Today, the company licensed technology called WorldView from Intervista Software that will allow Internet Explorer users to browse 3D worlds constructed using the virtual reality modeling language (VRML).
More importantly though, Microsoft is giving the Intervista software back to a VRML standards group to get other developers to build tools and browsers based on the underlying WorldView code.
The move could benefit VRML developers and users alike by making future 3D pages more accessible to different browsers. But Microsoft's donation of the software to the VRML Consortium also represents a more serious effort by the company to catch up with 3D development efforts by Netscape Communications and Silicon Graphics.
In addition to WorldView, Microsoft will donate code for a Java-based VRML viewer, Liquid Reality, which it previously licensed from DimensionX.
Although VRML is a standard language for designing 3D Web sites, the technology has been hampered by slight incompatibilities between products based on the standard.
"The problem is if you're a content developer, you have to generate content for a specific VRML viewer," said Kevin Dallas, group product manager for DirectX at Microsoft. "We believe this is what is causing the VRML market to stall."
According to executives at Intervista, there is a well-defined version of the VRML 2.0 specification, but standards organizations typically depend on a software "reference implementation" to ensure that a technology is broadly interoperable.
"Reference implementations are an important part of any industry consortium," said Tony Parisi, chief technology officer for Intervista. "Programmers and tool developers can actually look at a reference implementation, gain technical knowledge and insight, and bootstrap their own development efforts."
A beta version of WorldView 2.0 for Internet Explorer will be posted on the Internet later this week.