Blog readers responded positively to my entry about the Autodesk Viewing History. I suppose they like hearing stories from an insider. So in that vein, here is one about the birth of DWF.
In 1995 when Autodesk pondered how to best utilize the internet, we realized that non-AutoCAD users would like to be able to see design data on the web. We were so excited about this prospect, we did not give ourselves much time to provide it. After only a few weeks of development, CEO Carol Bartz, then CFO Christine Tsingos, and DWF inventor Brian Mathews flew to New York for one of our frequent press briefings. Our aim was to explain the DWF strategy and provide a technology preview.
The technology preview was to consist of a downloadable/executable installer for our WHIP! Netscape Navigator Plug-in. As no Autodesk products possessed the ability to generate DWF files yet, the Autodesk web site would host one or two sample files that Netscape browser users could view after installing the plug-in. Although this sounds simple by today's standards, preparation and execution of this technology preview was being done in terms of days instead of weeks or months.
|We were developing the Netscape Navigator Plug-in in our office in Alameda, California. The press briefing was on a Monday at 1:00 PM New York time which would make it 10:00 AM California time. After a long week and an even longer weekend, viewing of local DWF files was working but not viewing from a file server. At 10:00 PM Sunday night, I sent the programming team home. As this was a technology preview, I figured we could place links to the DWF files on the Autodesk web site, have people download the DWF files in addition to the installer, and let them view the files locally. They could understand the DWF strategy using the files on their own computers. At about 11:00 PM California time, I got a call at home from Christine Tsingos who asked "How's it going?" I explained, not well, and shared my plan for either putting up a "DWF section under construction" page (which was popular for web sites at the time) or allowing users to download the DWF files themselves. Not satisfied with that, Christine said (and I'll never forget this): "I can have Carol call you." Understanding what that meant, I assured her that was not necessary. I told her we'd get back on it.|
I called and awoke Tanvir Hassan, one of the original WHIP! programmers who met me at the Alameda office. Tanvir had a theory that the plug-in was not working, because the DWF MIME type was not registered on the server. This seems so obvious now, but recall that this is 1995, and mime was most well known as a strange and silent type of street performance. So Tanvir modified the WHIP! code to respond to JPEG instead of DWF and rebuilt a test version of the plug-in. The JPEG MIME type was already in place on servers. We renamed our DWF files to have .JPG extensions. We tried them on the server. It worked! So Tanvir's test demonstrated that it was indeed the missing MIME type.
So now all we needed to do was to get the drawing/x-dwf MIME type added to the Autodesk web servers, and our DWF files would work with .DWF extensions. By this time it was 4:00 AM on Monday. I called IT Administrator Susan Kwong at home and woke her up. I told her that I needed her to add a MIME type to the production Autodesk web servers. She said she would be glad to do that on some staging servers, test them for 2 weeks, and then make the change to the production servers. I explained that we did not have 2 weeks. We had only hours. Although I really had no idea how to do so, I told her: "I can have Carol call you." Susan updated the Autodesk web servers at 7:00 AM California time. The press briefing was held. The technology preview worked. We made it with 3 hours to spare.
This was the first time that DWF went beyond the paper.