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Developer hopes Apple lightning won't strike twice

After spending more than a year creating new Web page tools, Dan Wood hopes Apple won't release a similar program.

Mac developer Dan Wood knows what happens when Apple Computer has the same idea he does.

A couple of years back, his small firm, Karelia Software, released a set of consumer Web services known as Watson. Some months later, Apple added a very similar set of utilities under the Sherlock 3 moniker.

Now Wood is worried that history is about to repeat itself--or, as he puts it, that lightning is going to strike twice.

Karelia has been working on a program called Sandvox, a set of tools designed it to make it easier for people to publish their own rich Web site with photos, audio and other features typically not found on personal Web sites.

"For years, Macintosh users have been clamoring for an easy, elegant way to get their content--photo albums, Web logs, just basic sites--published on the Web," Wood said in a statement. "We created Sandvox because there were no other applications that 'got it.'"

But having seen the evidence that Apple is readying something called iWeb that it will likely announce at Macworld this week, Wood is apparently concerned that perhaps Apple "got it" too. So he decided to release Sandvox in a public beta form on Monday.

"We decided that if iWeb does happen and it gets a lot of publicity this week, we wanted to make sure that we weren't an also-ran," Wood said in an interview, adding that the head start matters "even if only by a day we are beating iWeb to release, or at least to announcement."

This time around, Wood doesn't think Apple took the idea from him.

"The reality is Apple is looking at the big markets and the consumer and that is where our ideas tend to come," Wood said. "At this point it's a coincidence. But it's an unfortunate coincidence."

Apple also came under fire in 2004 for its Dashboard feature in Tiger, which some said was awfully similar to Arlo Rose's Konfabulator program.

Of course, for Wood, things actually worked out in the end with Watson. He ended up selling the technology to Sun Microsystems and accepting a job there. Similarly, Rose ended up selling Konfabulator to Yahoo.

Wood said he stayed at Sun until 2004, when he started working on Sandvox. At the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference last June, Wood showed off previews of Sandvox, hoping to get better feedback about how it was using Apple's WebKit and Core Data technology. Wood also thought Karelia was closer to releasing the program than it was.

"Of course, since we started the project, I've always been looking over my shoulder at Apple," he said.

Karelia originally had planned to release a final version of Sandvox in late January or early February. However, Wood said the final version will now come later as the small company scrambles to deal with bug reports and other support matters for the beta. "Putting out a public beta like this is going to slow us down a bit," Wood said.

But, he added, it's better to be first out of the gate. "We just had to turn on a dime and get this thing released as soon as possible," he said. "That's one advantage of being a small company."

Apple declined to comment for this story.