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In the beginning

The creator of AlphaWorld launches tools for building and visiting virtual worlds.

Worlds Incorporated, one of the companies that pioneered the idea of walking into a virtual world and having a chat, will try to build momentum for 3D multiuser environments on the Net by licensing its technology to other developers.

The company, which already has brought two 3D worlds online, will launch the first version of its AlphaWorld today as well as a developer's toolset for building and viewing virtual worlds.

A beta version of AlphaWorld has been available from the company for more than a year; more than 100,000 users have "emigrated" at no charge, staking claims to property and designing their own structures.

However, according to Christopher Dean, vice president of marketing for Worlds, the company realized that it needed to devote itself to foundation issues like software and development tools for virtual worlds.

"Last year, we focused on [building] online services," he said. Like Netscape Communications, which gave away browsers in order to better sell servers, Worlds needs to push infrastructure for its particular component of the Net. "We're producing applications to popularize 3D," Dean added.

To this end, Worlds is making available the Active Worlds Development Kit (AWDK) to developers, which is comprised of three parts: server software for managing 3D environments, an Active Worlds browser, and a suite of tools that includes an avatar animation module and an object builder.

The AlphaWorld browser and software for Windows 95, built with the AWDK, can be downloaded for free from Worlds's Web site. There is no charge as of yet for "citizenship" in AlphaWorld; 25 worlds are currently online, including a virtual version of Yellowstone National Park and a Scandinavian-oriented site called Arctic Light.

The Active WorldServer includes support for SGI and Microsoft Windows NT servers, among others, and can be extended with ActiveX or other tools. The AWDK is available for a free 45-day trial; a base-level version of the kit is about $2,995, according to Worlds.