TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac OS X Programming Secrets

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Mac OS X Programming Secrets

Mac OS X Programming Secrets

by Scott Knaster

    I am honored, privileged, and more than a little thrilled to welcome Scott Knaster to the fold here at MacTech. In the Mac programming universe, Scott is a legend, both for his sense of humor and for books like Macintosh Programming Secrets and How to Write Macintosh Software. While I was busy writing about C and the basics of the Mac Toolbox, Scott was taking folks to the next level, writing about off screen drawing, spinning cursors, VBL tasks, dialog filters, etc.

    And that's just what we're gonna do here. While Getting Started will focus on the basics, Mac OS X Programming Secrets will take you to the next level. And for those of you who have yet to experience Scott, trust me. You are in for a treat!

    Dave Mark


Thanks, Dave, for that awesome introduction. I'll try mightily to live up to those high expectations. And now, let's get started. But how to begin?

[Option #1: the wacky two-liner.] Well, I haven't written anything about Mac programming since about 1990. So as I was saying...

[Option #2: the clueless.] Hi. I've been basically out of the Mac universe for the last 10 years. Did anything interesting happen? Is Apple still in business? Excuse me... the company is run by who? Mac OS is now based on what? Hahahahahahaha!!! You big kidder!

[Option #3: keeping it real.]

That's me: always with the joking around. But really, when I think about writing for MacTech, my whole MacLife (not the same as iLife) flashes before my eyes, and I ponder how I got started on the Mac, how I ended up back here again, and what happened in between.

Programming Is Great Fun

My story, dear reader, is one of extreme good fortune and a personality tic. The lucky part came back in 1984 when I managed to find a job in the developer support department of the Macintosh division at Apple. I knew a little about programming and was in love with working at Apple, but I had never seen anything like the Mac - of course, very few of us had.

On my first day, my boss, Cary Clark, showed me the professional Mac development environment of the era. It consisted of a Mac with 128K RAM, a Lisa connected to the Mac for compiling and building applications in Pascal, and an Apple III (or Apple ///, as we insisted on spelling it) used as a dumb terminal for talking to the object-code debugger. Yes, it took three-fourths of Apple's computer models just to say "Hello World" on an underpowered original Mac. I was in awe.

I spent the next 3 years helping developers get their apps running on those early Macs. Because I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I learned a ton of cool stuff about Mac programming and debugging, like how to figure out what was on the stack, what really happened when heaps were compacted, and what caused system errors. Because lots of people were interested in learning these things, I wrote it all down in a couple of books, thus freeing my brain cells for important work, such as knowing it was Randy Van Warmer who sang the smash hit "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight".

Attentive readers will recall that way back a few paragraphs ago, I said it was luck and a personality tic that helped my career. The luck was finding myself in Mac developer support; the tic is that when I learn about cool new technology, like Mac programming, I just gotta tell other people about it. I can't stand keeping it to myself. This is a wonderful trait for a tech support guy and a writer.

Eventually, I got distracted by a shiny object or something, and I wandered away from the Mac for awhile. I wrote many charming but now-useless technical docs, first about Pink, one of Apple's several failed fix-the-Mac-OS crusades, and then about Magic Cap, a really wonderful OS and UI toolkit for personal communicators that just didn't catch on. Most surprising of all journeys, I ended up spending a number of happy years at Microsoft (yes, that Microsoft), at first working on Mac software, then writing books about Windows user interface guidelines, of all things.

New Things Happened

And then, Mac OS X sprang forth. A hypnotically pretty user interface, a foundation based on Unix (go figure), and lots of attention and cool new apps came with it. Apple's dark days had come to an end. Although I was making my living on that other platform, I was always drawn back to the Mac. When Apple started shipping Macs with OS X pre-installed in 2001, I bought an iBook and had a torrid affair with the new operating system. Although it wasn't ready for prime time then, you could tell that it had a great future - kind of how it felt using a Mac in 1984 or so. For the next two years, I always found time to keep up with OS X, messing around with development tools and generally having fun with all the new stuff Apple kept tossing our way.

When I said farewell to my employment at Microsoft (and my WinXP lifestyle) earlier this year, I fell down the OS X rabbit hole at full velocity. I found myself getting up early and staying up late, playing with all the toys: Project Builder, Terminal, Cocoa, Carbon, etc. Mac programming today is a surreal fusion of traditional Apple stuff and full-on Unix, and we haven't even begun to tap all the power that's in there. My goal in writing this column is to stay one step ahead, to show you something each month that you didn't know about before.

I find myself cursing Unixy things like folder permissions and command line syntax booboos, even while I enjoy trying to figure them out. Placing Unix under Aqua is a little like having a hood on my car. Mostly I just drive the car, but once in a while I like to open the hood to learn about or tweak something inside. Sometimes that's frustrating, but it's always educational.

I'm past the point where operating systems are a religion with me. I lived happily on last millennium's Mac OS for a long time, Windows for a few years, and now it's Mac OS X. There are things I like and dislike about each of them. I enjoy having all of them around, because they're fun to delve into and they all help me get work done. Although it's far from perfect, OS X might be my favorite OS ever because there's just so much stuff to mess with. And because after all these years, I find that my brain is still tuned to Apple's frequency: I keep coming back to Apple products because they usually feel right to me.

There Is Plenty To Do

So the truth is this column is my excuse to keep diving into OS X programming and then inflicting the results upon you, dear reader, because I just can't keep it to myself. There's so much to write about: great tools, cool tricks with frameworks, little-known APIs, debugging tips, odd and fun nooks in the system. Everything is new again, and we're all bozos on this bus. I want to write about all of it at once, but unfortunately the laws of physics prohibit this, so I'll do it one column per issue.

Speaking selfishly, I know I'm going to have a great time, and I hope you find some of it useful or amusing, because that would please the publisher and editors of MacTech. So thanks for coming along.

And I now that I think of it, it was England Dan & John Ford Coley who sang the smash hit "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight". I guess I better start writing more stuff down to free up brain space.

Scott Knaster has been writing about Macs for as long as there have been Macs. Scott's books How To Write Macintosh Software and Macintosh Programming Secrets were required reading for Mac programmers for more than a decade. Scott wrote developer books for General Magic and worked on Mac software for Microsoft. Scott's books have been translated into Japanese and Pascal. Scott has every issue of Mad magazine, which explains a lot.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Microsoft Office 2016 16.11 - Popular pr...
Microsoft Office 2016 - Unmistakably Office, designed for Mac. The new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote provide the best of both worlds for Mac users - the familiar Office... Read more
Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 19.1.2 - Profess...
Photoshop CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Photoshop customer). Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, the industry standard... Read more
Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 -...
Dreamweaver CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Dreamweaver customer). Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 allows you to... Read more
Adobe Flash Player - Plug-in...
Adobe Flash Player is a cross-platform, browser-based application runtime that provides uncompromised viewing of expressive applications, content, and videos across browsers and operating systems.... Read more
Drive Genius 5.2.0 - $79.00
Drive Genius features a comprehensive Malware Scan. Automate your malware protection. Protect your investment from any threat. The Malware Scan is part of the automated DrivePulse utility. DrivePulse... Read more
MegaSeg 6.0.6 - Professional DJ and radi...
MegaSeg is a complete solution for pro audio/video DJ mixing, radio automation, and music scheduling with rock-solid performance and an easy-to-use design. Mix with visual waveforms and Magic... Read more
ffWorks 1.0.7 - Convert multimedia files...
ffWorks (was iFFmpeg), focused on simplicity, brings a fresh approach to the use of FFmpeg, allowing you to create ultra-high-quality movies without the need to write a single line of code on the... Read more
Dash 4.1.5 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
Evernote 7.0.3 - Create searchable notes...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
jAlbum Pro 15.3 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Around the Empire: What have you missed...
Oh hi nice reader, and thanks for popping in to check out our weekly round-up of all the stuff that you might have missed across the Steel Media network. Yeah, that's right, it's a big ol' network. Obviously 148Apps is the best, but there are some... | Read more »
All the best games on sale for iPhone an...
It might not have been the greatest week for new releases on the App Store, but don't let that get you down, because there are some truly incredible games on sale for iPhone and iPad right now. Seriously, you could buy anything on this list and I... | Read more »
Everything You Need to Know About The Fo...
In just over a week, Epic Games has made a flurry of announcements. First, they revealed that Fortnite—their ultra-popular PUBG competitor—is coming to mobile. This was followed by brief sign-up period for interested beta testers before sending out... | Read more »
The best games that came out for iPhone...
It's not been the best week for games on the App Store. There are a few decent ones here and there, but nothing that's really going to make you throw down what you're doing and run to the nearest WiFi hotspot in order to download it. That's not to... | Read more »
Death Coming (Games)
Death Coming Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: (iTunes) Description: --- Background Story ---You Died. Pure and simple, but death was not the end. You have become an agent of Death: a... | Read more »
Hints, tips, and tricks for Empires and...
Empires and Puzzles is a slick match-stuff RPG that mixes in a bunch of city-building aspects to keep things fresh. And it's currently the Game of the Day over on the App Store. So, if you're picking it up for the first time today, we thought it'd... | Read more »
What You Need to Know About Sam Barlow’s...
Sam Barlow’s follow up to Her Story is #WarGames, an interactive video series that reimagines the 1983 film WarGames in a more present day context. It’s not exactly a game, but it’s definitely still interesting. Here are the top things you should... | Read more »
Pixel Plex Guide - How to Build Better T...
Pixel Plex is the latest city builder that has come to the App Store, and it takes a pretty different tact than the ones that came before it. Instead of being in charge of your own city by yourself, you have to work together with other players to... | Read more »
Fortnite Will Be Better Than PUBG on Mob...
Before last week, if you asked me which game I prefer between Fortnite Battle Royale and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), I’d choose the latter just about 100% of the time. Now that we know that both games are primed to hit our mobile screens... | Read more »
Siege of Dragonspear (Games)
Siege of Dragonspear 2.5.12 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 2.5.12 (iTunes) Description: Experience the Siege of Dragonspear, an epic Baldur’s Gate tale, filled with with intrigue, magic, and monsters.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Sunday Sales: $200 off 13″ Touch Bar MacBook...
Amazon has new 2017 13″ 3.1GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale this weekend for $200 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1599.99 $200 off... Read more
B&H drops prices on 15″ MacBook Pros up t...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on new 2017 15″ MacBook Pros, now up to $300 off MSRP and matching Adorama’s price drop yesterday. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ... Read more
Apple restocks Certified Refurbished 2017 13″...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pros for $200-$230 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, models receive new outer cases, and... Read more
13″ Space Gray Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale...
Adorama has new 2017 13″ Space Gray Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (... Read more
Best deal of the year on 15″ Apple MacBook Pr...
Adorama has New 2017 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: – 15″ 2.8GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $... Read more
Save $100-$150+ on 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros...
B&H Photo has 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $100-$150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro... Read more
Current deals on 27″ Apple iMacs, models up t...
B&H Photo has 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $2149 $150 off MSRP – 27″ 3... Read more
Thursday Deal: 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pro for $11...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space... Read more
How to save $100-$190 on 10″ & 12″ iPad P...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished 2017 10″ and 12″ iPad Pros for $100-$190 off MSRP, depending on the model. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: –... Read more
Silver 12″ 1.3GHz MacBook on sale at B&H...
B&H Photo has the 2017 12″ 1.3GHz Silver MacBook on sale for $1399.99 including free shipping plus sales tax for NY & NJ residents only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Genius - Technical Customer Service...
Job Description:Job SummaryAs a Genius at the Apple Store, you maintain customers' trust in Apple as the skilled technical customer service expert, Read more
*Apple* Endpoint Administrator - Massachuset...
Reporting to the Director of Client Services (DCS), the Apple Endpoint Administrator serves as a member of the Client Services team, which provides technical support Read more
Franchise Operations Advisor- *APPLE* Exper...
UFG, Inc. Franchise Operations Advisor - MUST HAVE APPLE OR WINDOWS EXPERIENCE (Outside Sales / Business Development / Customer Service / Full Time) Top Five Reasons Read more
Engineering- Platform- *Apple* Enterprise P...
…& RESPONSIBILITIES You are responsible for creating and supporting our next-gen Apple Platform Installers from ground-up. We use Jamf Composer tool along with Read more
*Apple* OS X Server Administrator (Active Se...
Apple OS X Server Administrator \(Active Secret Clearance\) Description Come be a part of a top notch team, apply today\!\! Tuva TUVA provides turnkey solutions that Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.