The slow death of the indie mac dev 13 May 2010
cocoa opinion software development

Once upon a time I was a Mac developer. I loved Cocoa, I loved building Mac software, Mac OS X was once upon a time the greatest thing ever. I recall writing posts, and even founding a mailing list in the earlier days of Core Data, which I was using in tandem with Cocoa Bindings, which themselves were almost a black art. I was on a couple of podcasts talking about web services with Cocoa or MacWorld. I loved the Mac platform, and would have gladly rubbed Steve Jobs’ feet and thanked him a thousand times for saving Apple from the despair of the late 1990’s. As Apple grew, things slowly started to change, and we started to grow apart.

As I started to drift away, I gave a presentation at CocoaHeads presenting some of the changes and improvements to the Windows development stack, not supremely keen on the idea of building Windows applications, I was clearly on the market for “something else”. Further and further I drifted, until I eventually traded my MacBook Pro in for a Thinkpad, foregoing any future I might have developing Mac software. My decade long journey of tinkering and learning on Macintosh computers had ended.

When Mac OS X was in it’s original Rhapsody-phase, in the weird nether-world between Platinum and Aqua, Apple realized that it had been held back by not giving developers tools to build for the platform. Apple began to push Project Builder which became Xcode, which became the key to the Intel-transition and has helped transform Mac OS from a perennial loser in the third-party software world to a platform offering the absolute best in third-party software. Third-party applications of impressive quality were built and distributed by the “indie mac devs”, Adium, Voodoo Pad and Acorn from Flying Meat, Nicecast and Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba, FuzzMeasure Pro from SuperMegaUltraGroovy, Growl, NetNewsWire or MarsEdit originally from Brent Simmons (NetNewsWire is now owned by NewsGator, while MarsEdit was acquired by Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software), Yojimbo and BBEdit from BareBones, even Firefox, Camino and Opera filled the gap while Apple pulled Safari out of it’s craptastic version 2 series. Applications were used on Mac OS X instead of web applications because the experience was better, faster and integrated with Address Book, iPhoto,, iMovie and all of Apple’s own stack.

Then came the iPhone, with its “Web SDK” nonsense. The story, at least at the time, was clear to me. Apple didn’t care about me. Apple didn’t care about its developers. Build a web application using JavaScript and AJAX (a Microsoft innovation, I might add) over AT&T’s EDGE network? Fuck you! A number of months later, back-tracking on the “Web SDK” concept, the iPhone SDK came out at WWDC with a ridiculous NDA, forbidding developers from talking about it publicly. Then the App Store was bundled with iTunes and iPhone OS, with Apple becoming the gatekeeper between indie developer, and Joe User. Of course, more recently in the long line of iPhone/developer related tragedies, the infamous Section 3.3.1. There’s also some hub-ub about the Apple Design Awards 2010, only focusing on iPhone and iPad apps which is quite disconcerting for indie mac devs, who routinely compete and win awards for the best Mac applications.

The message is clear, Apple wants to completely own users on its platform and sit between developers and their users, dictating terms.

It’s no wonder that @rentzsch, a major voice in the indie mac dev community, and organizer of the C4 conference is throwing in the towel on organizing C4 entirely (discussed in this post).

It’s not entirely clear whether the “indie mac dev” community will continue to exist for too much longer, there is some speculation that a “Mac App Store” is brewing in Cupertino right now or perhaps modifications to Mac OS X similar to what is present on the iPhone. If I were still part of the “indie mac dev” tribe, I’d feel very nervous right now about what will happen at this year’s WWDC, as Dan Wood from Karelia knows, Apple feels no remorse with stomping on Mac developers.

Worst comes to worst, I sincerely invite indie Mac developers to bring their user-experience talent and software-building energy to the weird but exciting world of web software, so long as Google keeps Facebook in check, the web should remain open for a good long while.