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Oct 98 Factory Floor

Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: From The Factory Floor

A PowerPlant Update

by Greg Dow and Dave Mark, ©1998 by Metrowerks, Inc., all rights reserved

This month's column is the start of a series on PowerPlant. We'll start off with a short interview with the godfather of PowerPlant, Greg Dow. Look for more on PowerPlant in next month's column.

Gregory Dow pretends to be the creator and chief architect of PowerPlant at Metrowerks. In reality, he is the sock puppet of a stuffed pink bear named Snuffles, who enjoys watching television, doing backflips, and casino gambling.

Dave: How would you suggest someone get started learning PowerPlant?

Greg: The best way to learn PowerPlant is to come up with an idea for a program that you'd like to write and then begin reading The PowerPlant Book which comes with CodeWarrior. While reading the first few chapters of the book and performing the code exercises, think about how the concepts apply to your program.

After you absorb the basic concepts, create a new project for your program using one of the PowerPlant stationery projects. As you read about features in the book, try implementing them in your project. Also, concurrently read the first few chapters of the manual for Constructor, which is the visual editor for PowerPlant. If you're too impatient to finish the entire book, at least read enough to reach the point where you can build menus and windows, and add code to respond to menu selections and manipulate views.

As you continue to work on your program, look at the sample PowerPlant projects on the CodeWarrior reference CD and at the PowerPlant Contributed Class Archives on the Metrowerks web site:

Very often, someone else has already done something similar to what you want to do.

Finally, participate in the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.mac.oop.powerplant. Follow the discussions, ask your own questions, and answer other's questions if you can. John C. Daub, one of the PowerPlant programmers at Metrowerks, and I read every message on this newsgroup and frequently answer questions.

Dave: Tell me about some of the more recent additions that have made PowerPlant easier to use.

Greg: The LString class provides many routines for creating and manipulating the Pascal-style strings (the first byte is a length count) used by the Mac Toolbox. For example, it can concatenate strings, find substrings within a string, and load strings from resources.

Based on some recent postings on the PowerPlant newsgroup, I just added new functions for converting between strings and floating point numbers. These conversion routines use the Toolbox's StringToExtended and ExtendedToString functions, which have flexible formatting options that account for country-based differences such as the currency symbol and whether to use a comma or period for the decimal point.

The LRadioGroupView and LTabGroupView classes are replacements for the old LRadioGroup and LTabGroup classes. As the names imply, the new classes are views, which makes them easier to create in the Constructor visual editor. I wrote the old classes before Constructor existed, so I didn't consider the problems of dealing with non-visual elements.

Another improvement is a set of debugging classes that John Daub wrote. These classes help stress test a program and provide diagnostic information while a program is running. For example, you can have a debugging window which dynamically displays the chain of command and visual hierarchy.

Dave: How did Mac OS 8 affect PowerPlant?

Greg: Mac OS 8 introduced many changes to the standard Mac interface. The platinum appearance makes traditional controls such as buttons and check boxes look gray and puffy. And there are many new controls, progress bars, sliders, and buttons containing graphics.

PowerPlant already had versions of most of these controls based on the Apple Grayscale Appearance (AGA). Apple published the AGA specification in technical notes for developers, giving pixel-level detail on how to draw each visual element. Robin Mair wrote PowerPlant classes for these visual elements, mostly for internal use by Metrowerks for the interface of the CodeWarrior IDE (integrated development environment). Unfortunately, the Mac OS 8 versions of the visual elements did not follow the AGA specification.

Whenever Apple introduces new OS features, I need to decide how to support them in PowerPlant and whether to have backward compatibility. Backward compatibility means supporting the same or similar features on older versions of the OS.

In this case, it meant implementing all the new Mac OS 8 visual elements with code that runs on System 7. The goal was to allow PowerPlant users to write programs that look and work the same on System 7 and Mac OS 8. So, we made the AGA classes obsolete, and wrote new ones that have the Mac OS 8 look and feel. We call these the GA (Grayscale Appearance) implementations.

At the same time, we wrote classes that create the controls using the new Toolbox calls in Mac OS 8. We call these the AM (Appearance Manager) implementations.

To make a program that runs on both System 7 and Mac OS 8, a programmer can always use the GA version, or can use the hybrid approach of performing a runtime check and using the AM version if the machine supports it. The hybrid approach has more code, but has the advantage of tracking changes that Apple makes to the new Toolbox calls in future versions of Mac OS.

Dave: What about PowerPlant and Carbon?

Greg: Carbon will support a subset of the current Toolbox. Fortunately, PowerPlant does not use many Toolbox calls that Carbon won't support. Typical PowerPlant programs are over 90% Carbon-compatible according to Apple's Carbon Dater program. As Apple provides more details, we will make PowerPlant 100% Carbon-compatible.

One thing that you can do now to prepare for Carbon is to use Navigation Services instead of Standard File to present the dialogs that ask a user to open or save a file. I just finshed adding Navigation Services support to PowerPlant. You can read about Navigation Services by downloading the SDK (software development kit) from Apple's web site at

Dave: What do you see as the next big directional change for PowerPlant?

Greg: Presently, PowerPlant view layouts are static. There is no built-in mechanism for creating, rearranging, and resizing views based on content or runtime conditions. Future versions of PowerPlant will have better support for changing program appearance and behavior at runtime.

As part of this runtime adaptability, visual editing will be part of the framework itself. By attaching special editor objects, you'll be able to directly manipulate visual elements while a program is running.


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