3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 80: Web 3D--Charting a Course | 2
Lesson 80 - Web 3D--Charting a Course - Part 3
But Java3D, as we've said, is a package new to Java 2 (Java 1.2). No web browsers currently support it, nor is it clear if and when we can expect it to be integrated into future browsers. After all, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 was only recently released. And even if Java were to appear today in the latest versions of the browsers, it would take a very long time before even a majority of users migrated to these versions.
Sun seems to have shifted its Java focus away from applets on the Web to true Java applications, which would necessarily ship with the Java 2 JVM alongside. To deal with the browser issue, Sun has come up with a plug-in approach. If a user comes across a web page with an applet that uses Java 2 features, such as Java 3D, the page can be designed to jump to the Sun website to download a Java 2 runtime engine. After downloading and installation, the user now has two versions of JavaÂthe older one attached to the browser and the new Java 2 version. If the web page has been correctly designed, it can effectively replace the old Java version with Java 2 when running the applet.
I checked the process out by visiting the Sun site and calling up a demo of an applet using Java3D. I was asked to download the Java 2 plug-in. At 5MB, this was a pretty significant download, and the installation took a while as well. But the biggest problem was the decision to make the download. I like to think myself an expert in these matters and had a deliberate purpose in making this test, but even I had to pause when asked whether I wanted to install a new version of Java. Unlike a simple add-on application like Flash or Shockwave, the decision to update a Java installation can feel intimidating, especially to the average user. I can well imagine most people refusing to run the risk of ramifications they don't understand.
Thus, and ironically, Java3D returns the content developer to the vexing plug-in problem, and in the worst way. It clearly makes no sense for right now, and may not make sense for quite a while. That's unfortunate because Java3D is fabulously ambitious. It is designed for impressive rendering and interactivity performance. It includes methods for compressing geometry and for integrating multiple scenes that anticipate huge "virtual universes." On the other hand, the developers at Sun seem strikingly out-of-touch with current practices and standards in 3D modeling and animation. Java3D is obviously derived from the mind-set of scientific visualization rather than entertainment and commercial graphics. The demo 3D applets on the Sun site are outrageously lame, and would mislead anyone as to the ultimate power and value of the Java3D package.
Another major issue is the lack of Macintosh support for Java3D. From what I could tell, there was no Java 2 plug-in available for the Mac, leaving the Apple audience out in the cold entirely. This is not a workable solution in today's Web development world.
The process, now just beginning, of bringing 3D artists into the world of web development, must start with an assessment of the available alternatives, and this assessment is not easy to make for those without a considerable amount of time to invest in exploration. Nor is the snapshot I've provided here likely to remain valid for long as new initiatives take shape in every direction. But I'll stay on top of it for you. Next time we'll look further into the issues facing the would-be 3D Web developer.
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Created: Nov. 22, 1999
Revised: Nov. 22, 1999