Apple: Innovator & Oppressor of Independent Software:
October 27, 2003 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Apple: Innovator & Oppressor of Independent Software: As they once did with Karelia's Watson software and, to a certain extent, Panic's Audion, Apple has "borrowed" a concept from an independent, third-party developer without credit or compensation. It would seem that Steve Jobs is not as far removed from Bill Gates as he would like the Mac faithful to believe . . .
posted by aladfar (31 comments total)
Apple "borrowed" the concept from WIndows circa 1997, as did Proteron. No credit or compensation necessary.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:59 AM on October 27, 2003

I'm not sure I'd connect iTunes and Audion, since Audion wasn't the only mp3 player for MacOS and iTunes doesn't really have any functions that I'd say derived directly from Audion.

The first time I saw Apple's new task switcher, however, the first thing I thought of was LiteSwitch. I haven't checked to see if Apple's version is as configurable or as feature-rich (I suspect it isn't), but it certainly may owe a debt to Proteron.

On the other hand, LiteSwitch is nearly identical to Windows task switching, with a few additions. It's these additions that Apple didn't really implement, so you could argue that Proteron and Apple both derived their software from the Windows task switcher.
posted by mikeh at 7:03 AM on October 27, 2003

I liked how Proteron's initially posted "open letter" had a spelling error. Sweet.
posted by machaus at 7:08 AM on October 27, 2003

Yeah, Audion was cool, and Panic is a great company, but I don't see any similarity to iTunes. The Watson thing is another story though. It would be nice for Apple to take care of these folks, especially since it would cost them peanuts. Sometimes you just gotta do it for the good karma.
posted by spilon at 7:08 AM on October 27, 2003

Proteron obviously took their inspiration from Windows, but translating that into a beautifully functional application for OS X required a great deal of time and original thinking. That Apple didn't offer the least bit of compensation - which it could have done easily - is lousy.

On preview: Audion was a bit of a stretch for this analogy. Still, as a third-party development company, their bottom line was hurt by iTunes. This however, is probably a different issue.
posted by aladfar at 7:10 AM on October 27, 2003

What Armitage Shanks said. A heads-up app switcher is pretty much public domain, by now. The Watson affair, on the other hand, was ugly, but Apple has all but stopped development of Sherlock in the wake of that.
posted by stonerose at 7:22 AM on October 27, 2003

I think the problem Apple has with "taking care of these people" or even recognizing them, is that it exposes them legally. If they say, or even infer, that the feature is derived from liteswitch x, then they don't have the option of sending a $100,000 nice guy check. Instead they're in a situation where they're forced to "license" the feature, at rates which may be very fair, or may be tantamount to blackmail.

It sucks, but I have a hard time imagining a way that Apple can give credit or money to the third party developer, without creating a severe liability.
posted by mosch at 7:26 AM on October 27, 2003

This feature simply skipped a couple of generations. It was present before 10.0. nothing derived from liteswitch, no compensation necessary.
posted by Treeline at 7:34 AM on October 27, 2003

Whether this guy has a legal case or not, I will leave for the lawyers to decide. As far as the sympathy plea goes, though, it isn't working for me. This is just how the computer industry works. Ideas are cheap and everyone pulls from the same pool of inspiration. There are thousands of independent developers and only one Apple; anytime they come up with a minor feature like this, odds are good that someone they may never have even heard of has already beat them to it. Unless Apple actually used Proteron's code in their implementation, which would be amazingly unlikely, I don't see that Proteron has a case.

Furthermore, it's clear that Apple is not completely averse to purchasing third-party utilities and bundling them with the OS, since they've done it plenty of times already. That's how Stickies, WindowShade, and the menubar clock all started out. My bet is that they didn't even know "LiteSwitch" existed.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:41 AM on October 27, 2003

Note that the main page for LiteSwitch X has said for quite some time, in really big letters: "Dear Apple: You forgot some important features."
posted by waldo at 7:46 AM on October 27, 2003

On iTunes/Audion: my memory is that Apple purchased the rights to SoundJam and hired the engineers who had been working on it. So I don't see any problem there.

On LiteSwitch
1 - the company's memo would be more convincing if it had screen shots showing the pixel-by-pixel comparison.
2 - when you write a little utility that basically fixes a rough edge in an OS, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the OS company smooths out that rough edge themselves in a future release.

Little sympathy from here.
posted by alms at 7:46 AM on October 27, 2003

Actually, comments here make it sound like the very first time the feature was found in a GUI was in NeXTstep, which windows copied, which liteswitch copied.
posted by mathowie at 7:50 AM on October 27, 2003

I'm with Treeline, I used cmd-tab to toggle between apps for years in OS 9.

Looks like Proteron ripped off the look of Apple's site, tho. Guess they'll be getting a letter in the next few days.
posted by carter at 8:17 AM on October 27, 2003

Funny that Proteron's LiteSwitch website "borrows" from Apple's website...
posted by bhayes82 at 8:28 AM on October 27, 2003

errr... what he just said...
posted by bhayes82 at 8:29 AM on October 27, 2003

More jabbering here.
posted by thebigpoop at 8:29 AM on October 27, 2003

Isn't this what patents are for?
posted by scarabic at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2003

FWIW, alms is right: the basis for iTunes is not Audion, it's SoundJam, which Apple purchased outright from Cassidy & Greene, including development staff contracts.

Proteron, IMHO, has no real case that I can see. I'm sorry that a small Mac developer is taking the hit, but the idea wasn't theirs to begin with.

(Task switching was certainly in NeXTstep, but wasn't it also in some of the Windows-alternatives that used to run on top of DOS? I seem to recall that QuarterDesk's DesqView had a key-combination task switcher in it, which would predate both NeXTstep and Windows 3.x, but I'm not sure I'm remembering it correctly and the little Google searching I can do right this minute hasn't turned up any documentation to confirm this.)
posted by JollyWanker at 9:04 AM on October 27, 2003

A developer at Proteron first conceived of it.

No, they simply copied Windows, KDE, Gnome, and countless other GUI's that have the application switching concept.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:15 PM on October 27, 2003

Software patents are evil, didn't we establish that some time ago? A method of switching tasks should not be patentable, just like Amazon's one-click shopping shouldn't.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:16 PM on October 27, 2003

LiteSwitch seems to mimic the translucent rounded-corner rectangle from Apple's adjust volume/eject disc notifications. I can't believe they would lay claim to that design.

It would seem that Steve Jobs is not as far removed from Bill Gates...

Maybe so, but in the U.S. monopolies have to follow different rules than other companies. It's illegal for Microsoft to use their OS to leverage their browser, but not for Apple to do the same.
posted by hyperizer at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2003

Proteron to Apple: Hey! No fair! We copied that first!
posted by mcwetboy at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2003

oh c'mon, just DRINK the kool-aid...
posted by hulette at 2:15 PM on October 27, 2003

More troubling to me is that Apple has moved the controls for default browser and default email client from System Preferences into the Preferences windows of Safari and Mail, respectively. You can't delete Mail or Safari, because you'll need them if you ever want to change your defaults again. The new placement is counter-intuitive ("To use a browser other than Safari, I have to launch Safari?") and seems a bit like something Microsoft would do.
posted by teg at 2:37 PM on October 27, 2003

I wish iTunes was more like Audion. All my mp3s are organized as full albums folders, /artist/album/01-track.mp3 , and iTunes simply won't recognize them like that. I have to instead make sure every mp3 on the machine has correct (and consistent) ID3 tags, and then work playlists from within the "browse" window.

Audio gave the marvellous ability for "deep," file-system based playlists. I could simply drag a couple album folders into my playlist, delete the songs I didn't want to hear, and rock on. iTunes simply doesn't have that flexibility, and now that I've switched to OS X, it's maddening!

What makes it worse is that though Audion is available for OS X, the current version is crash-ridden, peculiar, and doesn't provide easy access to modify playlists once one is playing them. O, how I long to be able to use the OS9 Audion within an OS X environment! (If anyone knows of good plugins/alternatives that would solve my problem...)
posted by Marquis at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2003

Daring Fireball: "The idea that Proteron deserves credit as the 'original authors' of this feature is patently absurd. It's like claiming to have recently invented drag-and-drop."
posted by mcwetboy at 5:04 PM on October 27, 2003

How long did this company expect to make a living selling a toy like this?

Live by the cheap utility die bythe cheap utility. No sympathy.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:09 PM on October 27, 2003

I wish iTunes was more like Audion. All my mp3s are organized as full albums folders, /artist/album/01-track.mp3 , and iTunes simply won't recognize them like that. I have to instead make sure every mp3 on the machine has correct (and consistent) ID3 tags, and then work playlists from within the "browse" window.

Dude, it's a pref in iTunes. It'll even sort them for you.
posted by kfury at 12:30 AM on October 28, 2003

From Proteus's site: "What is LiteSwitch X?

Short Answer: LiteSwitch X is simply the best keyboard application switcher for Mac OS X.

Long Answer: LiteSwitch X was the original application switcher for the Mac OS - and is still the best.

Um, their short answer admits that there are other keyboard application switchers, and personal experience has shown how similarly they operate.

Their long answer is wrong. The original application switcher for the Mac OS was MultiFinder, an Apple software app through and through. Apple came up with it way back in 1987, 16 years ago.

Proteus has their heads up their asses. If they believe that they have intellectual property rights then they should patent and sue, in that order. Funny how I don't see them giving any credit to the application switchers that came before them, that gave them ideas (ahem*windows*ahem).
posted by kfury at 12:44 AM on October 28, 2003

This is the page to look at.
posted by kfury at 12:46 AM on October 28, 2003

Actually, this one's better.
posted by kfury at 1:44 AM on October 28, 2003

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