3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 40: Enter Comso Worlds
Lesson 40 - Enter Cosmo Worlds - Part 1
A few months back, we devoted a series of columns to the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML). The immediate cause of our attention to this important subject was the finalization of the VRML 2 specification (under the name VRML 97), but our larger purpose was to stress a watershed event in interactive 3D graphics, both on and off the Internet. With a powerful new standard for VRML development, and the arrival of browsers that supported this new standard, it appeared that a new era was truly about to dawn. In short, it was time to take VRML seriously. Very seriously. If you missed our discussion at that time, you may wish to look over Lessons 27 through 31 from the 3D Animation Workshop home page.
Let's get back to the subject of VRML for the next few lessons, and the cause of our return is occasioned by events no less significant than those that first brought us to the subject. Cosmo Software has recently released Cosmo Worlds for Windows. The arrival of this product on the VRML landscape redefines the medium and its future. I'll attempt to explain why I believe this is so in the present lesson, and we'll explore the program in detail over the next two or three months.
The past, present and future of VRML are intimately tied to Silicon Graphics Incorporated, and specifically to SGI's Cosmo Software division. The original VRML 1 language was mostly SGI's own Open Inventor file format adapted for the special considerations of transmission over the Internet. SGI's Cosmo Player, in all of its generations, has been the leading VRML browser--the application that actually displays VRML files through a standard Web browser.
SGI has always held the highest status in the computer graphics world. For many years, SGI workstations were virtually the only platform used to create professional level 3D graphics and animation. This near-monopoly was extremely lucrative and the connection to Hollywood industry gave the company a persistent glamour. But things changed radically over the past two years. The Pentium-based PC, running on the Windows NT operating system and supported by new generations of affordable 3D graphics display cards, has completely changed the market. Professional work no longer requires an UNIX (IRIX) workstation and, in a situation similar to that faced by Apple Computer, SGI was no longer in a position to demand a premium price for a superior product. The company's lagging stock market performance and layoff announcements have been big news in Silicon Valley for quite a while.
I'm not an investment adviser, so I won't pretend to predict the future of SGI. But, in its struggle to reorganize and rebuild, SGI has chosen to place a particular focus on VRML technology. SGI, I dare say, needs something like VRML right now, and VRML definitely needs the leadership, energy and ingenuity of SGI. SGI's VRML strategy has the power to pull the entire emerging VRML development community into the limelight, and establish VRML as an absolute standard for 3D graphics on the home computer, especially over the Internet.
So what is the SGI strategy for VRML?
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Created: May 12, 1998
Revised: May 12, 1998