When in early 2006, Microsoft unveiled some of the new features to come in Windows Vista, some Apple followers were quick to point out the similarities between the Windows Sidebar and the Dashboard introduced in Mac OS X 10.4. Both of these features host small applets, snippets of code that provide at-a-glance access to information such as weather updates.
However, during a recent clear-out at IT Week's offices, I discovered some faded old presentation slides from a Microsoft reviewer's workshop for Windows XP and Office XP. There, in a presentation given by Rick Rashid of Microsoft's research division, is a screenshot showing an early version of the Windows Sidebar.
Back then, the technology was called Sideshow and was being used internally by some Microsoft workers, and I now recall that Rashid gave a brief demonstration, showing how it displayed the status of his instant messaging buddy list and how many unread emails were sitting in his inbox.
This is not quite the same as the Sidebar and Gadgets that ship as standard with Vista, but still recognisably the same concept. My notes accompanying the slides are dated 6th April 2001, which pre-dates the launch of OS X 10.4 by four years.
Rashid also talked about other projects that Microsoft was working on, including something called TerraServer, which from the old slides looks remarkably similar to Google Earth. As part of a user interface talk, he also demonstrated a Pocket PC handheld that had been fitted with motion sensors so that the display scrolled up or down or panned left or right, depending on how it was tilted. Sound familiar?
Perhaps Microsoft is in danger of following the example of Xerox's former Palo Alto Research Center (Parc), which is known for inventing useful things such as the graphical user interface, but failing to capitalise on them?
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