Mac OS X and the applications running on it are known for being sometimes unusual in the look and feel. For some reason developer on Mac OS X seems to be more creative than on other platforms. For an application developer which deals with user input it is important to make any user interaction as useful as possible and present this information in a way which is on the one side as much less annoying as possible but also attractive and informative on the other side. Lastly I was thinking about how to show the users they are using a beta version, which should remind them that this is not production ready software, but on the same time make it easy to respond to bugs they find in this pre-release. The solution, I came up with, was a badge in the toolbar which shows this is a release which is definitely in a testing phase, but also allows the user to double-click to give a respond to this particular version. In the following post I will show how to do this.
As you may know, developing for multiple platforms is one of my strengths. Strictly speaking, it’s a basic requirement if you are involved in such a product like VirtualBox, which runs on every major (and several minor) platform available today. Beside the GUI, which uses Qt and therewith is portable without any additional cost (which isn’t fully true if you want real native look and feel on every platform, especially on Mac OS X), all the rest of VirtualBox is written in a portable way. This is done by using only C/C++ and Assembler when necessary. Everything which needs a different approach, because of the design of the OS (and the API’s which are available there), is implemented in a platform dependent way. In the history of VirtualBox, several modules are created and grown by the time, which makes it really easy to deal with this differences. For stuff like file handling, paths, strings, semaphores or any other basic functionality, you can just use the modules which are available. On the other side it might be necessary, for a new feature we implement, to write it from the ground. In the following post I will show how to create a file shortcut for the three major operation systems available today.
Apple has many task specific controls built into Cocoa. They are all well designed and have most of the functionality a user and a developer expect. One of this controls is the NSSearchField. This control has a special design which allows the user to recognize the provided functionality with ease. It is so well-known that Apple uses the design even on there website. It has support for menus (e.g. for recent search items), auto completion, a cancel button, and so one. Although this is mostly feature complete, there are sometimes cases where you like to extend it. In this post, I will show how to add another visual hint to this control when a search term isn’t found. The aim is to change the background of the underlying text edit to become light red to visual mark the failed search.
Making applications looking and feeling as native as possible on every supported platform is one of my main responsibilities within the VirtualBox development. Most of the work therefor is done by the Qt framework which we are using for our GUI. Qt does a nice job for Windows and most of the currently popular X11 window toolkits used under Unix and Linux. They are behaving and looking similar in many ways which make it easy to develop for both architectures. Unfortunately this doesn’t count in any case for Mac OS X, which often uses very different approaches or uses very specialized controls to reach a specific aim. One of this controls is the Mac OS X help button who every Mac user is familiar with. If an Mac OS X application doesn’t use this help button, it breaks the design rules and the application, lets say, smells a little bit “under designed”. The following little example shows how to integrate a NSButton seamlessly into your Qt application.