Home > Features > Feature Article > Joe Esch: SketchUp, Cocoa and Mac OS X


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Joe: I had been thinking about ways to make doing 3D modeling easier for a long time. When Brad and I got together one day, we discovered that we had a lot of similar ideas. Once we had sketched out what we thought we could do with the application, we started looking at whom to market it [to]. Brad and I both had some experience with the AEC space. In addition, we thought that the modeling requirements for architecture were in general easier than those for a lot of MCAD design. Finally, we knew that a lot of the people doing design exploration weren't using any kind of CAD tools because they were either too hard to use or too inflexible. All of these factors came together to make us decide to target architectural design as our first market.

We've always felt that we would eventually like to apply the same principles to other 3D design markets.

AFR. Well, it will be exciting to see what may become of that. Now @Last Software has won numerous awards in a relatively quick period of time for SketchUp. In your estimation what is SketchUp's primary killer feature....what makes it so attractive to users? What are they telling you?

Joe: What we hear over and over is that people like it because it is easy to use and learn. A lot of people tell us that they have tried to use 3D modeling applications before, but that they were just too complicated.

AFR. So you guys really are living proof that "ease-of-use" and ultra simplicity still matter in the market. Did you guys ever question whether or not ease-of-use would matter so much -- I mean did you think that ease of use would be the main selling point?

Joe: From the very beginning, ease of use and ease of learning were the main points of SketchUp. We didn't have any interest in coming out with just another new CAD system. Our goal was always to come up with something that would make 3D design easy enough that people who were not using CAD because it was too hard would use SketchUp.

When I talk to Brad, I tell him that I still think that even SketchUp is too hard to use. I am always looking for ways to make it easier to use without reducing it capabilities any. Whenever we add any new features we always debate how to add them without making the application more complicated.

AFR. That's a very Macintosh-centric way of thinking and it's not surprising that SketchUp would be so successful in the Windows world where that kind of thinking and simplicity is very hard to find.

You guys have worked with a lot of CAD developers. What are you doing specifically with CAD developers to enable them to interoperate with SketchUp? Do you provide an SDK?

Joe: We have an SDK that lets you either create plugins to SketchUp that allow you to export files in different formats from within SketchUp, or write plugins to other applications that allow you to read SketchUp files. Because we don't try to do everything in SketchUp, one of our goals is to "play well with others". We want to make it easy for someone to do some early design exploration in SketchUp and then bring their model into a CAD applications for detailing or a high-end rendering application for rendering, or into whatever other applications a user might have for performing other tasks that SketchUp doesn't try to do.

AFR. So I understand that you are now developing SketchUp on the Mac OS X platform. So that makes you a fairly important Switcher in your opinion - an award-winning developer has switched to the Mac. What is so fetching about Mac OS X in your opinion....what are some of the things you like as a user?

Joe: As a programmer, I really like developing on the Mac because of the Cocoa framework. It makes everything so much easier.

As a user, I've gotten used to the nice looking UI on the Mac. When I have to do things on my Windows machine now, everything looks kind of klunky to me. The applications that I use most on the Mac seem to follow more along the lines that we try to follow with SketchUp. I like applications with a nice clean user interface that is easy to learn and use. When I run things on Windows, it seems like what I am trying to do is overwhelmed by too many toolbars and buttons and other things.

AFR. Is there a favorite Apple application that you admire...something you feel is done excellently along the same values you put into SketchUp?

Joe: It's hard to single out one application as being one that I especially like. It is more the general style. For example, I like the lean simple look of Safari as compared to IE on Windows. I use Apple's Mail application rather than Entourage, and I generally use TextEdit rather than Word for editing documents. In general, I prefer simple applications that let me get my job done quickly and easily to more complicated applications that try to do everything. OmniOutliner is another example of what I think is a great application.

AFR. Well it's great to hear a veteran Windows and Unix developer discover the elegance of Mac OS X and your award-winning SketchUp application is living proof that simplicity has beneficial power in computing. Hopefully other Windows developers will follow suit. Thanks for taking the time to share your ProSwitcher story with Architosh.

Joe: You're welcome, thanks for asking us.

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Home > Features > Feature Article > Joe Esch: SketchUp, Cocoa and Mac OS X




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