interview // 2007.01.24 08:56:42 [hh]

"Path Finder"-Autor Steve Gehrman im Interview: "I kind of expected to at least get an email from someone at Apple"

gehrman.jpgMit Steve Gehrman, Gründer des Mac-Software-Entwicklers CocoaTech und Autor des File-Browsers "Path Finder" (ein potentieller Ersatz für Apples "Finder"), sprach Screen2.0 über die Hintergründe dieses interessanten Projektes, über Apple und über File Management. Lesen Sie hier das exklusive Screen2.0-Interview in englischer Sprache.

Screen2.0: Steve, you started out as a Mac programmer? What is your background? How came "Path Finder" into existence?

Steve Gehrman: Yes, I have always been a Mac programmer. My first programming experience was writing simple BASIC programs on the Apple II, but my first real programming was on a Mac SE using "Think C". One of my first applications on the Mac was a simple data compression program. Back in those days data compression was kind of a hot technology with apps like "Stuffit", "SpaceSaver", "AutoDoubler", "DiskDoubler", and a bunch of others. My app didn't work well, but that was my first real Mac app. I've never used a Windows machine in my life! I'm very happy that I was able to avoid Windows programming.

I graduated college with a computer science degree in 1991 and was living in Texas. Luckily, one of the best Mac software development companies was also in Texas and that was where I got my first job. The company was Alsoft ( They are now famous for writing "Diskwarrior", but at the time they produced "Disk Express 2" which was a disk optimizer which was very popular at the time. I only worked there a year, but it got me started on the right path. I would read "Inside Macintosh" and tried to learn as much as I could about the Mac Toolbox. The owner and lead programmer Albert Dion was one of the best Mac developers on the planet at that time.

After I quit Alsoft, I moved to California and worked for "Final Draft" ( I wrote versions 4 and 5 of their popular screenwriting software, "Final Draft", and also wrote "Three by Five", a not very well known app that did index cards.

The dot-com boom started and I decided to change jobs and got a job at Static Online ( Static eventually bombed, but they morphed into Akimbo ( which is still alive. I was laid off, and at that time the economy wasn't great, people were getting laid off everywhere and no one was hiring, so I decided to buy a new G3 and a copy of the first release of OS X Server and I studied Cocoa. Initially the plan was to learn Cocoa and get a job at Apple. Everyday I would wake up and write Cocoa code and I had sent my resume to Apple, so I was waiting for them to hire me. Apple never called and I never even got an interview, but the Cocoa that I was writing morphed into what is now "Path Finder". I put it online and it started selling and I've been doing that ever since. That was in 2001. Sales were slow at first, but they slowly grew to the point where I could make a living off it.

Screen2.0: "Path Finder" is your only software product. Do you have plans for other programs?

Gehrman: "Path Finder" is my only product for now. I made a choice early on between either writing multiple small apps, or one large app. I decided to do a large app that I could continue to develop and improve. My previous project, "Final Draft" was also a large app and it was very successful. I thought that if I could write something substantial, then it would be too large for a competitor to copy. I think this has worked well so far.

Screen2.0: In your own words, what is the main advantage of "Path Finder" over Apple's "Finder" system software?

Gehrman: I haven't used the "Finder" since 10.0, so I don't compare them often. :) There are many great features in "Path Finder" that I use all the time. The Path Navigator, the Drop stack, the preview and info views, the integrated disk burning and DMG creation, viewing invisible files. I could list every feature I guess. I like it all.

Screen2.0: Did you ever have talks with Apple about integrating "Path Finder" into MacOS X?

Gehrman: No, never. I kind of expected to at least get an email from someone at Apple, or someone on the Finder team, but I've gotten nothing.

Screen2.0: How will your MacOS 10.5 roadmap for "Path Finder" look like?

Gehrman: 10.5 is a huge improvement. Obj-C 2 is great and will make writing Cocoa apps 10x simpler. I haven't done any work with Leopard yet, but the first step is to make my code compatible with garbage collection and the other Obj-C 2 features.

There are also many great improvements with file system notifications system in Leopard. I'll be able to throw out lots of complex code in Path Finder and use the OS rather than doing my own file change monitoring.

Leopard has a new Icon view which looks cool. I'll replace Path Finder's icon view and use this instead. There's also Core Animation. I'm also guessing there will be some significant UI changes in Leopard.

I can't remember all the changes in Leopard, it's been a while since WWDC, but Path Finder will radically change and will be a much better program under Leopard. I can't wait to start Leopard development. Developer productivity under Leopard will be much higher.

Screen2.0: What will the next features be that you want to integrate into "Path Finder"?

Gehrman: I'm currently working on a plugin system for Path Finder. This will be released in 4.7 and will be a free upgrade. This will allow anyone to make very simple Cocoa plugins to Path Finder. I'm also integrating a new version of iTerm (the code I use for my terminal).

Screen2.0: Can you provide numbers on how many "Path Finder" users are using your tool and how these numbers grew in the past?

Gehrman: I wish I could, but I don't keep track. One reason I started my own business is that I wanted to program full time and not have to worry about anything else. As long as my bank account has money, I know things are OK. I could probably query my sales database and find out, but I've never needed to know.

Screen2.0: What do you think is the future of file management and browsing? Do you see any new approaches or trends?

Gehrman: I'm not sure if there are any trends or new approaches, but I'm always looking for ideas. I should probably spend more time looking at Windows and Linux.

Dealing with hundreds and thousands of items is always going to be challenging. Apple's got Spotlight which is one way of dealing with this problem. I personally feel more comfortable just browsing folder as opposed to searching for something, I'm not sure why. It's probably because it's simpler to just click on things than it is to think of a query and select popups and type.

Apple has done a great job developing "Quartz Composer" and Core animation. I'm not sure what will come out of this, but this is the future of UI. A really fast and intuitive 3D UI could work, but it's obviously pretty difficult since no one has done it yet.