3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 50: VRML--Platinum Speaks | 2
Lesson 50 - VRML--Platinum Speaks - Part 3
After data visualization and product visualization, the third wing of business visualization is called "process visualization." This tantalizing idea is as important as it is vague. If a business enterprise is understood as a complex network of processes, a flexible means of visualizing the network and its dynamics would have a revolutionary impact on business decision-making. A conversation with Joshua Greenbaum, a highly-respected consultant in enterprise computing has given me a taste of the problem. For example, there is a move today to integrate not only the internal processes of a company into a some overall management system, but also to integrate the suppliers and distributors of such companies into a single network of enterprise software tools. This might permit a company to access the inventory of its suppliers directly to make instant purchases or to assess the short-term availability of supplies, perhaps in direct response to demands made on the same "supply chain" from distributors seeking finished product. This stuff is rocket science capitalism, and rocket science visualization tools that abstract these complex relationships could be the wave of the future. Tony Parisi stresses, quite correctly, that VRML is more than just 3D. VRML includes both animation and powerful scripted interactivity that could make process visualization both living and lively.
I asked Tony, quite frankly, where the talent was going to come from to create this new species of VR application. The traditional 3D design community has grown up on entertainment and effects, and would require considerable education to tune their talents to most of the needs of business visualization. On the other hand, the enterprise software developers must understand, if they don't already, that 3D graphics is an intense and fast-moving field that one cannot assimilate in a couple of months. Tony did not dismiss this problem, but notes that Platinum has assembled the team of talent it thinks it needs from Cosmo, Intervista, Vream (a VRML company Platinum purchased in 1996) and from its own people who, Tony explains, have experience with high-end uses of 3D in the business environment. But I can't help thinking that Platinum needs another Shout Interactive. Shout taught the world what could be done with VRML on the entertainment and advertising side and energized interest in Cosmo's business plan with knock-out content. In our interview, Tony acknowledged the fabulous work Shout has created with what he characterized as "bronze age" tools--meaning VRML and Java. If you missed our column on Shout, take a look at Lesson 43--Cutting Edge VRML.)
On the nuts and bolts side, Tony gave me an assessment of what to expect from Platinum's VRML product line. Sometime in the first quarter of 1999, Platinum will replace Cosmo Player and World View with a single browser, combining the best features of both. I gather that there are some features of World View worth integrating, but the VRML community certainly hopes that politics doesn't get in the way releasing the best browser--which must certainly be much closer to Cosmo Player. The browser will be distributed free, and the download will be reduced to less than 1 MB, which will make a huge difference in the number of people willing to complete the download. World View is still being distributed with the Microsoft products, and Tony was unable to confirm when the new broswer will replace it in that distribution chain. In any event, with a single, smaller browser, the promise of VRML ubiquity on the Web is becoming realistic.
Right now, Platinum has the development tools of Vream and Cosmo. I've worked with Vream's VRCreator, and it's very nice--but Cosmo Worlds is, well, Cosmo Worlds. It is one of the finest applications I've even worked with, in VRML or otherwise, and is highly respected. Tony tells us that, once again, the different products will be integrated to consolidate their best features-- but please! -- let's stay close to Cosmo Worlds. The plan, says Tony, is for a single product, at least in name (Platinum Worlds?) that would be modular to provide both low-cost entry-level and full-price professional-level options.
There's so much to talk about here, that we didn't get it all in this column. But that's inherent in the gold rush pace of the technology world today. You can be sure that we'll be following this story closely in the future.
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Created: Sept. 28, 1998
Revised: Sept. 28, 1998