At the Networld+Interop trade show this week, the company announced that it has convinced more than 100 Web sites to support its HotSauce Meta Content Format (MCF), a technology for creating 3D maps of Web sites that allow users to zoom into a Web page as though they were gliding through space.
It's a tall order to take on a similar established technology standard--VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language)--but the effort shows Apple's renewed aggressiveness in reestablishing itself as a cutting-edge technology innovator.
Like VRML, MCF is being touted as a radical innovation that will help users sift through ever-increasing amounts of data.
But according to Apple executives, MCF is much easier to use than VRML and offers better performance than bulkier VRML files. MCF isn't just a 3D technology, but it can be used to create enhanced 2D representations of a Web site, such as tree-like structure of Web pages.
Apple also said that MCF can create graphical maps for navigating FTP files, desktop files, email, databases, and Usenet newsgroups.
"We can do 30 to 40 frames per second with MCF," Jeff Ganyard, Internet evangelist at Apple, said today. "With VRML, to get any real performance you'd be limited to shapes, colors, and sizes."
Though most Web sites are only dabbling in technologies such as VRML and MCF, Apple said that companies such as Netscape Communications, Excite, and BigBook have agreed to spruce up their sites with MCF. Previously, CNET said it would use MCF on portions of its Web site.
Apple now offers a browser plug-in on its Web site for viewing MCF Web sites called HotSauce.
One company that is using MCF to display information in databases said that the relative simplicity of the technology could give it an edge over VRML.
"MCF allows you to view relationships between information," said Tom Otvos, director of research for EveryWare Development. "VRML is overkill for that."
While some analysts are enthusiastic about the concept of creating graphical views of Web sites and other information, one said the VRML standard may be difficult to unseat.
"The meta-content concept is absolutely essential," said Daniel Rhimer, Internet analyst at Hambrecht and Quist. "The VRML battle has been settled. I think it's going to be difficult to set a new standard."