Nov 99 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Viewpoint
by Chris Espinosa, Manager, Components & Scripting, Apple Computer, Inc.
15 years in the computer business is a long time. According to Moore's Law, in 15 years, chip densities double 10 times, giving us a thousandfold increase in computing power. When this magazine was first published in 1984, 10 megabytes was a good size hard disk; the leading software applications were Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar, and dBase III; an ANSI standards committee had just been formed to standardize the C programming language; and Microsoft's total yearly revenue was under $100 million dollars, and its stock wasn't publicly traded.
Nowadays 10 Megabytes is a decent application memory partition; the leading software applications are Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Internet Explorer; the programming community has had a brief flirtation with Objective-C, a fling with visual Rapid Application Development environments, then settled down with C and C++, with a little Java and Perl to make things interesting. And Microsoft is bigger than AT&T, GM, and U. S. Steel combined - but, then again, Yahoo! is bigger than GM and U. S. Steel.
One thing I like in all this change, though, is the way that MacTech continues to open new topics to the Macintosh programming community. Keeping up with any changing technology is hard, and there are several that I've just given up trying to follow. I could once wire up digital logic circuits, but that was when there were four NAND gates on one chip. A machine-language I/O loop for the Apple II was simple, but an interrupt-time handler for FireWire or USB is a lot harder. But I can look at recent issues of MacTech and learn something I didn't know how to do before, about 3D graphics or WebObjects or PDF plug-ins. This is basic knowledge that I might not normally go and seek out, but once I know about it I may be able to apply it in something I'm doing down the road.
The Getting Started section of MacTech has always impressed me. Anybody coming into the Mac programming world has to go through a trial by fire: just knowing how to write in C is just enough to get you into deep trouble. Without understanding how the Mac launches processes and allocates memory, without basic MacsBug skills, and without the little details (like what those Finder flag bits actually do) that we all take for granted, a new programmer could get incredibly frustrated. It's great that MacTech brings this knowledge out and keeps it fresh to help bring new people into the Macintosh programming community.
And more than most other magazines, MacTech has been about community. The MacTech sponsored Developer Central sections at MacWorld Expo are social events. It's great to see my favorite hundred people from the Mac development world year after year, with great new demos and products to make the developer's life easier. These people wear two hats. Like most developers, they live and die by the quality of development tools on the Mac. But they're the ones who create the tools, so there's an interdependence that transcends the normal commercial competition among vendors. MacTech, through its technical content and ads, Developer Central, the MacDev-1 mailing list, and the large MacTech web site, gives this community a place to meet, exchange ideas, and reach developers.
With the explosion of the Internet in the past five years MacTech has broadened its coverage from just the Mac world to topics like CGIs, server-side includes, and XML. It's also ventured out into many possible "next big things" like Palm OS programming, and the BeOS. I think this is one of the reasons that MacTech is still around after 15 years. Not to imply that Mac might go away (though eventually everything does, and we were far too close for comfort just 3 years ago), but an organization that weds itself to one platform lives and dies by that platform. MacTech readers found themselves in this pickle several times, but MacTech drove on. Without jumping on every new bandwagon to come around, MacTech has delivered to us a good survey of interesting things that might be big and have some relevance to the Mac programmer. That some of these crashed and burned is just part of life's rich pageant. But, for each demised language or operating system, there's another that we should have paid attention to. Who could have told us in 1991 that we had better pay attention to Mach and NeXTStep because in five years it would be the future of the Macintosh?
As to what future that is, it's hard for me to say. First, I don't know, and second, if I did know and told you, they'd fire me. But I can point out some reasonable conclusions. Steve Jobs is in firm control of Apple and has turned it from a billion-dollar-hemorrhage to a hot products company that's quintupled its stock price. This has been done mostly on the hardware side, with solid progress on Mac OS 8, 8.5, 8.6, and now 9. But don't expect Steve to rest. The same passion for elegant design and powerful simplicity that has gone into the iMac and iBook is now being applied to the Mac OS. This isn't easy - software doesn't tend to get 2x faster and smaller every generation like hardware does - and there will be some favorite technologies left behind, like SCSI, ADB, and LocalTalk. But the result should be a modern (finally!), competitive operating system that brings forward years of Macintosh experience but leaves behind years of accumulated workarounds.
And, MacTech will be there to cover it. (After all, they've covered A/UX, NeXTStep, Pink/Taligent/CommonPoint, AIX, Copland and the BeOS...) I look forward to Getting Started stories that cover the basics of Mac OS X software, interesting in-depth articles on topics like the Quartz graphics system, hints and tips on how to live with gdb, and a lot of interesting synergies between Mac OS X's Mach-based roots and the UNIX-based world of the Web.
Congratulations MacTech, on 15 years of reading pleasure, and here's to many, many more.