3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 49: VRML--Back From the Brink
Lesson 49 - VRML--Back From the Brink - Part 1
When we last visited VRML, a couple of months ago, our hero was hanging by his fingernails over the chasm of oblivion. Silicon Graphics had just announced its decision to close its Cosmo Software division, apparently abandoning both Cosmo Player (the only satisfactory VRML browser) and Cosmo Worlds (the premiere VRML development tool). The loss of this critical software, and perhaps more importantly, the absence of any player interested in picking up the pieces, could only be understood in the most negative terms for VRML. Sony had come close to purchasing Cosmo, but the deal had fallen apart.
But a savior with deep pockets and grand ambitions has suddenly appeared on the scene, and a new chapter in the VRML story has begun.
Platinum Technology is not a familiar name in the computer graphics world. But with 1997 revenues of $739 million, it is one of the largest software firms in the world. Its business is enterprise computing for large businesses--database and systems management, information technology, data warehousing and so forth. Platinum purchased Intervista in June, thereby obtaining the World View browser that is bundled with Windows 98 and Microsoft Internet Explorer. And now, Platinum has obtained all of the Windows and Macintosh versions of Cosmo Software products, along with a significant number of Cosmo engineers. The Cosmo Software website is up and running, with Cosmo Player 2.1 available for free download and Cosmo Worlds available for purchase.
Platinum enters the VRML picture from a unique perspective that requires a little background to assess. VRML was initiated, some years ago, out of the desire to bring interactive 3D graphics to the Internet. The original vision (which was always a bit hazy) was of immersive "worlds" for users to navigate through, thus blending the romantic concepts of cyberspace and virtual reality. This vision--both of immersive worlds and their implementation on the internet--has never seriously materialized, and in the past year VRML development has turned down different paths. Cosmo Software sought to position VRML as a vehicle for exciting, "media-rich" graphics embedded in web pages, and its particular stress has been on banner advertisements. The results have been eye-popping, but this use of VRML requires that the browsers be ubiquitous. Advertisers can hardly be expected to embrace this technology if only a fraction of the audience has the necessary viewing software installed. And most people do not yet have computer hardware that is truly adequate for running VRML files.
But VRML has quietly been establishing a beachhead on a different front. In science and commerce, where high-end hardware is a given, VRML has been taking root as a visualization technology. At NASA Ames Research, just across the road from where I teach at Cogswell College in Sunnyvale, California, a student of mine is part of some very ambitious uses of VRML in an environment where every conceivable form of VR (Virtual Reality) technology is available. VRML is now being used to model and visualize all kinds of physical processes, from air flow to chemical reactions, at businesses, universities and research labs all over the world.Some time ago, Platinum became interested in the use of 3D visualization in business enterprise computing. 3D visualization for product development and training is well-established, but Platinum has been working at something that may be very big indeed. Under the heading of "Process and Information Visualization Technology" (PIVT), the company is spearheading the use of interactive 3D to make business database applications more comprehensible and user-friendly. The complexity of business systems today demands new interface ideas, and interactive 3D may be an answer. And this Fortune 500 market is huge compared to anything in entertainment or web graphics right now. Platinum might simply have developed proprietary 3D technology specifically suited for this purpose, but it has done something of far greater importance.
|To Continue to Parts 2 and 3, Use Arrow Buttons||
Created: Sept. 15, 1998
Revised: Sept. 15, 1998