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

Alfred 4.2 - Quick launcher for apps and...
Alfred is an award-winning productivity application for OS X. Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords, and file actions at... Read more
MenuMeters 2.0.8 - CPU, memory, disk, an...
MenuMeters is a set of CPU, memory, disk, and network monitoring tools for Mac OS X. Although there are numerous other programs which do the same thing, none had quite the feature set I was looking... Read more
ClipGrab 3.8.15 - Download videos from Y...
ClipGrab is a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and many other online video sites. It converts downloaded videos to MPEG4, MP3 or other formats in just one easy step Version... Read more
Malwarebytes 4.6.11.3824 - Adware remova...
Malwarebytes (was AdwareMedic) helps you get your Mac experience back. Malwarebytes scans for and removes code that degrades system performance or attacks your system. Making your Mac once again your... Read more
Safari Technology Preview 14.1 - The new...
Safari Technology Preview contains the most recent additions and improvements to WebKit and the latest advances in Safari web technologies. And once installed, you will receive notifications of... Read more
Mactracker 7.9.7 - Database of all Mac m...
Mactracker provides detailed information on every Mac computer ever made, including items such as processor speed, memory, optical drives, graphic cards, supported OS X versions, and expansion... Read more
Tor Browser 10.0.2 - Anonymize Web brows...
The Tor Browser Bundle is an easy-to-use portable package of Tor, Vidalia, Torbutton, and a Firefox fork preconfigured to work together out of the box. It contains a modified copy of Firefox that... Read more
iTubeDownloader 6.5.24 - Easily download...
iTubeDownloader is a powerful-yet-simple YouTube downloader for the masses. Because it contains a proprietary browser, you can browse YouTube like you normally would. When you see something you want... Read more
TeamViewer 15.11.6 - Establish remote co...
TeamViewer gives you remote control of any computer or Mac over the Internet within seconds, or can be used for online meetings. Find out why more than 200 million users trust TeamViewer! Free for... Read more
ffWorks 2.1.18 - Convert multimedia file...
ffWorks, 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 command-line.... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Lamplight City is a detective adventure...
Lamplight City is a steampunk adventure game that's available now for iOS after previously launching on PC. It sees players take on the role of private investigator Miles Fordham who is trying to get justice for his clients whilst tracking down... | Read more »
Genshin Impact Progression Guide - Mid-G...
Once you get up to around Adventure Rank 25, Genshin Impact starts to turn into a different thing. What was once a story-driven affair evolves into something more like a traditional MMO. | Read more »
Pixboy, the hit retro-themed platformer,...
Following its successful debut on PC and Nintendo Switch last summer, retro-themed platformer Pixboy has made the lead to mobile devices. The award-winning indie hit, which was developed by a two-person team at Oaky Games, has drawn comparisons to... | Read more »
Raziel: Dungeon Arena's newest char...
Raziel: Dungeon Arena's October update offers a little bit more than usual Halloween-themed outfits you often get this time of year, though those are here too. But beyond that, there is a new character, mercenary system and much more. In need of... | Read more »
Genshin Impact - Marvelous Merchant Even...
We're month since Genshin Impact's initial release, and we're already here at our second event. The Marvelous Merchant event has already been underway for two days and we have just the info you need to complete this silly scavenger hunt each day... | Read more »
Crash Bandicoot: On The Run! spins onto...
There’s a Crash Bandicoot endless runner coming to mobile sometime next spring. [Read more] | Read more »
Mulled 2 is a refreshingly simple ball-p...
Some of the greatest mobile games are actually the simplest ones, and it’s this philosophy that Mulled 2 was built on. Out now for iOS and Android, the puzzle sequel takes the accessible mechanics of its predecessor and builds on them with enticing... | Read more »
Physics-based tower defense game Goblin...
Indie developer Arif Games has released Goblin Raiders on iOS and Android. [Read more] | Read more »
PUBG Mobile has provided yet another upd...
PUBG Mobile has been making a point of publicly mentioning all of their ongoing efforts to vanquish cheating from the popular battle royale. Today two teams within the company have provided updates on their progress. [Read more] | Read more »
Zombieland: AFK Survival is celebrating...
Zombieland: AFK Survival is currently celebrating its one-year anniversary. If you don't quite recognise the name that's because it initially launched as Zombieland: Double Tapper. Anyway, the game is celebrating turning one with two Halloween-... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple now offering $8000 discount on maxed Ma...
Apple’s powerful Mac Pro can be fully optioned to a max of $53,399 by choosing a 2.5GHz 28-core Xeon W CPU, 1.5TB of memory, Two Radeon Pro Vega II Duo video cards with 2x32GB memory each, 8TB of... Read more
How to save $100-$200 on a new MacBook with A...
Are you a teacher, student, or staff member of any educational institution and need a new Apple MacBook? When you purchase a new MacBook using Apple’s Education discount, Apple will take $100-$200... Read more
Amazon offers Apple Watch Series 6 and SE dis...
Amazon is among the first Apple resellers to offer sale prices on new Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE models with models available for up to $25 off Apple’s MSRP. These are the same Watches... Read more
3rd generation 12.9″ iPad Pros available toda...
Apple restocked select 3rd generation 12.9″ WiFi iPad Pros starting at only $699 and up to $380 off original MSRP. Each iPad comes with a standard Apple one-year warranty, outer cases are new, and... Read more
Upgrading To The iPhone 12 And Making The Swi...
FEATURE: 10.28.20 – The future of wireless technology is here but before you can jump onto the 5G bandwagon, you’ll need to upgrade to a compatible device like one of the new iPhones Apple... Read more
Gazelle drops prices on Apple’s iPhone 11 mod...
Gazelle is offering a range of discounted pre-owned unlocked Apple iPhone 11 models starting at $475, with some models seeing price reductions of up to $200. iPhones are offered in Fair, Good, and... Read more
B&H Photo has 2020 13″ Dual-Core MacBook...
B&H Photo has 2020 13″ Dual-Core MacBook Airs on sale today for $100 off Apple’s MSRP, only $899. Expedited shipping is free to many addresses in the US. These MacBook Airs are the same models... Read more
New promo at Verizon: New 64GB iPhone 11 Pro...
Verizon is offering the new 64GB iPhone 11 Pro Max for free for customers switching and opening a new line of service. Qualified trade-in required, worth up to $850 credited to your account over a 24... Read more
Apple has 2020 13″ 1.4GHz MacBook Pros in sto...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2020 13″ 1.4GHz/256GB 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available for $1099, $200 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is free, and each MacBook has a... Read more
Amazon offers $50 discount on all new 2020 12...
Amazon has new 2020 Apple 12.9″ iPad Pros on sale today for $50 off MSRP, with prices starting at $949. Shipping is free. These are the same iPad Pros sold by Apple in their retail and online stores... Read more

Jobs Board

Licensed Dental Hygienist - *Apple* Valley...
Park Dental Apple Valley is seeking a compassionate, professional Dental Hygienist to join our team-oriented practice. Clinical Requirements Minnesota Licensure and Read more
Deskside Support Technician - *Apple* , Wind...
Deskside Support Technician - Apple , Windows **Ref No.:** 20-01859 **Location:** Northridge, California As part of a leading IT managed services specialist with more Read more
*Apple* Computing Specialist - Best Buy (Uni...
**789374BR** **Job Title:** Apple Computing Specialist **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store Number or Department:** 000896-Atlanta GA-Store **Job Read more
Geek Squad Advanced Repair *Apple* Professi...
**789256BR** **Job Title:** Geek Squad Advanced Repair Apple Professional **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store Number or Department:** 001135-Gulf Coast-Store Read more
Cub Foods - *Apple* Valley - Now Hiring Par...
Cub Foods - Apple Valley - Now Hiring Part Time! United States of America, Minnesota, Apple Valley Retail Post Date 1 day ago Requisition # 124800 Sign Up for Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.