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Thu, 30 Oct 2008

Cocoa, Finder, and Magic

Various Mac rumour sites are now reporting that Apple's in-development release of Mac OS X, code-named Snow Leopard, will feature its major applications rewritten in Apple's Cocoa API. Supposedly, especially notable among these rewritten apps is Finder--the program that manages the user's interaction with the file system.

If true, this represents a strategic shift of some importance for Apple. Finder is currently written in Carbon, the updated API from the old Classic Mac OS. During the transition to OS X, Apple released Finder as a Carbon app to showcase what the Carbon frameworks could do. However, since Carbon has been deprecated for the next generation of OS X--it will only be maintained as a 32-bit framework, while Cocoa will support 64-bit (and Snow Leopard is all about 64-bit--it makes sense for Apple to rewrite Finder as a Cocoa application.

Some Mac users dislike the Finder for various interface quirks. John Gruber is notable among these critics. Some users, less informed than Gruber, attribute what they view as Finder's flaws to its use of Carbon, rather than to the way the program itself is designed, and imagine that a Cocoa Finder will solve all the issues with Finder. (For what it's worth, I'm neutral on the Finder--it does what I need it to do, and I don't have significant issues with it.)

Gruber, to his credit, understands that whatever flaws the Finder has will not be solved by being moved from C++ and Carbon to Objective-C and Cocoa. I'll link his post here, but it's brief, so it's worth quoting in full:

Everyone out there with a stiffy for the "rewritten in Cocoa" Snow Leopard Finder needs to get a grip. Cocoa is just an API. It is not some sort of magic technology where you just sprinkle a ton of square brackets in your source code and you instantly get a better UI. From a user's perspective, the Snow Leopard Finder is going to be pretty much the exact same turd we've had in Mac OS X all along.

His post is titled "Magic Cocoa Pixie Dust." Sprinkling a little bit--or a lot--of Cocoa on your program won't make it magically better. In fact, trying to add Cocoa can be downright painful.

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