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10 May 2005

by Noel

Dashboard: A Great Move, Even Though Apple Got It Wrong

One of the highly talked about features in Tiger is the Dashboard. Basically it is a platform for little widgets coded in Javascript and CSS; things like calculators and email notifiers. At least that’s how Apple present Dashboard, and they’ve got it wrong.

To see the true importance of Dashboard we need to look at what makes Microsoft the dominant player in the computer industry. Microsoft makes most of its money from the sale of Windows and Office. Now the only reason to buy Windows is for the applications that run on it. So long as Microsoft controls the largest pool of developers Windows remain the number one OS.

It seemed that the web threatened Window’s dominance, by making the platform irrelevant. Microsoft realised this a long time ago, which is why they killed Netscape and then promptly stopped development on IE. Now browsers have continued to get better, thanks largely to the efforts of Mozilla, but yet Microsoft continues to prosper. The reason: web-based interfaces, compared to their native counterparts, suck. Right now we’re seeing some exciting developments. Starting with Oddpost and continuing with GMail and other so-called AJAX applications, web-based applications have been delivering interfaces that approach their desktop counterparts, but they aren’t there yet.

This is where Dashboard fits in. It lets you deliver rich interfaces using Javascript, HTML and CSS, principally via the canvas extension, which is independent of Dashboard per se (it works in Safari and any other WebKit application). This is a huge win for Apple. There are thousands of people who don’t know any Objective-C but do know web technologies, and now they are all potential OS X developers. Web applications are only going to grow in number, and enhancing an existing web application with a Dashboard interface isn’t that much work, so Dashboard has the potential to make OS X the preferred platform for delivering rich interfaces. Additionally, using skills learned from web development, people can start developing Dashboard applications that have nothing to do with the web. Unfortunately Apple has marketed Dashboard as a platform for little toys, not serious applications, but I think its potential will become apparent as people explore it further. And when they do Apple might finally have the momentum to seriously tackle Microsoft’s dominance.

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