Sherlock is one of Apple’s OS X applications that never really lived up to the hype. Once featured prominently in every OS X demo and brochure, it has all but vanished … you have to poke around for a while on Apple’s site to find any mention of it at all.

Why was Sherlock a flop? It was slow, for one thing. And that slowness was very unwelcome when Sherlock itself was not an application you’d want to spend a lot of time in: once you’d found what you were looking for in Sherlock, you wanted to move on to other things. The channel interfaces weren’t especially compelling, but they weren’t especially bad, either, so I’m not sure that was the issue. Another problem was that Sherlock was an integrated application with channels, when a given user, at a given moment, would be interested in just one or two of those channels. It seemed like a heavyweight tool for lightweight tasks. Finally, the API for writing channels was sort of goofy: JavaScript mixed with XQuery, plus Interface Builder for the UIs. It didn’t encourage developers, that’s for sure.

One of the things that came along with Apple’s new product announcements yesterday was an updated set of preview pages for Tiger, the next version of OS X that’s due out in a few months. No mention of Sherlock, not that anyone should be surprised. But what struck me was the new info about Dashboard. They’ve added some new widgets to the lineup. Stocks. Yellow Pages. Dictionary and Thesaurus. Language translation. Flight tracking. A friend who watched the keynote told me that Steve demonstrated a prototype widget from eBay.

Where have I seen that lineup before? Oh yeah! In the Sherlock toolbar.

Dashboard is the new Sherlock.

That’s fine as far as it goes … but will Dashboard fare any better than Sherlock? (I won’t discuss their similar origins.) I think Dashboard solves most of the problems that harmed Sherlock:

  • It’s reportedly fast; more to the point, it’s meant to run all the time, letting you get in and out quickly.
  • The interfaces are dazzling. Sherlock’s interfaces may not have turned people away, but they weren’t great enough to fuel either user or developer excitement.
  • In one sense it’s still an integrated app, but (from what I can tell) it won’t have that feel to the user. You get the widgets you need, and that’s it.
  • The widget development model is much nicer, and is already attracting a lot of interest from developers.

I always thought Sherlock was a cool idea with an implementation that didn’t make the grade. I look forward to using its successor.