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MacTech Spotlight: Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 04
Column Tag: MacTech Spotlight

MacTech Spotlight: Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch

So, who are you?

I founded Red Shed Software Company: a Mac & Web software boutique in Illinois. I work for a madman (I'm self-employed). The company's name stems from a small red shed on the family farmhouse in Wisconsin, where I grew up. You can see its picture on the masthead of my personal and company websites.

What is it, exactly, that you do?

I write software for companies. Mostly Mac. I have dozens of clients, some Fortune 500, some Mom & Pop. So it's always an interesting dynamic.

I'm the President/Janitor. For a while my title was "embodiment", but my lawyer told me to cut that out. Red Shed Software is a one-man band, but I have a bunch of talented friends who help me shoulder the workload.

How long have you been doing what you do?

I've been programming Macs for fourteen years now. My brother-in-law gave me his old Mac 128K a few years before I started programming them, so I had the pleasure of being able to run every version of the System (starting with System 0.9, which came with the 128K).

Remember your first computer:

Radio Shack TRS-80. 16K, I believe. Cassette drive. Fun-time was just a CLOAD away. I wrote my first BASIC program when I was eight, culminating with programming the machine to play "Camptown Races" from its speaker.

Are you Mac-only, or a multi-platform person?

Multi-platform. I use Linux, FreeBSD and OpenBSD for server platforms. I primarily use Windows for console development where the tools aren't always ripe on the Mac side. Oh, I also run Windows to understand Windows programs that I'm porting to the Mac. I'd also call the Web an application platform nowadays. I started coding CGIs in Perl, and then picked up WebObjects and Rails.

What attracts you to working on the Mac?

The people. The Mac seems to attract people who share a specific ethos.

If I weren't on the production side, I'd probably label it, as "things should be easy and pretty".

But since I am on the production side, I see it more as a pervasive, fundamental discontentment among Mac developers. We're not satisfied. Ever. The app could always be made better. A missing feature is added in a way that doesn't interfere with the usability of the rest of the application. It's the attempt to add ability while holding -- or reducing! -- complexity.

I'm even a worse case. Not only do I share the external discontentment with how software should work, I have an additional, internal discontentment with development languages and tools. We're rather behind the curve in development of state-of-the-art -- what we know works is years ahead of what we're using. In addition, we ignore past proven successes in the vain perception that we're more "modern" now.

What's the coolest thing about the Mac?

User interface. There're glaring exceptions (hello, Finder X!) but without question, of all the platforms, the Macintosh takes great user interface design the most seriously.

I'm not just talking about how things look (although I really like 10.4's subtle Unified look), I also mean the pains of designing for efficient & pleasurable user interaction.

The current generation of Mac developers understand it's no longer about what you can put into your app, it's about streamlining and honing what you offer the user. I'm tempted to call it a minimalism, but really it's merely a de-cluttering of the UI cruft that's built up over the years as software became larger.

Another strike against the minimalism label is the "Delicious Generation" (to borrow Paul Kafasis' term) trend of flashy apps. Mac users want apps that look great. I personally think Unified looks great on its own, but readily concede the little touches (such as ignoring Interface Builder's "Aqua Guidelines" margins to Push The Edge, or the gradient backgrounds on the selection in source lists) make a world of difference.

So the minimalism label is wanting. A better label comes to mind when I mentally contrast Mac software to Windows software: taste. Most Mac software developers have taste, and most Windows developers do not. Wow, that's inflammatory.

If there's a "platform" that competes with Mac OS X in terms of tasteful apps, it isn't Windows or (heh) Linux. It's the Web. There's a certain breed of web apps that share the same ethos. Maybe that's why it's not surprising that Macs dominate Rails get-togethers.

If I could change one thing about Apple/OS X, I'd:

Make Apple-external Radar reports optionally publicly accessible. Radar is Apple's internal bug tracking system. Developers outside of Apple can file bugs against Apple's software using RadarWeb, a semi-public front-end to Radar (you need to have an ADC account to access it).

Ideally, the bugs filed against publicly-released software could be made available to other developers. This would help immensely in certain cases, and done right could even help satiate the other desire expressed by developers for a NDA'd mailing list.

Apple hasn't (and probably won't) make reports publicly accessible since it's a nightmare to handle all the privacy angles. Also, it would take resources to create and maintain it, and the bottom-line ROI is quite foggy. It's hard to put a price tag on it for mere external developer happiness.

What's the coolest tech thing you've done using OS X?

Publicly, mach_inject and mach_override are up there. While it was fun writing a preemptive threading engine for the Classic Mac OS as well (Red Shed Threads), them's days are past. mach_* is still relevant in today's world.


Ever? Uhm, I think I fought an Emu once.

Where can we see a sample of your work?

I post most things I think people may care about to my blog. I also dump the open source code I write into a SourceForge project. The project's name is "redshed" if you care to look it up. There're some hidden goodies in there that I haven't gotten around to blogging about.

The next way I'm going to impact IT/OS X/the Mac universe is:

Probably C4[1], the 2007 edition of my Indie Mac developer conference. C4[0] was a big success, so I'm going to do it again.

I have another stunt in the planning phase, but I don't know if I'll go through with it. I'm waiting to see if the scheduling planets align.

And of course I'll push out more open source code. mach_* in particular is overdue for a significant rev.

Any other detail you'd like us to feature?

I write "articles" for, but lately they've been more "screencasts with accompanying text" than normal articles. I also have written a few articles for IBM's developerworks, and am working on another one, if I haven't scared them away with my high latency.

If you're in the Chicagoland area and want to hang out with fellow Mac geeks, consider attending PSIG or CAWUG. PSIG meets in the northwest suburbs while CAWUG meets downtown. Check out or for upcoming meeting details.

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