TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Dec 01 Mac OS X 2

Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Mac OS X

by Dan Wood, Alameda CA

The Tortoise and the Hare

Why Carbon Developers Should Start Learning Cocoa

We all know the fable about the tortoise and the hare. It can be interpreted many ways, but let’s say that it’s about the overconfident rabbit finding himself outpaced by the diligent tortoise.

Having returned from a week at WWDC, I am sad to report that there seems to be a tortoise-and-hare situation brewing in the Macintosh developer community.

In spite of the dominance of Windows and despite a recent economic slowdown, it was clear by looking at the crowds at WWDC that the Macintosh development community is alive and kicking. But let’s take a look at who is developing software for the Macintosh today. First off, you have the old-timers, the one who have been programming the Mac since the days of black/white screens and floppy disks. These guys can patch a trap in their sleep and understand the cosmic significance of Tech Note #31. But due to the acquisition of NeXT by Apple, there’s another group of developers that suddenly find themselves with a marketable skill set and a potential user base, and they were in force at the conference. (After all, the number of copies of Mac OS X sold to date has far surpassed the entire NeXT user base!) These weren’t the only kinds of developers at WWDC — after all, there were people who program in pure Java and are delighted to see a new platform for development and deployment, and there was a large WebObjects crowd as well. But on the desktop application development space, it was clear that there were two separate species — the Carbon-based life forms and the Cocoa-based life forms — and there wasn’t any camaraderie between them.

Two Frameworks

Apple has provided Mac OS X with two first-class frameworks for developing applications, Carbon and Cocoa. Carbon is an evolution of the procedural APIs for the Mac that date back to 1984. It’s the classic way of developing for the Mac, with a few twists to make programs run properly under Mac OS X as a first-class citizen. Cocoa is the object-oriented API for building Mac OS X that comes from OpenStep, which itself is descended from NeXTStep. And at WWDC, the Cocoa developers were outnumbered by the Carbon developers by a pretty big margin.

Perhaps there’s nothing inherently wrong with having two first-class APIs for programming a Macintosh. Nothing like this has ever succeeded before, though many (especially Apple) have tried. In general, an OS has always had a single dominant way of programming. Prior to Mac OS X, that dominant paradigm has been the Classic Macintosh Toolbox, programming in C++, using Metrowerks PowerPlant. So what’s the point of Apple trying to introduce a new framework (along with a new language, to boot) for development? Why is Apple trying to rock the boat? Are they just setting us developers up for a conflict?

Think Different

One thing that Apple has succeeded in doing over the last years has been surprising its detractors by creating amazing products. After the public had written off Apple for dead, here comes the iMac, the stylish G3 and G4, the drool-inducing Titanium PowerBook, killer apps such as iMovie and iTunes, and now an OS that pleases the crowds with Aqua and the geeks with its buzzword compliance and existing developers with its Carbon transition path

I’m going to go out on a limb by expressing the opinion that Cocoa is just such an amazing product, just one for developers. Trouble is, many Macintosh developers are going to have to “Think Different” if they are going to reap the benefits.

I feel qualified to express such an opinion because I straddle both worlds. I’ve been developing for the Mac since the screen was 512 pixels across. I’ve done my fair share of C++; I’ve written full-sized applications in PowerPlant, and I love MacsBug. But shortly after Apple acquired NeXT, I started learning Cocoa (or OpenStep or Yellow Box as it was called) and I started to, well, think different. I’ve since written a full-sized application in Cocoa. And frankly, I’m now spoiled: I don’t want to see another line of C++ again.

A Substantial Investment

Since I still have many friends and acquaintances in the “Carbon” camp, I am interested to hear what they think of Cocoa. It’s disheartening to hear how few of these folks express any desire to learn Cocoa. Some claim that they don’t like the syntax of Objective C. Others say that it’s too much of a learning curve. But I think that for the most part, it’s because long-time Mac developers have spent a long time investing in the Mac toolbox, and don’t want to see that expertise go to waste.

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, getting to know the intricacies of each manager in the Mac toolbox, along with the subtleties of C++ (a language that won’t stand still), learning and keeping up with PowerPlant, and tracking new APIs from Apple, is indeed a lot of effort over the years.

But perhaps a different approach would be to frame one’s expertise as owning a boat. Let’s say you like to race sailboats, and you have a boat that you bought 15 years ago. Every year you have to sink a substantial amount of money into maintaining it. One year, you have to overhaul the engine; another year there’s a leak to repair; perhaps the navigation system needs replacement. After fifteen years, you have a working boat, but you’ve sunk $100,000 into that boat over its lifetime. Somebody suggests you sell it and get a new boat, one that’s faster, more efficient, and less likely to need repair, but you’re going to resist it. After all, look at how much money you’ve spent on yours! And look at the new things you’ll have to learn to pilot and maintain the boat! That old boat will do just fine, thank you.

That kind of thinking may not be rational if you “do the math.” But it’s just as hard to let go of emotional investment as financial investment.

I view Cocoa as that new boat that traditional Mac developers are being offered. And it’s hard to let go of the years of honing your investment. And worst of all, I see a great community of Mac developers with “old boats” that are so immersed in their decision not to look at the new technology called Cocoa that they are going to find themselves the hares in the aforementioned fable.

Hare vs. Tortoise

Back to our Tortoise and Hare allegory. The tortoises, who have learned Cocoa — perhaps because they started out as NeXT developers, or perhaps because they had an open enough mind to try it out — have been quietly sneaking up with their shiny new boats made out of Cocoa. We haven’t quite reached this point yet, but I believe that the traditional Mac developers are going to find themselves “beaten” by the Cocoa developers — not in the sense of a one-on-one race, but in the marketplace. Why? Because once you have made the initial investment in learning Cocoa, the long and short of it is that it’s easier and faster to bring products to market.

Carbon’s advantages over Cocoa

Analogies are great, but they don’t work in real-world situations. And in the real world, there are lots of applications that need to be brought forward to Mac OS X. And Carbon is just the technology for that. Carbon means that you don’t have to throw away your code base and start over. Carbon means you can crank out new versions of your application in PowerPlant. Carbon means you get your application finished now instead of later. No learning of new languages or frameworks is required.

Cocoa’s advantages over Carbon

When you are starting to write any new application, however, you have to start designing and programming from ground zero. With Cocoa, ground zero is several floors above Carbon. Here is my take on why.

  • Already object-oriented. Rather than needing to graft a framework such as PowerPlant over a procedural API (while still leaving all the underpinnings fully exposed), Cocoa is object-oriented at the most fundamental level.
  • Heterogeneous data types. To represent a simple piece of data such as a string using C++ and PowerPlant and the Mac Toolbox, you may have to keep track of resources and pointers and handles, Pascal strings, null-terminated C strings, PowerPlant classes such as LStr255, C++ string objects, and so forth. Converting among all those types is half of your work! Cocoa has a string class called NSString. Other objects (such as dictionaries, numbers, booleans, colors, arbitrary data encapsulation, etc.) all have their own classes, and they all fit together in a modular fashion. You never have to parse through bits and bytes unless you’re reading a legacy data structure. Containers of objects contain other objects, enabling a complex structure can be read or written in a single line of code.
  • Easier language than C++. Learning Java or learning Objective C shouldn’t be that difficult for an experienced developer. And the syntax is so much simpler that you can probably get by without a “language lawyer” on staff to help you understand the subtle intricacies of C++. To quote Tom Cargil from the C++ Journal, “If you think C++ is not overly complicated, just what is an abstract virtual base pure virtual private destructor, and when was the last time you needed one?”
  • More Object-Oriented than C++. While C++ has the object-oriented properties of inheritance, polymorphism, and encapsulation, what is lacks is dynamism. With Objective-C (and, to some extent, Java), you can send an arbitrary message to an arbitrary object. The “fragile base class” problem of C++ does not exist in Objective C. Most of the classes in Cocoa take advantage of this, making it very easy build an application.
  • No more “hookup” code. Even with the aid of a C++ framework like PowerPlant, much code needs to be written to access the user interface from the code (e.g. FindPaneByID()) and to dispatch user input to the code via switch() statements. In Cocoa, you hook up the code to the UI using Interface Builder. No code is written or generated, meaning significantly smaller programs.
  • Flatter Class Hierarchy. Because of the dynamic nature of Objective C and the notion of delegation, the class hierarchy of Cocoa is extremely flat. Your applications rarely need to subclass Cocoa classes. The delegation model of Cocoa emphasizes cooperation between classes rather than extension of existing classes. By avoiding subclassing, your objects avoid having to know about the workings of their parent class.
  • Gestalt. No, I’m not talking about an API for querying a Mac’s capabilities. All of the above reasons combined, somehow, make up an experience for the developer that is more than just their sum. Simple applications in Cocoa are just that — simple. Complex applications are possible and surprisingly manageable.

The Finish Line?

There is no real finish line; Cocoa and Carbon will continue to exist for some time. Each has their advantages, but Carbon is the winner when there are business reasons; Cocoa is the winner when there are technical reasons. As time goes on, the business advantages of Carbon will fade away, and the market for Cocoa programmers will be larger than the market for Carbon programmers. The developers that insist on defending their investment in Carbon avoid Cocoa when it comes time to build new projects may find that the Cocoa developers have beaten them to market. I hope that this doesn’t happen. If you are a carbon developer, start learning Cocoa in your spare time — Pick up the new Learning Cocoa book from O’Reilly and try it out. The smartest developers in the world are Mac developers — Imagine how much better off we will all be if they can leverage Cocoa.


Dan Wood is a long-time Macintosh developer who started learning about Mac OS X technologies immediately after Apple acquired NeXT. He has programmed for the Mac using Forth, Pascal, Scheme, 680x0 assembly, C, C++, Java, and Objective-C, using object frameworks such as Think Class Library, Metrowerks PowerPlant, Swing, and Cocoa. You can reach him at dwood@karelia.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Pinegrow Web Designer 2.94 - Mockup and...
Pinegrow Web Designer is desktop app that lets you mockup and design webpages faster with multi-page editing, CSS and LESS styling, and smart components for Bootstrap, Foundation, Angular JS, and... Read more
ExpanDrive 5.4.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
MacUpdate Desktop 6.1.3 - Search and ins...
MacUpdate Desktop 6 brings seamless 1-click app installs and version updates to your Mac. With a free MacUpdate account and MacUpdate Desktop 6, Mac users can now install almost any Mac app on... Read more
VOX 2.8.6 - Music player that supports m...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more
Espionage 3.6.6 - Simple, state-of-the-a...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
VOX 2.8.6 - Music player that supports m...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more
MacUpdate Desktop 6.1.3 - Search and ins...
MacUpdate Desktop 6 brings seamless 1-click app installs and version updates to your Mac. With a free MacUpdate account and MacUpdate Desktop 6, Mac users can now install almost any Mac app on... Read more
ExpanDrive 5.4.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Espionage 3.6.6 - Simple, state-of-the-a...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
Pinegrow Web Designer 2.94 - Mockup and...
Pinegrow Web Designer is desktop app that lets you mockup and design webpages faster with multi-page editing, CSS and LESS styling, and smart components for Bootstrap, Foundation, Angular JS, and... Read more

The beginner's guide to destroying...
Age of Heroes: Conquest is 5th Planet Games’ all new turn-based multiplayer RPG, full of fantasy exploration, guild building, and treasure hunting. It’s pretty user-friendly as far as these games go, but when you really get down to it, you’ll find... | Read more »
Infinite Tanks (Games)
Infinite Tanks 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (FULL)...
Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (FULL) 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders Your weapon is your knowledge. Your wits will be put to the ultimate... | Read more »
HeadlessD (Games)
HeadlessD 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: HeadlessD is hand-painted dungeon crawler with intuitive touch controls and NO in-app purchases. | Read more »
Leaf for Twitter (Social Networking)
Leaf for Twitter 1.0.1 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Social Networking Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Banner Saga 2 (Games)
Banner Saga 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The epic award winning story-based role-playing game continues its emotional journey across a breaking world. Lead your Viking... | Read more »
Concrete Jungle (Games)
Concrete Jungle 1.16 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.16 (iTunes) Description: A follow up to the puzzle hit 'MegaCity'! Concrete Jungle is a new take on the city building genre that swaps micro-... | Read more »
5 great apps for the budget traveller
Travelling abroad, or even within your home country, has never been easier thanks to our handy smartphone companions. There are hundreds of apps on the market that promise to make your world journeys hassle-free, but we've selected five of the... | Read more »
Zip—Zap (Games)
Zip—Zap 1.01 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.01 (iTunes) Description: Touch to contract.Release to let go.Bring the clumsy mechanical beings home. · · · over 100 levelsno adsno in-app-purchases Zip—... | Read more »
Paperback: The Game (Games)
Paperback: The Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: You are an author trying to finish kitschy paperback novels. Complete Westerns, Science Fiction, Romance or even a Crime... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $928...
Overstock has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $927.99 including free shipping. Their price is $171 off MSRP. Read more
Buying McLaren Would Give Apple Instant Car C...
Apple “iCar” rumors have waxed and waned over the years, piquing interest and speculation as to whether Apple is seriously interested in getting into the automotobile business, either in a joint... Read more
Aetna to Transform Members’ Consumer Health E...
Health care benefits company Aetna, which has an estimated 46.3 million clients, today announced a new initiative to revolutionize members consumer health experience by combining the power of iOS... Read more
USB-IF Announces USB Audio Device Class 3.0 S...
USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the support organization for the advancement and adoption of USB technology, today announced the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification to establish USB Audio over... Read more
Clearance 12-inch 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks, App...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks available for $1189, or $410 off original MSRP. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free... Read more
Logitech SmartDock and Skype For Business Com...
Logitech has announced Logitech SmartDock, an AV meeting room solution designed in collaboration with Microsoft. Logitech SmartDock works with Skype for Business and qualified devices, including... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for up to $220 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1899.99 $... Read more
Apple Macs and iPads available for up to $300...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Chicago...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Raleigh...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
User Support Specialist *Apple* Product Spe...
…Description:Ciber, Inc. is seeking a User Support Specialist - Apple Product Support in Nashville, TN!Responsibilities:Support, implementation, and upgrade of Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
US- *Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple (Un...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.