Fenton webb interview


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An Interview with Autdesk developer Fenton Webb on how he made it easier for applications developers to develop for Autodesk

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Fenton webb interview

  1. 1. Global Services ADN AppStore for AutoCAD 2012ADN ContactFenton WebbSenior Developer ConsultantTaking a good thing—and making it great.In June, the Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) launched an AppStore for the Windows version of AutoCAD2012. Senior Developer Evangelist Fenton Webb recognized that the AppStore represented a key milestone, offeringtremendous potential for Autodesk, our developers and customers.Fenton also considered that AutoCADs current model for deploying apps, which was cumbersome, complex andslow to implement, could keep the AppStore from achieving its full potential. He believed Autodesk had to offer abetter solution. So he created it—and gave the AppStore one of the key factors in its success. We asked Fenton totell us about his work on this project.You werent asked to develop a new tool—what was your original role?I was to be the liaison between my own group and the AutoCAD for Mac (SledgeHammer) senior developmentteam. My job was to keep my team informed about the product, and also ensure that third-party developers needswere met as features were developed.What made you start thinking about creating a new app tool?Working with the SledgeHammer team, it became apparent to me that AutoCADs existing mechanisms fordeploying apps just werent going to work; the existing Windows-styleplug-in architecture was going to present a lot of issues on the Mac.Also, Id been concerned for a long time that the deployment mechanism we offered our developers on the Windowsplatform really wasnt providing a good experience—it was way too difficult to use and very messy.I had come up with some ideas for a new mechanism a few years ago, and talked with Kean Walmsley (SeniorManager, worldwide DevTech) about it. At that point, the timing wasnt right, but I knew that sooner or later wewould have to offer a better solution for deploying our apps.Then, about two years later, out of the blue, Jim Quanci (Director, Autodesk Developer Network) mentioned that anew AutoCAD AppStore was being talked about. That was when I knew it was time to start thinking again about myoriginal idea. The success of the Apple iPhone and widespread adoption of smartphone technology means that
  2. 2. customers now expect to install and deploy apps quickly and easily. I wanted to give users that kind of experiencewith apps installed into AutoCAD.I knew that our AppStore had enormous potential. But I was seriously concerned that, unless we offered an easierway to install and deploy AutoCAD apps, developers wouldnt adopt it.How did you get the go-ahead to develop a new tool?Kean mentioned to Jim Quanci that our current installation design for apps was much too complicated and that I hada proposal he thought Autodesk should pursue. Jim and Kean asked me to present a clearer idea of what I had inmind, and I quickly produced a prototype. They liked it, and Jim gave me the go ahead.What were the biggest challenges in the project?One of my first and biggest challenges was how to create an app deployment mechanism that would not only workfor Mac, but for Windows, too. I also needed to figure out how to make that same mechanism work across allAutodesk products, regardless of language. And I had to keep it simple so that that our developer community wouldwant to use it.In addition to the cross-platform, cross-product, multi-language deployment challenges, I was focused on theexperience of AppStore users. What I created had to be 100% effective and super simple—or it just wouldntsucceed.One feature that was a big challenge was the "On Appearance" loading of apps, which is key to keeping theAppStore user experience clean and simple. Basically, if a user visits the AppStore, purchases a product, and installsit while AutoCAD is running, the app automatically loads and initializes it, while also displaying "help" information,right in front of the users eyes. Thats a bit like having a sunroof installed in your car as youre driving down thefreeway—and its a serious advantage for AutoCAD users. A lot of people thought it would be nice to have, butwasnt worth the effort required. But Im glad I pursued it because its made a huge difference to the AppStore userexperience.Once the overall design was in place, I had to find a way to automate the creation of the apps, and create a tool to doit. Here again, the challenge was to give the developer an easy way to create the installation deployment—while alsomaking it easy for the end user. It took a lot of work to create the tool that would automate the entire process.What were your main considerations when designing the tool?Building a mechanism that would be elegantly simple was always my goal. Id been gathering up all the differentways that third party developers had used to deploy apps, comparing them with what the average user wants andneeds from the product, so I could use them as a basis for my design.I was really strict about following my own rules. The minute any kind of complexity started creeping into thedesign, I knew it was the wrong way to go, and went back to the drawing board. My focus was on finding a simplerway to achieve the same thing, even if it meant much more work on the implementation side.What programs does it work with?I designed it from the start to work for all Autodesk products, not just AutoCAD. The Inventor, Vault and Revitteams will soon launch their own free apps using this same technology. AutoCAD verticals already have support forthis technology.What difference has the new tool made?
  3. 3. With this new automated tool, users can install an app in a few seconds. They dont even have to know whichplatform theyre using because it works with Windows 32-bit and Windows 64-bit. We removed a headache for theuser by ensuring that the same installation files for a single app can be used on Mac, Windows 32, and Windows 64.Also, because we are using a standard installation user interface, users are much more familiar with whats goingon—and that helps keep Product Support happy.Ive received positive feedback from the app developers. For years, the process they had for deploying apps forAutodesk was very annoying, slow, and difficult. It took a week—or three. Now, all of a sudden, they can createtheir installer deployment in about 10 minutes, so theyre really excited.Bear in mind that we have more than 3,000 companies around the world who are members of our AutodeskDeveloper Network and each has, on average, three to five developers. And there are also CAD managers, anddevelopers who arent registered with us. So this has made a lot of people happy because they can get their apps tomarket faster—which, of course, means more money for Autodesk.Any final words?The fact that ADN is so experienced with apps means that we were able to contribute significantly to implementingthe AppStore feature in AutoCAD 2012. Its great to do something that makes such a big improvement to our usersexperience. Last Updated: 11/22/2011 Page Owner: Jim Veilleux © Copyright 2011 Autodesk