big companies wouldn't go out of their way to steal Little Johnnie's big idea anyway.

The truth is that these days copyright protects the Intellectual Property Giants but not "we the people".
posted by skylar at 1:16 AM on July 19, 2002

10.2 includes a new saver called "aurora," which is a simplified version of this lovely of the most popular mac screensavers for X. if they can buy a saver, why can't they buy watson?
posted by patricking at 2:11 AM on July 19, 2002

Apple's bought plenty of shareware add-ons in the past and rolled them into the OS... "SuperClock!" became the familiar menu clock and Open Door's "ShareWay IP" became the basis of TCP/IP File Sharing in OS 9. WindowShade also started out as a third-party shareware hack.

I'm still bewildered as to why Apple's treated this situation any differently. Dan Watson and Karelia deserves more than just a Design Award. Recognizing it as "innovative," and then stealing it just a few months later just seems like a huge slap in the face.

Bad Apple, bad.

Oh well, if it's worked for some other companies (cough), maybe Apple figures its worth a shot.
posted by Fofer at 2:23 AM on July 19, 2002

Oh you Macheads are a bunch of whiny babies. We got used to Microsoft doing this sort of thing years ago. Jobs pulled a Gates. So what? Welcome to corporate capitalism. Sit down, shut up, and buy.
posted by fleener at 5:06 AM on July 19, 2002

I thought MS was famous for buying up other companies, not stealing their ideas?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:14 AM on July 19, 2002

I thought MS was famous for buying up other companies, not stealing their ideas?

Ironic that this statement would appear in a thread about Apple.

(nods to xerox parc, aside)
posted by warhol at 5:21 AM on July 19, 2002

Guys, i'm 99% certain Sherlock 3 was began before Watson shipped/was announced at all. (which was late 2001) But yeah, the similarities are pretty amazing.
posted by benh57 at 5:45 AM on July 19, 2002

Now wait a minute. Before we call this "stealing," we need to know what exactly was allegedly stolen. My impression is that stealing code is much more serious than mimicking functionality and appearance. If Apple has ripped code from Watson, that's flagrant theft.

If, on the other hand, Sherlock now just looks similar and does similar things, we've got a whole different ball of wax. Apparently, Sherlock did come first; the Watson developers admit they were inspired by Sherlock right on the page linked above. Further, some interface similarities should be expected, since Apple is pretty rigorous about the UI standards it follows. If the Watson developers have chosen to follow the same standards, and both want the Aqua look, then I'm not suprised that they look the same.

Lastly, the claim of functional identity is not well substantiated by the Watson folks. The screenshots they claim are so similar are tiny, and there's no way to tell if there are different options and functions available in Sherlock. Let's face it, it's not like these search apps are a brand-spanking new original idea. Even the Watson guys admit that Sherlock has been around for a while. They shouldn't be surprised when Sherlock gets improved and has added functionality.

Disclaimer: I don't use an Apple, and so I don't really know anything about either of these apps.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:08 AM on July 19, 2002

I actually feel ambivalent about this - because Watson was really just scraping other sites content and reselling it. My guess is people will keep making plugins for Watson anyway (like the new baseball plugin) and that sales won't be too affected.
posted by djacobs at 6:26 AM on July 19, 2002

I've heard the "Sherlock 3 was in development first" argument in other places, and I'd like to see someone back it up.

Regardless, I think there are two things here:
- "Who stole from whom." I don't think this is a very cut-and-dry case of Apple cribbing someone else's idea. Watson is cool, really cool, but I think it also evolutionary, not revolutionary. If you've used Sherlock 2, it offers similar functionality (searching the web via a plug-in based, non-browser interface), just not as well done. Watson/Sherlock 3 is a logical next step for the app to take.

- "What's the right thing to do?" Even if Apple is technically in the right regarding I/P, they had to see this fracas coming. They should have just paid off Karelia and kept their mouths shut. $100k + a non-disclosure contract would probably have made them happy, and is worth a lot more than the bad publicity this has generated.
posted by mkultra at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2002

Apple has shipped a search tool called Sherlock for years, but Sherlock 2 and Sherlock 3 (the Watson rip-off) are day and night. Sherlock 3 and Watson are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

I'm extremely disappointed. Like Fofer said, Apple has bee much better about this type of thing in the past -- the famous iTunes is just SoundJam plus G-Force, after all. I'm probably going to register Watson even though I'll certainly never use it once Sherlock 3 is out.
posted by sudama at 6:56 AM on July 19, 2002

Apple has a long history of being really pleasant for 3rd party developers to deal with. Just ask the guys who Apple told "Sure, develop an entire business around making non-mac hardware that will run MacOS, we'd love you to! And don't worry, we won't yank the rug out from under you in a year..."
posted by GriffX at 7:13 AM on July 19, 2002

GriffX, who are you talking about? Executor ( ?

I wonder if Watson and Ardi can help each other using Ardi's "Carbonless Copies"
posted by djacobs at 7:21 AM on July 19, 2002

No, he means the short-lived Apple clone era, where people like Motorola, Umax, and (most notably) PowerComputing made cheap Mac hardware.

To be fair, it wasn't so cut and dry- during that time, Jobs staged his coup, then (rightly or wrongly) pointed out that the cloners were cannibalizing existing market share rather than expanding the user base, which was ultimately taking the core business away from Apple.

Oh hey, I made a pun!
posted by mkultra at 7:26 AM on July 19, 2002

Hmm... So is it ethical to mimic functionality in software? What about the bnetd guys who got shut down for develloping and running a Battlenet server clone.
posted by ODiV at 7:27 AM on July 19, 2002

But what was the "functionality" stolen? Was Watson selling the content, or the presentation of the content? Would Watson have existed without Yahoo to scrape?

On the other hand, I'm pleased when people take content from randomWalks, but annoyed when I see an uncredited use of sudama's links open windows code.
posted by djacobs at 7:51 AM on July 19, 2002

In theory, if the Watson people had a patentable mechanism (in the UI, not in the code), they should have patented it. If they didn't have one, then they didn't invent anything, and Apple was just inspired by the same prior art. If they did, and they didn't patent it before releasing it to the public, it's fair game.

As a UI designer, and a screen-scrape hacker, I'd say there's nothing in Watson that isn't the "obvious" optimal way to present the information those "Web services" provide, so the only innovation is treating those sites as services, and that's an awfully common idea.
posted by nicwolff at 8:20 AM on July 19, 2002

i think it's entirely ethical to mimic functionality in software. the author of mIRC took the source code of a free irc client, ircII, and slapped on a window interface as well as a price (though sharewared, and to knowledge not crippled). mozilla borrowed tabbed browsing from opera, didn't it? microsoft's internet explorer borrowed the notion of integrated email and news in a web browser, didn't it?

there's a long history of this sort of thing. watson's functionality wasn't so simple to replicate that it could have understandably been lifted. i think apple should have bought watson and compensated karelia. in that, i think apple goofed. it's possible apple viewed karelia as a competitor with regards to their goals for sherlock, but i do think it would have been cheaper to buy the software than to waste money on the programmer(s) needed to replicate the utility. there's revenge for you, in a small way: i'd think apple's choice was costlier to them than buying watson would have been. but no one's accusing apple of managing their money well.
posted by moz at 8:33 AM on July 19, 2002

Though, many could say the same thing about windows xp, which now includes zip file functionality out of the box, certain to put companies like WinZip out of business.

Y'know what's weird though? When I installed WinXP onto my fresh new machine, I took one of the usual steps of setting up a new machine and installed... WinZip! I didn't know for months that there was zip functionality out of the box. I just laughed when I found out and kept using WinZip. MS really pushed hard to winnow down the documentation of their products, but now it's so badly done that people miss features right in front of them.
posted by holycola at 9:20 AM on July 19, 2002

Another question to look at here is if Apple's position as the OS maker gives them an unfair advantage in this matter. Netscape argued as much in their case against Microsoft concerning Internet Explorer: that IE was bundled with Windows gave MS an unfair advantage and made it extremely difficult for Netscape to sell their product. In the same way, Sherlock 3 being bundled with OS X might be an unfair advantage for Apple.

(Of course, IE was a much better product than Netscape's browser, and Sherlock 3 looks to be superior to Watson (no messy screenscraping, more features, etc.), so who can tell what is unfair or not?)
posted by jkottke at 9:24 AM on July 19, 2002


the fact that IE was bundled with windows installations isn't such a big deal to me. many programs are bundled with operating systems, and apple sure has bundled a bunch in their time. the problem with IE was that it replaced the explorer program; they are both, in principle, one and the same. that ticked people off because, even if you didn't want to use IE, you practically had to in any case. (i believe Explorer acts as a proxy for filesystem access as well, so almost everything you do is through Explorer and thus through Internet Explorer.) the nature of IE's integration was also such that it opened much faster while providing similar functionality to netscape. (that is to say, IE's feature set gets loaded when you boot the computer rather than when you run the program. that's a big benefit to IE and microsoft.) i think there's always been more to the complaint about IE's integration than that the software is bundled with the installation, and i think most media i've seen have done a poor job in communicating that.
posted by moz at 10:13 AM on July 19, 2002

Without commenting on the Watson/Sherlock situation one way or the other, this isn't new behavior from Apple. Back in the System 6 & 7 days there were a lot of shareware developers creating interface enhancements. BeHierarchic and spring loaded folders come to mind immediately. Then Apple rolled these features into System 8 (or was it 7.5) and the shareware developers were left out in the cold.
posted by alan at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2002

this isn't new behavior from Apple.
Didn't thay do something like this to Dave Winer?
posted by thirteen at 2:08 PM on July 19, 2002

Well, I've gone ahead and registered my Watson now. Who knows when I'll pay $129 (or $69) for the 10.2 upgrade anyhow. And I love watching movie trailers. I know Yahoo's cookies are hard to crack, but I'd like to see a fantasy team tracker built into the baseball plugin.

I'd also like to hear the Dave Winer story.
posted by djacobs at 7:20 PM on July 19, 2002

Dave Winer was involved with the early idea of AppleScript and ended up having his Frontier scripting environment compete with Apple's own built-in AppleScript. Since people wanted to use Apple's own product, his ended up getting abandoned by users as a general purpose scripting tool for the Mac. Here is a history of Frontier written by Dave Winer. He was apparently livid at the time that he gave up on Frontier as an AppleScript-like product, but seems pretty restrained in this history.
posted by finn at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2002

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