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A Proud Handcart on Apple's Railroad Tracks

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 6, 2009 4:00 AM PT

You'd think that having his flagship product torpedoed twice by Apple would turn Dan Wood a little sour toward the folks at One Infinite Loop, but that's not the case at all.

A Proud Handcart on Apple's Railroad Tracks

"I haven't found any other environment that's anywhere nearly as rewarding as the Mac," the cofounder of Alameda, Calif.-based Karelia Software told MacNewsWorld.

Wood initially founded Karelia, which is named after a musical suite by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, after the dot-com bust at the beginning of the decade.

"After being unemployed for a long time," he recalled, "I found myself with this product ready to release, and so I started selling it on the Internet, and after a few weeks realized that it was a business."

The Handcar vs. the Steam Engine

The product Wood found selling so well on the Net was Watson, a sort of Swiss Army knife of utilities for interacting with the Web.

Watson was designed to complement a popular Apple search utility called "Sherlock." However, as Sherlock matured, it eventually absorbed most of Watson's functionality.

When Wood voiced his dismay to Apple monarch Steve Jobs about Sherlock poaching Watson's features, he was told that Apple was a steam train that owned the tracks and that Karelia wasn't much more than a handcar. Not exactly encouraging words, but Wood remained resilient and used the remarks as inspiration for the company's logo -- two men pumping furiously on a handcar.

Initially, Watson benefited from sharing the limelight with Sherlock. "The product actually got us more revenue after Apple copied us than before," Wood confessed, "but it certainly put a damper on things."

"At the time, it was frustrating and annoying," he continued, "but in retrospect, it was one of these things that may have been a blessing because the product did very well, and we ended up selling the technology to Sun Microsystems."

Back on the Tracks

After the sale of Watson, Karelia went into hiatus as Wood began collecting a paycheck from Sun. About a year later, when it became apparent that Watson's conversion to Java was a dead end, Wood left Sun and, together with developer Terrence Talbot, revived Karelia.

The duo began working on a new flagship product: Sandvox, a WYSIWYG Web site design application targeted at small businesses and community groups.

"We wanted to let people build a Web site without having to understand all the intricacies of HTML," Wood explained.

Once again, though, Karelia found itself competing head to head with Apple, which was about to release its own WYSIWYG design application, iWeb.

"When we heard about iWeb," Wood recalled, "we put Sandvox into a public beta to make it clear that this was something we had been working on and not something that copied iWeb."

Ironically, one of the distinctions between Sandvox and iWeb is the former's ability to add HTML code to its designs, especially in the to Pro version of the product.

The HTML Matter

That ability to add code to pages is what attracted Steve Marx, a provider of technology services including Web site design, to the program.

"When it first came out, there wasn't a lot of access to the HTML on the pages," he told MacNewsWorld, "but they added that pretty quickly."

"Code injection and the ability to do raw HTML pages has made it a more valuable tool for me," he added.

Another thing Wood contends Sandvox has over iWeb is Google integration. "We've built in some things to specifically integrate with Google, and pages built with the program are designed to be very friendly to search engines," he said.

Sandvox also makes it easy to set up Weblog, according to Cheryl Fuller, a Belfast, Maine, psychotherapist and webmaster of

Asked what attracted her to Sandvox, she told MacNewsWorld, "I hated Moveable Type."

"I like the look of Sandvox," she continued. "I like the ease of it. I like not having to be an expert in HTML to use it."

How long Sandvox and iWeb will compete for the hearts and minds of would-be Web designers remains to be seen, but Wood remains philosophical about competing with Apple.

"If you're writing a general-purpose, useful application, it's part of the game," he said. "You might get a new competitor, and it might be Apple."

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