Interview David Rousset David Rousset.

The Cool Microsoft Guy

French David Rousset was among the speakers at this year's ColdFront conference. He’s a rare combination of Microsoft veteran and the innovator behind several non-commercial open source projects.Meet him and find out how he made 3D visualization easier and faster to work with.

David Rousset began his career in Microsoft about fifteen years ago, where he worked as a support engineer on Internet Explorer 6 for a number of years – a project he describes as a developer’s nightmare. Later, he transferred to a different Microsoft division, where he became a so-called ‘HTML evangelist’. Today, he is senior program manager for Microsoft Edge.

“But I still spend a lot of time on HTML5 speaking at conferences and writing about front-end development, for example based on JavaScript and CSS. Together with a Microsoft colleague, David Catuhe, I’ve also been involved in development of the Babylon.js and Vorlon.js frameworks,” explains David Rousset over a crackling Skype connection from Paris.

Support from Microsoft

David Rousset’s reputation in the developer community is in fact based on the two non-commercial open source frameworks he helped develop.

“In France, I’m known as the Cool Microsoft Guy,” he laughs. He’s very conscious of the fact that what Microsoft stands for as one of the world’s dominant IT companies doesn’t necessarily harmonize with hobby projects like Babylon.js and Vorlon.js. But over time, he and Microsoft have established a balance between the two worlds which benefits both parties.

Does Microsoft even consider your work on Babylon.js and Vorlon.js to be important?
“In the beginning, David Catuhe and I only worked on those projects in our free time. In other words evenings, weekends and vacations. But it’s gradually become clear that Babylon.js allows us to use this technology in our support work on Microsoft’s platforms, for example Windows Phone, Internet Explorer and Edge. What’s more, the Microsoft management team understood that we were still representing Microsoft in a way when we participated in conferences, even though we weren’t speaking about Microsoft’s technologies directly. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone, and today,we’re getting more and more support from the Microsoft organization to maintain our hobby projects.”

From Microsoft's viewpoint, I guess it makes good sense to be connected to the two of you and your projects?
“Absolutely. It helps Microsoft a lot to have people like us who are part of a community without having any commercial interests,” confirms David Rousset.

Babylon.js is about reducing complexity

Now for the nuts and bolts. For the uninitiated, WebGL is a JavaScript API which can render interactive 3D and 2D graphics in any compatible browser without plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight. But WebGL is a relatively difficult, complex technology to work with – even for experienced developers. This was the challenge that originally led David and David to develop Babylon.js.
“Our goal was to create a layer of abstraction around WebGL and make a framework that’s really easy to work with and that works on all devices,” explains David Rousset.

“David Catuhe has worked with 3D visualization for over thirty years, but I’ve never been particularly good at it. I don’t know why, but you get the feeling that there are some developers who’ve actively tried to make 3D technology hard to understand. So at one point while David and I were developing Babylon.js, I told him that if I don’t understand this, there are probably a lot of other developers who don’t understand it either. That lead us to a make a series of decisions and omit certain features from the tool. Today the feedback we hear most often is that Babylon.js is incredibly simple to work with. That makes me happy and proud.”

The target audience for Babylon.js

“The target audience is anyone who wants to create 3D visualizations on the web. This could be people who make interactive 3D games. Or it could be people who want to make animated logos. Or museums who want to give their visitors virtual tours. There are lots of possibilities. And right now we’re in dialogue with the game developer Ubisoft, who’re interested in working with us, and we’re also talking to a company that makes light versions of flight simulators.”

Out of the comfort zone

David Rousset explains that there has been a definite development in his and Catuhe’s interaction with the community that uses Babylon.js.

“For quite some time in the early days, people wrote to ask us questions about the code instead of reading it themselves when they encountered something they didn’t understand. Then they started reading the code themselves, and after about a year, the community began to acquire the skills they needed to start helping develop the code themselves. That’s extremely helpful in a non-commercial project like ours, because it’s tough only having two people to maintain the programme,” says David Rousset.

Both Babylon.js and Vorlon.js are a source of inspiration for many developers. Where do you find your own inspiration?
“I’m fortunate enough to be invited to a lot of conferences. When I’m not speaking myself, I listen to the other speakers and draw a lot of inspiration from them,” says David Rousset, and continues:

“On the most general level, my best piece of advice for others who are seeking inspiration is to get out of their comfort zone. If you’re a WebGL expert, for example, it’s not particularly interesting to attend a conference on WebGL, because most of it will be familiar knowledge. When I’m at a conference, for example, I try to listen to design experts so I can learn about their challenges. As a developer, I have a different approach to web projects than they do. And who knows – maybe we can help each other?”


Babylon.js

Babylon.js is a complete open source JavaScript framework that can be used for applications such as building and running 3D games directly in a browser with HTML 5 and WebGL.

Whereas drawing even simple 3D objects in WebGL is a complex operation requiring a huge amount of JavaScript code, it can be done in Babylon.js with much less code and in a much simpler way.

Read more at: www.babylonjs.com

Vorlon.js

Vorlon.js is an open source tool for remote JavaScript code debugging and testing in a web browser on any device.

Read more at: www.vorlonjs.com

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