Things Apple Stole: Part 1 – The Dock

Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying “Good artists copy, Great artists steal” (though he was quoting someone else).

Heck, in the PBS show “Triumph Of The Nerds“, Jobs go so far as to say “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”.  And, looking at the history of Apple software… this is obviously the case.

Yet, somehow, many people now seem to consider Apple to be the source of the vast majority of software (Desktop and Mobile) innovation.

This is the first part in a series of articles that seeks to dispel that very notion.

Part 1 – The Dock

The “Dock” is a simple mechanism for launching and managing running applications.  One that has been around and in use since the 1980′s.

Many people now consider Apple to be the originator of this idea, pointing to the inclusion of a dock with the first release of MacOS X (and the later usage of a dock within iOS).

People believe this so much, in fact, that the recent releases of Ubuntu’s Unity and Gnome 3 (both of which contain implementations of a dock) have been met with declarations that they are obviously “copying Apple”.

So, let’s look at the history of the “Dock”, shall we?

1984 – First version of MacOS is released.  No Dock.

1987Arthur (the pre-cursor to Risc OS) had a nice little Dock in it.

1989RISC OS 2 had an even better Dock in it.

1989 (Later that year) – NeXTSTEP (the pre-cursor to MacOS X) had a nice little Dock in it.

1993CDE (Common Desktop Environment) released with a nice Dock.  CDE becomes a big, big deal in the Unix and Linux worlds.

1994OS/2 3.0 contained a floating dock.

2000 – AmigaOS 3.9 includes AmiDock by default.

2001MacOS X is released with a Dock.

2007iOS Launched with a dock.

2010 – Ubuntu and Gnome Shell have Docks by default.

So what do we learn from this?

1) Apple implemented a Dock in MacOS 14 years after the good folks over in Britain who created Arthur.

2) Unix, Linux, RISC OS, AmigaOS and OS/2 all have a “Dock” before MacOS does.

3) When Apple does, finally, implement a Dock in MacOS X… it has substantially fewer features than many pre-existing Docks.

You could make the argument, of course, that since Apple acquired NeXT (which MacOS X is based on) that Apple actually created (by proxy) a Dock in late 1989.  That logic is absolutely silly and ridiculous.  And here’s why:

If I, Bryan Lunduke, went out and purchased Ford Motor Company… does that mean that I created the Model T?  Of course not.

Did Apple create the Dock?  No.

Did Apple create the most feature-packed Dock?  No.

Not only that… but they were incredibly late to the party.

Now.  If someone you know makes the claim that any software organization that creates a “Dock” is “copying Apple”… you know what to tell them.

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  • aaron

    There is one big problem with your reasoning that Apple didn’t create the Dock. Apple as a company may have not, but Steve Jobs created NeXT, which created a Dock. It may not have been the first Dock, but it was close, and made some major improvements to previous iterations. So, while apple as a company didn’t create the Dock, the person who essentially was Apple did create a dock.

  • Marco

    You have enough money to buy the Ford Motor Company?

  • JairJy

    The dock is an implementation of the taskbar, who appeared on Windows 1.0 on 1985. Latter, with Windows 95, it appeared again but with the standard paradigm that follows every Windows version until Vista (with exception of the quickstart who, if I’m not wrong, comes with Win 98)

  • Mvmn

    “You could make the argument, of course, that since Apple acquired NeXT”
    Nope, I guess people would rather argue that NeXT is Steve Jobs, and Apple is Steve Jobs (-;

  • gourmet_army

    Dude, Otis Redding had a dock back in the sixties.

  • Miguel

    And also, there’s no relation between who originally created something and who it is being copied from.

    If I bring a new invention from China and suddenly all over Europe they see what I’m using, they are copying it from me. Regardless of wether I invented it myself or I copied it from someone else.

    And also. Who cares?

  • Wouter Vandenneucker

    Without a doubt aaron has an apple device.. It’s true, people are yelling Ubuntu stole apple’s idea, but face it:

    Apple took dozens of things the community created and never ever gave anything back.. Even MS is doing a lot more for the Open Source Community.

    Biggest difference though: We’re not claiming to have invented something.

  • Luke

    Innovation isn’t about coming up with a completely brand new idea … it is taking existing ideas that don’t quite work and improving it … central notion of innovation relates to renewal and improvement.

    It is like the iPod, before it came out mp3 players weren’t that good (I had a Diamond Rio), the iPod was better than everything else at the time, same with the iPhone … Smart phones weren’t that good … they took the existing idea of touch screens and a computer that can make phone calls and did one better.

    Google Maps is another example, there was other online mapping services (StreetMaps for example) , but they weren’t a lot better than scanned A-Z’s … They took what is a good idea and made it a hell of a lot better.

    In all 3 examples they took an existing idea and looked at what was wrong … fixed the problems and thus they made an improvement.

    Ranting on about who did what first is completely missing the point.

  • aikiwolfie

    With respect to innovation. What bothers me is that fact that innovations can be patented. Something built on someone else’s work can be patented by someone other than the original developer. And then those doing the patenting will then try and stop others doing the same.

    If like Apple and Steve Jobs, you are going to take other peoples work and use that as a foundation stone for something you want to build. Don’t then turn around and complain when people do the same to you. At the end of the day when there is a free exchange of ideas everybody wins.

    GNU/Linux distributions like Ubuntu are evidence of this. There is absolutely nothing unique or entirely new in Ubuntu. However what Canonical have been able to do is take the best of all worlds and bring it all together.

    Without a free exchange of ideas GNU/Linux could not have been developed at such blistering pace. Remember Apple and Microsoft had at least a decade’s head start on the Linux developers. And now Linux is considered by many to be superior or at the very least on par with main stream commercial OS’s like Windows and Mac OS X.

    And in fact Apple does draw on that free exchange of ideas to further develop OS X and iOS. Apple claims to participate in many open source projects. So I guess a lot of the anger is understandable. Microsoft have always been the outsiders. The other guys. The harbingers of doom for anybody who dares partner with them. Apple however tried to be part of the crowed. But I suspect Jobs ego got in the way. So people have been left bitter. I guess that’s what happens when you’re happy to share other peoples toys but refuse to share your own.

  • K-Bear

    Instead of going all negative on Apple why don’t you talk about the fantastic innovations that Linux has pioneered? Or are you just speaking this way about Apple in an attempt to rationalize to yourself the almost total lack of innovation in the FOSS world? And remember, Linux is a clone of Unix, it isn’t Unix, so no using Unix’s heritage as ‘FOSS innovation’.

  • jones

    so true there is this general misunderstanding about apple having invented so many new technologies like video calls (facetime) nokia has had it for quite some time now but apple stil says that theyve just invented a new technology

  • jones

    Its so sad that most people eat apples adds and promotes raw about how fantastik, new and inovative there new produkt is even when other companies have come out with a produkt much better months ago not that there is any thing wrong with promoting your produkt but apple does it in such a way that i cheats people(people who dont know a lot about tech) in to thinking that apples newest produkt is the best an that apple as a whole is much better then other companies and I do not know of any other company that does tosuch a degree. (please tell if there is)

  • jones

    but I do admit that apple has done some big things for the tech industri like the iphone and ipod in each there field they pushed there competitors to make some inovation and started the wave (for smart phones) of user friendlyness wich for that we should all be gratefull

  • jones

    nice thread

  • jones

    Wouter Vandenneucker
    I disagree ubuntu has taken a bit from windows 7 and a bit from osx and put a bit of there own in too ubuntu 11.04 and unity but they have not copied the idear some might say they have inovated

  • Misha

    Apple doesn’t make things “better”, they make them shinier. And dumbed-down. And over-priced. And they have lots of success with that because people are squirrels, they are stupid but like shiny things. And they are squirrels with a hierarchy based upon how much they paid shiny, dumbed-down things. Apple makes jewelry disguised as tech.

  • JohnMc

    There is a big difference between say Ubuntu doing something and Apple doing it. Apple has the tendency to either patent the heck out of something. Or alternately they become very secretive about what they are providing. Have you seen the code for the iPod floating around the web? Didn’t think so.

    A Ubuntu, Apache, God even Sun before the buy out were willing to commit to patches and improvement of the code base.

    That is a fundamental difference.

  • Luke


    My main complaint about the article is that the author was mistaking innovation for invention.

    If someone took my idea and improved it … and made some cash with it … then it is only myself I have to blame for not making the improvements myself.

    As to whether the Linux desktop is superior or not is a matter of contention … IMO I certainly think while it has some nice features and is very good for something which can be obtained for almost free … however I don’t think it is on par with MacOSX or Windows 7 … but this is purely a matter of opinion.


    I have to disagree with you … for some reason you see simplifying how something works so it is easier to use is “dumbing down” … I disagree … it is good Design …

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupe

  • Jay

    It isn’t about copying something. The reality is someone probably came up with the idea before you. If you can make it flow (ie: seemless operation that makes sense) you will win. Apple is very good at making a interface that flows good enough for the average joe to use. Windows has only

  • Jay

    had success a few times with flow. Linux is getting better but is not really there yet. HP, google, tivo did have the right idea on how to fix it. Hide the fact that it is linux and make it flow.

    Apple isn’t the only one who profits from making something better… 3M does it too… they even boast about it.

  • VoiceOfReason

    Innovation =/= Invention.
    I 100% agree that apple doesn’t really invent much, but they certainly do innovate a lot.
    Not necessarily with Mac OSX (though I really like the way it handles Apps, that’s one right there) but they definitely did with the iPod and the iPhone.

    “Linux” does actually invent stuff, and so does microsoft.

    In fact microsoft invents more (they were the ones that invented wobbly windows in case you don’t know :p)

  • ‘w.a.y.p.

    You know what else Apple stole… the GUI (and the mouse).

    Yes ladys and gents, Apple stole the Graphic User Interface from Xerox.

    Quote from wikipedia: “Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979. He was excited by the revolutionary mouse-driven GUI of the Xerox Alto and was keen to use these ideas back at Apple.”( ).

    P.S. An interesting film was made about Apple’s and Microsoft’s innovation and invention which touches this subject, it’s called “Pirates of Silicon Valley” ( ).
    There are also numerous documentaries but I cant remember their names…