Software development is rarely easy. Programmers face technical challenges, bugs, and tight schedules – on top of thinking of a useful product, bringing it to market quickly at a good price, and distancing that product from its competition. Computer users reserve some of their highest praise for the programmers who negotiate this obstacle course, and every day brings new developers trying to make their mark on the Macintosh.
But if you want the rewards, you must do the work. One of this year’s new shareware developers, Gadget Software, turned to outright theft and deception, redistributing existing utilities under its own name with the barest of cosmetic changes. The "company" has come under increasing pressure since MWJ first exposed one of the thefts two weeks ago; now it seems that "Gadget Software" has disappeared into thin air. No matter what, it’s a story of piracy, deceit, fraud, and arrogance rarely seen in the Macintosh shareware world.
Faster Follies — The problems started a few months ago with a $20 utility called Faster from Gadget Software that promised to make your Macintosh up to three times faster. Most experienced Macintosh users should have been instantly skeptical of such an assertion. If there was a simple software trick that would make the computer three times faster than before, you’d think Apple would have built it into the Mac OS or that a major software company would have purchased it .
Software can’t make hardware faster. If your iMac has a 266 MHz PowerPC G3 microprocessor in it, software can’t change it into a 400 MHz model. The closest option is overclocking, a hardware trick that runs microprocessors faster than their rated speed.
In reality, Faster was far more pathetic. The software didn’t involve any acceleration techniques at all – it simply removed the Mac OS’s built-in delay routines that keep simple tasks that older Macs could perform sufficiently quickly – like scrolling – usable on today’s blindingly fast Macs. Faster 1.x works by patching these routines so there is no delay. Suddenly things look faster – rectangles zoom faster, scrolling is quicker, animations zip right along – but no important tasks are performed any faster.
Stealing Respect — The only real way for a software product to squeeze more performance out of your hardware (not make it faster, mind you, but more efficient) is to reallocate how the microprocessor spends its available cycles. Ideally, you don’t want the computer wasting much, if any time on unimportant tasks when an important task is in progress. This is what utilities like Orchard Software’s CPU Doubler and Clarkwood Software’s Peek-A-Boo do – they let you override how the Mac OS chooses which program receives the most processor time.
In late April, Gadget Software released Faster 2.0, adding similar features to the otherwise-worthless product. This caught our eye at MWJ, for the interface Gadget "chose" was nearly identical to that of the $79 CPU Doubler. Both products assigned applications "priority" numbers between 1 and 64 with a default of 32. The Faster 2.0 interface also copied CPU Doubler’s method of excluding applications, of picking keys that avoid loading the extension at startup, and of turning the whole thing on and off.
So we took a closer look under the hood and were appalled. Faster 2.0 is a direct rip-off of CPU Doubler. Gadget Software just replaced the human interface and copyright notices with its own, and left the actual code intact. The cdev resource still contained the routine names from CPU Doubler, such as InitCPUDoubler and CloseCPUDoubler. And Gadget had no legal right to the code: Orchard Software president Mike Jonas told MWJ, "We have not in any way given Gadget Software permission in any form to use any of our software in their applications."
This is plagiarism of the worst kind.
When Orchard Software informed Gadget that its deception had been noted, Gadget posted on its Web site that it would soon release a version of Faster 2.0 "without the CPU Doubler technology." The site read, "We will tell you the whole story, and prepare to laugh. I hope the author will accept us to publish the stupid joke we played on him." As Gadget posted this, the company also released Faster 2.1, which merely hid the CPU Doubler code better. In Faster 2.1, the main interface is a REALbasic application provided by Gadget Software that makes sure you’ve paid your shareware fee – that’s right, Gadget added code to make sure you paid them for someone else’s work. Gadget may have portrayed the plagiarism as a "joke," but as we’ll see, the company’s own conduct clearly shows that theft of software was the rule, not the exception.
Since MWJ broke the story that Faster 2.0 contains stolen CPU Doubler code, Gadget Software released two new programs. Upon further scrutiny, both are even worse than Faster 2.0 – one is a byte-for-byte copy of pre-existing software, and one is nearly so.
WindowApp 1.0 — In early May, Gadget released WindowApp 1.0. This freeware utility makes your application menu hierarchical – instead of just an item for each application, WindowApp changes it so that each application’s entry has a sub-menu that lists each window open in that application.
Sound familiar? Hiro Yamamoto released his freeware ApplWindows to do the same task in 1993. Over the next four years, ApplWindows evolved into a control panel with modifiable settings, but 1.0 was a simple extension – just like WindowApp 1.0. (ApplWindows is no longer actively maintained, and is unreliable under Mac OS 8.5 and later.)
This is no coincidence. In a letter to MWJ, Hiro Yamamoto confirmed that WindowApp 1.0 is a byte-for-byte copy of ApplWindows 1.0. Gadget Software merely replaced the icon and version resources with their own – Yamamoto’s actual code in the INIT resource, as well as the Finder balloon help resource and the FREF resource, are identical to the ApplWindows original.
Yamamoto wrote to Gadget Software and asked them to stop distributing WindowApp and to stop claiming copyright on his work. He shared Gadget’s response, which we print here in its entirety: "Hello, We made it. WE MADE IT! Heh heh…Anyway, WindowApp is removed. Also, it was free. Cheers, GS." The company is unapologetic for its outright theft of someone else’s work, and insists that they "made it." This could well be true – but they made it out of ApplWindows, and that’s simply unacceptable.
Magnet Menu 2.3 — Just last week, Gadget Software released Magnet Menu 2.3, a $20 utility that opens menus without clicking. The new release promised better compatibility and lots of bug fixes. Unfortunately, so did AutoMenus Pro 3.5.1, a $15 shareware menu utility last revised in 1997 by the seemingly defunct Night Light Software. The list of changes in Magnet Menu 2.3 looks a lot like AutoMenus 3.5.1’s release notes, with observations added to make it seem like more bug fixes.
When we took a look, Gadget’s chicanery again failed to withstand scrutiny. All the human interface elements are different between the two programs – icons, pictures, some text, some cursors, and dialog boxes. But all other resources are identical, almost byte for byte.
Especially damning are the TEXT resources that provide online help – they are unchanged from AutoMenus Pro, still refer to AutoMenus Pro, and contain the AutoMenus Pro registration telephone numbers and E-mail addresses! Gadget Software was not as good at resource editing and stealing software as they might have thought.
Other Products — To prove that a given piece of software is plagiarized, we must compare it to the original version. That’s difficult with the rest of Gadget Software’s products – we suspect they may be "borrowed," but we do not know from where they may be borrowed, so we’re left only with suspicions.
SuperSherlock purports to be a faster and more convenient file finding utility than Apple’s Sherlock. Ready Software, a company that now allegedly owns the Gadget Software domain name (more on Ready Software below), maintains that the $15 SuperSherlock is a rip-off of a utility called Arriba.
SuperSelect is typical of a kind of utility popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It provides keyboard access to buttons in dialog boxes and alert boxes. Gadget’s $15 utility includes 1.1 MB REALbasic applications to nag you about registration, but the actual work is done by the 96K "SuperSelect 3 Demo" control panel, which contains only 68K code. It almost defies belief that people who could write a 96K control panel for adding keystrokes to dialog boxes would add 2 MB to its distribution for registration nags.
Loaded 1.6 is a series of three applications, masquerading as extensions, plus another REALbasic application controlling them (just like a REALbasic application controls Faster 2.1 even though the real code is in a separate file). The $20 utility purports to load extensions after startup and defragment RAM, among other functions. It sounds like an old utility we’ve heard of called INIT Runner, but we haven’t been able to locate a copy for comparison. We don’t know Loaded’s provenance, but the same signs are there: the actual work done by 68K code though the controlling program is a PowerPC-native REALbasic application.
After our discoveries in the past two weeks, anything Gadget Software says is suspect, and this is no exception. We’ve already seen that Ready Software can’t possibly own Faster 2.x, since it contains Orchard Software’s code; Orchard Software president Mike Jonas told MWJ on 12-May-00 that discussions with Gadget Software over reparations are now stalled due to Ready Software’s apparent assimilation of Gadget. Ready Software may own Faster 1.x or Loaded, but we’ve also seen that those products can’t live up to their billing, and versions 1.x of Faster and Loaded can’t possibly work as advertised.
Ted Landau of MacFixIt shared with MWJ a letter he received from the new company on 12-May-00, that answers few questions. In the letter, "John" of Ready Software (no last name, though subsequent correspondence with MacFixIt identifies the sender as John Vollet, in Seillans, France) says that his company actually owns Loaded (which is really called FormulaOne) and Faster (really called Hare). Gadget Software was supposed to be beta-testing the products, says John, and instead stole them and published them on the Web under the Gadget name. John also says that Gadget stole Magnet Menu 2.1 before pirated AutoMenus Pro code was included.
Even if Ready Software did write Faster and Loaded, the programs don’t seem useful. Ready says it’s as much a victim of Gadget Software as Orchard Software or Night Light Software. But Ready’s product line looks a lot like Gadget’s did before Gadget got ambitious; Ready Software is in the same small town in France as Gadget Software was, and Ready Software has no Web site (they’ve written to MWJ through a Hotmail address). Plus, if Gadget Software stole Faster back in March, why did Ready Software only act when Gadget’s outright theft of other products was exposed? It’s all still quite murky.
We sincerely hope that the end of Gadget Software marks the end of stolen software with removed copyright notices, resource-edited to appear new and original. If Ready Software turns out to be an attempt to perpetuate the same tricks while dumping the tainted Gadget name, they’ll be under heavy scrutiny from the Macintosh community. If Ready Software truly is a victim of piracy, they deserve another chance – hopefully marketing utilities that can live up to their advertising. Either way, let’s hope the spirit of Gadget is long gone.
[Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MWJ, the Weekly Journal for Serious Macintosh Users, and is busily preparing the reintroduction of the daily MDJ and the monthly MMJ. Next week’s issue of MWJ will include thorough coverage live from WWDC 2000. You can learn more about MWJ and check out a free three-issue trial subscription at the URL below.]