Matt R.  //  Student by day, Blogger by night

Nov 6 / 4:45:29 AM

Interview: James Hoover - creator of Bean

I recently conducted an Interview with James Hoover creator of Bean a free word processor for OS X;

Me: When did you first come up with the concept for Bean?

James: I wrote fiction obsessively for about 10 years. However, at a certain point I was prescribed the medicine called donnatal for a stomach ailment. Donnatal is a combination of belladonna (the famous poison) and phenobarbital. The medicine left me in a serious daze, and although it solved my stomach problem, I suddenly found I couldn't write fiction anymore. I felt as though my head had been rewired.

I've heard artists say that you can't wait for the magic to happen, you have to sit at your desk in your office and make it happen. So I sat there looking at my clamshell iBook's screen for about two weeks, trying to rid myself of the torpor. I was using Microsoft's Office X at the time, which was very old school. At the bottom of your document window in Word you had this row of winkie blinkies with cryptic labels like REC, TRK, EXT, and OVR. I thought, "What are those things? Does anybody know?" People where complaining then about the endless rows of tiny icons you had to deal with in Word. Dozens and dozens of them. Back then, there was almost no other option for a Mac word processor. Microsoft had crushed all of its competition.

I thought, what would my ideal word processor look like? I studied the history of OS X and learned about NeXTSTEP, the company and the operating system that Steve Jobs created when he was booted out of Apple at the beginning of the 1990s. There were some very capable word processing apps out there for NeXT computers. I studied screen shots and read reviews. Surprisingly, most of the code for those old apps has been lost. For instance, Sun Microsystems bought all the code for the Lighthouse Design apps, the most important suite of apps on the NeXTSTEP platform. When the Java language came to the fore, the Lighthouse code was forgotten about and lost (all of their stuff was not written in java, but in objective-c). I contacted a guy at Sun and inquired about the code for OpenWrite. He said that no one at this point knows if that code still exists.

OS X and its Cocoa frameworks is in fact the direct descendent of NeXTSTEP, so I knew that I could create something very similar to those historical screenshots I found on the internet. Bean is *very* NeXTSTEP-ish. Drop-down sheets and multi-window interfaces are quite passé now on OS X, but I decided to design Bean in step with the Cocoa frameworks so I would be using what is offered to the programmer 'for free' by the operating system (things like document windows, the font and color panels, spellcheck, etc.). 

Originally, I budgeted three months to work on Bean. Two months to learn the objective-c language (I'm not a programmer!), and one to finish the app. That was in 2006, so I've only gone two years and nine months over schedule…

Me: Is Bean a one man project or are they're others involved?

James: Mostly, just me, James Hoover. However, the majority of the icons in the current version (the app icon and the toolbar icons) were created by a fellow named Laurent Baumann. He was formerly living in Cannes, on the Côte dAzur, doing magazine layout, but became interested in icon design and offered his services on the Bean project. Since then, I believe he has moved to California. This year, he won an Apple Design award for his work on Font Case. There are also many involved who have donated their time to do translation work, that is, the tedious job of creating user interfaces for Bean in French, German, Italian, etc. And much of what Bean is now has resulted from user feedback. In the Changelog (the list of changes for each new version of Bean), I note when a change has resulted due to the suggestions of users.

Additionally, I use code by others in Bean that is open source, as Bean is. If you look under Bean Help > Credits you will see some of the other people whose code I use. Finally, the various programmers out there who work with the Cocoa text system tend to appeal to each other for help in solving tough problems, and solutions often result from this combined brainpower. 

Me: Have you participated or done any other projects aside from Bean?

James: No coding projects that have been released to the public, although I have been working on some projects lately that will either become part of Bean in the future, or else might become a totally new and different app.

Me: On the page entitled "origins of Bean" you start off by saying that you write short stories and novels, what titles might those be?

I never published anything because I was always too critical of my own writing. I spent six years writing one least ten totally different versions and rewrites. Without the benefit of a deadline, I could never call something 'finished.' So in a way, the fact that I had to move on to some other pursuit as my main hobby was a healthy thing. In software, there is always a deadline. The deadline is made clear by people who email me and say, "This feature doesn't work in Snow Leopard. When will it be fixed?!" So that's enough to keep things moving forward.

Me: Do you own a personal website (blog), or have a 'twitter' account?

James: I had a personal website from the mid-90s on Geocities, which was recently killed by Yahoo! So, currently, nothing. I don't even have a Facebook page, although I eavesdrop on my wife when she's on Facebook.
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Dec 12, 2009
testimonials said...
I have found so many interesting thing in your blog and I really love that Keep up the good work
Dec 13, 2009
David Dodd said...
Just brought new Macbook (had G4) I find your word (bean) extremely well put together. It is nice someone bothers to invest there time and energy into puting there mark on the Mac stage.
I wish you the best in ALL your efforts.
Dec 14, 2009
Matt R. said...
David, don't give credit to me. I only did the interview. You should give James Hoover some credit.

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