Developer of 3DTop Joost Bloemin generously agreed to answer questions from us here at FBB. The questions were excellent as well as were Joost's answers. Thanks to all who participated and especially to Joost for taking the time to pass on his experiences and knowledge to us here at FBB. Here are the Qs & As:
Q1 Joost, you have earned your stripes as a coder in the trenches, so to speak, being a music freak, as you put it in your developer profile and having picked up programming as a hobby. Has this made it a challenge for you to discuss things with fellow coders along the way, or has this not been too much of an issue or obstacle for you, so far?
Actually, i did a 4 year (engineering) electronics/telecommunications/programming study, but being a musician and audio-freak i only studied that to be able to work in the area of my main interest, developing audio/music equipment and software. I am very happy that i succeeded in earning a living with the work that i always wanted to do. Of course, often, things you like are things you mostly do the best.
I also never once worked for a boss :-) Although a customer is also your boss of course. But during the years my work involved more selling my/our own products instead of doing contract-developments for customers, which i used to do in the beginning.
My company has evolved in many different ways since it was started in 1988, first i was on my own, then with 2 partners eventually with 4 people personnel also, then when things started changing in the market and everything became more software, we're now with 3 and a few freelancers. When we were with 6 It was a great time, as i was making 3DTop in the middle of this ( 1999 and on) and 2 of the company worked on plugins for 3DTop also. We learned a lot from each other and there was much teamwork. We were working hard. very concentrated and fruitful.
Only obstacle was the time available, we were working hard to earn our daily bread. 3DTop was more of a hobby that suddenly became very successful.
Q2 Hey Joost, I'm inclined to ask where the inspiration came from for creating 3DTop?. Was it something you thought about for a while, would have liked, or did it just come about by accident?
With a friend of mine i wanted to make an entire OS in 3D in the early 90's, at the time we were looking into making our own computer with only GSP's ( TMS 34020 of TI). I did some experiments on an Atari ST computer, programmed all in Assembly . But due to other projects this was all put in the fridge. Until at one time, end of 1998, i had some spare time , was looking into OpenGL, did some experiments and within 1 week i actually had a 3-dimensional desktop, that was fun !
The many many many positive reactions of people at the time were for me completely baffling, wow, i'm popular :-) Especially the simplicity was great. Maybe some people had thought of this already, but even if they did, no one made it or came out in the open with it. There were some people doing a bit like it, but those projects were much too weird/elaborate, let's start with simplicity and see what happens from there was my motto.
And it really is that easy, why should we use flat non moving icons to look-for/remember things, when an icon can be any 3D model also, with or without animations or with userinteraction/feedbackfromsoftware ? Fun can be useful also :-) Look at all the movements being baked into current OS-es.
Technically of course there are some issues:
- 3d model complexity will always be limited
- picture quality of text/lines in 3D is not as good compared to flat 2D resolution optimized icons. Anti-alisaing is needed which in turn reduces possible complexity again.
But we all knew this would/will change in time ...
This is possible on consumer grade computers since late 90's and what i find very disappointing that nothing has progressed much. Yes, OSX/iOS is mostly OpenGL, which is good, but the icons are still based on flat images. How stupid is that. They do have some of the same fun kinetics that 3DTop had also. At that time i wanted to put some natural movement or behaviour into 3DTop also, actually here my interest in audio/signal processing was helpful, kinetics (natural movements) are mostly only higher order filters, not on audio but on movement this time.
Q3 Hi Joost, it's an honor to have you here. I stumbled onto 3DTop by chance and will probably never stop using it. It's an amazing piece of software. I would like to know, though about your Lupa mixer. Was that project inspired by a personal preference of yours, being that you are someone who seems to be involved in music, or did you notice a need for something of that nature ??
I too am a music freak.
Thanks for taking the time to be here.
A friend of a friend of mine was working for Philips Classics Recording studios who wanted to buy a new digital audio mixer (this was 1993). We got an introduction and it just "clicked", they saw our passion/abilities and we already had a product that did what they wanted to buy. We "only" had to upscale it a bit, to a 32 channel digital mixer with automation. We also were the only one with motorized pots which was a big pre. We were working on this with 4 people at the time.
Q4 Is your software development your means of earning a living or is it at this point more of a (serious) hobby. If the latter, what you do for gainful employment?
Earning a living. Currently with luci.eu . The customers who buy this are mainly broadcasters, where naturally support is a big issue. It also often "clicks" between them and us.
Q5 What led you into software development? Was there a specific thing or event that inspired you to learn to write software?
Yes ! the ability to use literal mathematics to change the tone of sounds. You do some multiplications and additions in software and the sound changes. This was really a WOW moment for me at age 23, when i was doing this in 1985 , programming a 68000 processor of an Atari ST in assembly.
Q6 Having, myself, played around with BASIC, FORTRAN, ASSEMBLER and C in the eighties, I realize how difficult it is to learn programming, even to my mediocre standard. Did you formally study programming at any time along the way, or did you exclusively teach yourself as you went along?
Formally i started with Fortran in my study, remainder i taught myself. After study i went on in Assembly exclusively for digital signal processing, even programming graphical interface GEM on Atari ST could be done in assembly, there even were books for that which i used intensively. At the end of the book it even had full asm-listing (with commentary) of many OS functions's source, open-source before it was being invented.... Then picked up C, used that for a very long time, combining with assembly where needed. Started using C++ only 5 years back, as i didn't need classes much before that.
Also did a lot of DSP programming for TI, Motorola and AD DSP's. In either C or assembly.
Basically if you know one programming language you can teach yourself any other language. It's not that difficult if you're creative. What you need most is imagination, to be able to think many steps ahead in your head. If you record your brainwaves during programming you'll see theta-waves that a tibetan monk would be proud of :-)
Doing a lot of mind-sports helps a lot in training also.
Q7 3DTop is a really light application. Do you have a ceiling on its size, considering all possible modifications in the future? I like the lightweight portable feel, although I suppose it would be easy to see how the program could grow some in size. This is why I ask.
I have no ceiling on size. You know, as it relies on OpenGL a lot, 3DTop can apparently stay reasonably light. I say apparently as it just happens to be so small, i don't know why, but i also don't know why other software is so huge :-)
In the future , i'll add more ready made desktops. Then the size of the download would increase of course, but not the size of the main program.
Q8 Any ideas or comments on where you see Freeware industry going in the next 3 or 4 years?
We'll be paying more and more for content or hardware, while the enablers would be free.
Not all software has content though, so then consider it to be a work of art for which you have to probably have to pay. I do think programmers are artists.
Q9 Where do you hope to be in the next 3 or 4 years? Pushing Microsoft into second place?
I hope 90% of all software has 3d-models inside the resource of their app's . And a plugin that interacts with the 3D-desktop.
Q10 Joost, you mentioned that you would like to make it possible for individuals to create desktop themes or packages that they could sell. Well, I love the flexibility that plug-in architecture brings to a program. Applying your thinking on themes to plug-ins, do you have any ideas about plug-ins or on whether you think they might be for sale like the themes (or are the plug-ins in your mind something different and to keep free)?
New plugins can be for instance ways for notifications , that would be visible in the 3d-model of an app. If an app contains a plugin , 3DTop could automatically install and use that also, just like a 3d-model. Hmm, that would be a nice new feature of 3DTop ...
Plugins could be free or not, it depends on the one who programmed it.
Once again thankyou to Joost for supplying us with a small amount of the details of the life of a developer. I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say we look forward to the future and whatever it may bring with regards to Joost, 3DTop, Lupa,, and whatever may be coming in the future from Joost and his friends and partners...
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