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3D Web developers watching Microsoft plans

As Microsoft shuffles its strategy for Chromeffects, 3D developers anxiously await the outcome.

As Microsoft shuffles its strategy for Chromeffects, 3D developers are anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Languishing 3D technology Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) has been around in one form or another since the dawn of the Web--but has never attracted a general audience. Backers have attached some of their hopes of popularizing VRML to the delivery of Microsoft's Chromeffects multimedia Web technology, and those advocates were among the most dismayed when the company acknowledged last month that it was shelving Chromeffects indefinitely.

VRML (rhymes with "thermal") is a standard approved by the International Organization for Standardization for 3D and multimedia presentations on the Web. The next generation of VRML is being hammered out by the VRML Consortium, which this month will change its name to "The Web 3D Consortium."

"We saw a lot of complementarity in Chromeffects," said Tony Parisi, executive vice president of the VRML Consortium and a vice president at Platinum Technology. "With Chromeffects' XML tags, you could create some simple 3D content by using a simple tag in a page. We at the VRML Consortium, and VRML companies and vendors, viewed that as an innovation, and we had discussions under way with Microsoft to bring it into VRML."

Microsoft yesterday confirmed that it had told Chromeffects developers it would roll out elements of the delayed technology in stages over the coming months. But the key element of Chromeffects--the XML tags that bring 3D and animation effects within the reach of ordinary Web developers--won't be forthcoming until after the release of Windows 2000.

The VRML Consortium hopes that Chromeffects' XML tags could give VRML a badly needed boost in popularity.

"Right now a lot of people are developing with VRML, but they're 3D designers," Parisi said. "This is a great way to bring today's Web developers into 3D with a baby step. When it comes to heavy lifting, that's when you start using the technology like VRML, which can do the full gamut of interactivity."

Although VRML and Chromeffects have hit a bump in their convergence path, Parisi sounded an optimistic note for the long term.

"We're still talking to Microsoft," he said. "At the moment, we're waiting for the dust to settle. But the discussions are ongoing."