MacOSX Week: Omnigroup Interview

OSX is the beneficiary of more than NeXTStep core technology. Apple’s new OS also inherited considerable expertise and terrific developers like the OmniGroup. These longtime developers for NeXTStep have been swept into the Apple world along with their preferred OS. In this significantly larger market, the Omnigroup has the advantage of exceptional depth of experience with OSX. OSNews spoke to Manny from the Omnigroup about their experiences so far.1. Can you tell us a little bit about your company?

Manny: The Omni Group was started by Wil Shipley in 1991 when he began working as a consulting programmer for NeXT, Steve Jobs’ company after he left Apple. Within a year he brought in his college buddies Ken Case and Tim Wood, and the three of them decided to form a real company doing NEXTSTEP consulting, as they always believed in the technology and wanted to see it used by everyone.

2. You’ve grown from being few consultants to having your own NEXTSTEP products and now OSX products. How did that happen?

Manny: Over the years Omni did contract work for large clients and wrote a number of applications for NEXTSTEP, including what is now our calling card, OmniWeb. OmniWeb was started in 1994 as a lark by Ken Case, and it was immediately so popular we kept improving it.

When Apple bought NeXT they took the NEXTSTEP technologies and turned them into Mac OS X, and that’s how we find ourselves the most experienced Mac OS X programmers in the business.

Right now, Omni currently employs 11 developers, 2 tech support people, 1 marketing person, and 1 office manager.

3. What features of OSX are you most impressed with?

Manny: Mac OS X offers customers a rock solid BSD foundation with a really cool user interface. It’s totally advanced, yet easy to use and learn.

Everything just looks and feels better with Aqua and integration with the Internet is easier with Mac OS X than with any other OS.

Additionally, Mac OS X’s protected memory architecture really works. You can run your system for months without ever crashing the OS.

4. Is OSX the ideal developer platform?

Manny: OS X is the operating system Omni has dedicated itself to bringing to fruition for 12 years. It has always been our goal to take the amazing object oriented frameworks in NEXTSTEP and get them into a popular operating system, so programmers everywhere can see what programming SHOULD be like.

Once a programmer has used Cocoa (what NEXTSTEP has become), there’s never any question about what the future of programming will be. It’s always just been a question of getting a large enough audience that the revolution can’t be squelched.

5. Can you describe the development experience for OSX?

Manny: Cocoa is not just an amazing toolkit, it offers a new way of approaching programming. It’s so easy to create the basic shell of a program you can literally do it in a couple minutes, and then you can take that shell and just start painting in features. It’s every programmer’s dream: the combination of rapid application development with the speed and reliability of a mature toolkit.

Essentially, what’s great about the environment is you can “mock up” your app in just a couple hours to see if it’s really what you wanted, and then you don’t have to rewrite it to start coding you just start filling in the gaps in your mock up, and pretty soon you are done.

Cocoa is, to us, the best of all worlds: it’s a high level toolkit that encourages beautiful, maintainable, tight code. We’ve found that when porting code to Cocoa it usually gets much faster as well as getting way smaller. One game we ported had its I/O code go from 18,000 lines of code to 800. Obviously, 800 lines of code are easier to maintain and debug.

We find it makes programming at LEAST 10x faster.

6. What can you tell us about your success with developing for OSX? How are your products being received?

Manny: All of The Omni Group’s applications are written in Cocoa, and not only does it make writing them 10x faster, it also makes maintaining and improving them 10x easier, because less code is always simpler to deal with. With a team of only about a dozen programmers, we’ve ported numerous games to Cocoa and written several of our own full featured applications, including OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniWeb (which won two Apple Design Awards ).

We’ve programmed in Cocoa and its predecessors for 12 years; we have literally dedicated our company to it, and we’ve never regretted this decision.

7. What has the reception been like from the Apple market?

Manny: Our products have been incredibly well received in the market place. In the short time that Mac OS X has been around, we have already sold over 5000 licenses of OmniWeb. That’s for an application that our competition is giving away for free!

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