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Jan 00 Factory Floor

Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: From the Factory Floor

From the Factory Floor

by Ron Liechty

This month's interview is with Ron Liechty, who gives us his insights on the past, present and future of Macintosh development.

As someone who's been involved with CodeWarrior development from its earliest days, you've had a ringside seat as the Macintosh community has matured. How do you think the Mac development community has changed over the years?

Ron: There is a new sense of competitiveness among Mac programmers today that didn't exist years ago. Not competitiveness between each other, but with programmers developing for other operating systems. There is a realization that Macintosh programs have to be better than the other operating system. In the early 1990s programmers relied on the interface to be superior and to sell their products for them. Now Macintosh developers have realized that no matter how superior the Macintosh operating system is, their products must also be better than their counterparts' on other operating systems.

What hasn't changed is the helpfulness of the Macintosh community online. I see Java programmers and catch a glimpse of the camaraderie that is evident in the Macintosh developer community. However, it never matches the amount and quality of help that Macintosh programmers give each other.

Where are some of the best places you've seen where Mac developers can go for help?

Ron: There are many avenues for help to both new programmers and seasoned veteran programmers. I wish I could mention all of the folks that are out there providing help internationally. It is amazing, the speed and depth of help you can get on the newsgroups and other Internet sources.

Of course, there are the institutional resources, like those provided by MacTech:

Macintosh C by K. J. Bricknell and Macintosh Pascal by Koryn Grant and K. J. Bricknell.

These online resources consist of a book and a package of demonstration program files easily downloadable from: www.mactech.com/macintosh-c

Apple has an excellent online source for developers at the Apple Developer Connection web site: http://www.apple.com/developer/

My personal favorite Apple link is the page for Mac OS 8 and 9 Developer Documentation: http://developer.apple.com/techpubs/FunctionIndex/FunctionIndex.html

This index provides links to function descriptions from Inside Macintosh and from new and revised Mac OS 8 documents. From there you can find sample code and white pages in regards to the various functions as well as a description of their use.

Individuals and groups also work together to provide help with programming. An example is the group of Mac programmers that help with online self-study groups known as MOST. You can access the MOST web site at: http://www.themost.org

The MOST web site and services are the gifts of altruistic Mac OS professionals and amateurs to anyone - high school/college students, developers for other platforms, or current Mac OS developer - who wants access to net-based resources which will help them produce high quality Mac OS applications

Another independent list server is AIMED-TALK, which is a discussion list for AIMED (the Association of Independent Macintosh Engineers and Developers.)

The purpose of AIMED-TALK is to discuss information that AIMED members are concerned with, new members want to know about, and interested (potential future members) want to find out about.

Send E-mail with a blank subject line and the command SUBSCRIBE as the first (and only) line of the message body to: aimed-talk-request@aimed.org

For Macintosh Pascal Programmers, Bill Catambay hosts Pascal Central, which can be found at: http://pascal-central.com/

The intent of Pascal Central is to provide the Pascal community one place to obtain Pascal technical information, Pascal source code, and Pascal-related Internet links.

Speaking of Pascal, there is the MacPascal list server, which is always eager to help others at any time: http://www.eGroups.com/list/macpascal/

Metrowerks is planning on having an online support FAQ and already has several white papers regarding our technology online.

It seems like some individuals are online helping others 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One of those is Miro Jurisic, who hosts a CodeWarrior FAQ at the following address: http://cw-faq.mit.edu/cw-faq/faq

But Miro is not alone. There are literally thousands of individuals that are online offering tech support and advice to each other on the newsgroups.

There are so many helpful people online that it would be impossible to name them all. They span the globe from Australia to the Austria, from South Africa to Sweden. What always amazes me is how contagious it can be. I see a person sign on as a newbie asking for help and within a few days that person is helping others with their problems.

I browse scores of newsgroups every day, and there are none with the camaraderie and brotherhood exhibited on the comp.sy.mac.programmer newsgroups:

When it comes to helping others, Mac Developers have an open heart and give sage advice. When I see this spirit and openness I know that the Mac will always be the premier operating system.

Looking back, what do you think were some of the most important developments surrounding the Mac over the years?

Ron: Clearly the PowerPC chip was the most significant change in the Macintosh over the past 10 years. When Apple introduced its PowerPC computers, the Macintosh was on a slow decline, losing market share every year. The PowerPC revitalized the entire Macintosh community. No longer did the Mac just have a better operating system, now it was faster. Many people have given Metrowerks a lot of credit for helping Apple's recovery with CodeWarrior and the early investment Metrowerks made in the PowerPC chip. Metrowerks believed in PowerPC, and CodeWarrior gave programmers a way to easily transition their 68k applications to PowerPC, to make them FAT so they would run on both operating systems.

The second most important development was the emergence of the Internet. Macintosh is the premier operating system for the Internet. Nothing interoperates with the Internet as fast as smooth or as seamlessly as a Macintosh. I have one of those other operating systems and trying to use it for mail or web surfing is painful compared to using my Macintosh. The Internet has helped level the playing field among operating systems and forced a commonality in file types. Five years ago I would estimate that 80 percent of the computers sold for the home market were sold for gaming. Now I would estimate that 80 percent are sold for Internet access. Apple has reinvented itself with the I-Mac and has created another resurgence in Macintosh development.

What lies ahead for Mac developers as we begin the new millennium?

Ron: Every five years the home computer reinvents itself. In the early 80s it was a toy - a gadget for gadget freaks. Then in the mid-80s it became a tool for students, necessary for word processing and small databases. In the early 90s it became the game players' machine, as faster graphics, cheaper RAM and processor speeds made dramatic improvements. In the late 90s and now at the turn of the millennium, we've seen the Internet become probably the most important factor in the use of home computers.

If I knew what the next reinvention would be, I'd certainly be a billionaire. One can, however, speculate on what will be happening in the years to come. Certainly a blending of television with computers is inevitable, in my opinion. With the new HDTV and the ability to transmit and receive side bands, this is an area in which Macintosh computers will excel. Home networking is another area where I see computers headed. No longer will there be one computer per home. Just as children have their own TVs and telephones, they will have their own computers. Personal robotics and the ability to program a robot are certainly in the future. Compression of sound and video will certainly impact the future of home computers, and again the Macintosh PowerMac will be an excellent choice for that.

How would you characterize Mac developers' attitudes towards the Linux movement?

Ron: The attitude of some Macintosh developers regarding the Linux movement has always been humorous to me as people pit the PowerPC-hosted Linux against the Intel-hosted Linux. I think the average Mac programmer has an interest in Linux and sees it as an alternative to Windows, but not to Macintosh. While the PowerPC is a great CPU for Linux, there isn't the incentive to change the operating system. It's not worth it just to be a renegade.

The open source philosophy has never been limited to Linux or to GNU tools. Netscape is an excellent example of open sourcing that benefits the company and the developer. I recall a posting written by a developer named Simon Fraser in response to another developer who was having a problem posting a dialog while handling a drag and drop. This problem points out the value of applying open source for one application to an entirely different application. Fraser advised:

"You should avoid posting a dialog while handling the drag receive; it's better to save state somewhere, and process the results of the drag the next time an event is handled. That way, you can debug the code, and handle user events with no problems. For an example, see the NewsWatcher source code."

Metrowerks has been an advocate of open source as well. GameCode was released under the Metrowerks Public License (MWPL), which is based on the Netscape open source model.

The GameCode web site is hosted by Søren Grønbech, the original engineer who developed GameCode for Metrowerks: http://sunsite.auc.dk/gamecode/about.html

GameCode is an open source, cross-platform multimedia development library. GameCode consists of three primary parts: an easy-to-use programmers API which takes care of the basic setup; a number of functions to display graphics, play sounds, display text, etc.; and a converter-tool which uses a simple script-language to convert graphics, sounds and other types of resource files.

Another source for code help is the PowerPlant contributed classes. On this site, Macintosh PowerPlant developers contribute their useful classes to aid other PowerPlant users and create better, more useful applications more quickly. You can contribute or search for these extensions to PowerPlant on the Metrowerks web page. http://208.226.102.11/powerplant.qry?function=form

Metrowerks also includes both PowerPlant and Metrowerks Standard Libraries in source versions. While still copyrighted and non-distributable in source code form, you can look at the code and see how it is done and change or alter it if necessary to make your own versions.

Metrowerks has always felt the power to make programming decisions should be given to programmers. Ultimately, this allows for better Macintosh code.

What emerging technologies do you think will have the greatest impact on Mac developers?

Ron: I'm very bullish on Mac OS X and new applications that will be created to take advantage of its power and capabilities. I see this as another boost to help Apple compete with Microsoft. I'm also very excited about Java. I don't think any language in such a short time has became so popular. In hardware, I am excited about video/audio compression technology.

However, what really excites me is the concept of personal computer cooperation as used for SETI, and the possibilities that other mass cooperation could achieve. A cure for cancer running on millions of home computers overnight is possible. Also, multiple weather forecastings linked together over the Internet, allowing for instant access to precise readings, could predict a tornado hours before it happens. Just about anything is possible, and that's what is so exciting.


Ron Liechty is the ombudsman and award-winning online representative for Metrowerks. His e-mail box is always open at MWRon@metrowerks.com. A grandfather with two grandsons Jaymz and Jaysn and a granddaughter Odessa, Ron works from his home in Michigan writing technical documentation and providing online support for Metrowerks' customers.

 
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