TMO Interviews Rainer Brockerhoff: From XRay to Quay

Rainer Brockerhoff has been developing software for the Mac since the Mac first appeared on the scene back in 1984. He is probably best known for XRay, a valuable utility that went far beyond Apple's Get Info window in providing a friendly way for mucking around with UNIX's permissions settings and other file metadata. Currently, most of his time is being spent on Quay, a dock extender. Although Rainer is a German citizen, he has lived in Brazil for almost his entire life. He and I sat down for a chat the other day.

TMO: So tell me a bit about Quay.

Brockerhoff: Quay works with the Dock in Leopard. Hierarchical menus in the Dock pop up much faster with Quay installed. You also get more options in each item's menu. You can see things such as application versions, CPU and memory statistics, file size and the number of items in a folder. And it's all customizable.

TMO: What does a user have to pay for all of this?

Brockerhoff: Quay is shareware and costs around $10 in U.S. currency.

TMO: What's new with Quay? I see on your t-shirt something about Quay plug-ins.

Brockerhoff: Yes. I wanted Quay to be able to have even more options than the ones that are built in to it. So I created a Quay plug-in SDK. The public beta should be out within a month or two. With the SDK, anyone can create a plug-in that will work within Quay so as to add new features.

I am also working on a Snow Leopard update to the Quay application. The new version will allow Quay to work with contextual menus of Finder items. I figured out a way to do this even though the contextual menu plug-in option is technically gone in Mac OS X 10.6 (additions are made through Services instead). I did it by using a lightweight background process that is still approved to work with Snow Leopard.

I will be using the Quay plug-in SDK myself to convert several of my other software to work as a Quay plug-in instead. I'm doing this with Zingg! and Nudge as well as most parts of XRay.

TMO: Speaking of XRay. It's long been one of my favorite troubleshooting utilities. However, your Web page says that it "has some issues with Leopard." Could you tell us more about this?

Brockerhoff: XRay began has a hack I worked on at a MacHack Conference back in 2002. I did it mainly to get practice using Cocoa, not with any intention for it to become a major product. But, within a few months of it being available to the public, it became clear that it was quite popular. So I continued to update it.

However, it started having problems with Leopard, mainly because of the way Leopard changed how permissions and file metadata work. XRay's file browser does not work in Leopard. Neither does getting permissions for folder contents.

It could all be fixed but I decided it was not worth the effort. XRay had so many "hacks" in its code that it would have been very time-consuming to clean it up. Plus, the Get Info windows in Leopard now handle most of what people used to do in XRay. Even so, some of XRay's features will survive as a Quay plug-in.

TMO: Is writing all of these programs a full time job for you?

Brockerhoff: Not really. Until about nine years ago, I also had a job working with the Macs installed at a medical equipment company. Since leaving that job, I consider myself "semi-retired."

TMO: I know you've been developing software for the Mac for a long time. How did you first get into it?

Brockerhoff: I had been working on mainframe computers but got an Apple II back in 1977 and started programming for that. When the Mac came out in 1984, I wanted to stay with Apple, so I just switched over. I learned how to program the Mac from the original looseleaf version of Inside Macintosh. And I was one of first members of BMUG. I never used PCs during any of that time. Just the Mac.

Back in 1986, I was also involved with the Brazilian Mac clone project, called the Unitron Mac512. Not surprisingly, Apple forced us to shut it down.

TMO: How long have you been coming to the WWDC?

Brockerhoff: My first one was in the early 1990's. I have come pretty much every year since then.

TMO: What makes it worth coming back to the WWDC every year?

Brockerhoff: Mainly to meet and talk with all the people here. The Mac developer community is absolutely the best. Getting to talk with Apple engineers in the Labs is also critical. I learn more just by talking to people than attending the sessions.

I guess coming here also helps to get some of the new information faster than if I had to wait for it to become available online.

TMO: How has it been working with Apple Developer Relations?

Brockerhoff: It's hard to say. Living in Brazil, I don't really have much to do with Apple throughout the year. The staff here at the WWDC have always been helpful, although probably a bit more so back in the 1990's than now. But I have no real complaints.

TMO: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I look forward to the release of the Quay plug-in SDK.