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Microsoft's Chromeffects coming out after all

The high-powered Web graphics and animation software was to be delayed, but will now emerge bit by bit.

Microsoft's problem-plagued Chromeffects multimedia technology is headed to market after all--in bits and pieces, CNET News.com has learned.

As reported last month, Microsoft decided to delay indefinitely the release of Chromeffects 1.0, which is designed to bring to ordinary Web sites the type of high-powered Direct X graphics and animation normally found in gaming environments. The release had been slated for Christmas. A software development kit was announced in July and released the following month.

Microsoft scaled back its plans after developers raised a chorus of protest over the technology's noncompliance with numerous Web standards and its implementation of various technologies. These include the World Wide Web Consortium's Document Object Model, HTML+TIME, and XQL, along with improved support for data visualization technologies and better 3D hardware device drivers.

Microsoft has told developers it will release various components of Chromeffects piecemeal, according to a source familiar with Redmond's plans. But while developers using the technologies may be pleased to be getting them sooner rather than later, they may find that implementing Chromeffects in parts will be more difficult than it would have been in a complete package.

Microsoft confirmed that it will include DirectAnimation, DXTransform, and HTML+TIME in a technology update to the company's Internet Explorer 5 browser, which is currently in in beta; and in the release of Windows 2000 Professional, which is due out next year.

DirectAnimation is a subsystem of Chromeffects that describes how animated elements interact. For instance, a developer could use DirectAnimation to bounce a virtual ball against a wall and then back toward the viewer.

DXTransform, to be integrated with DirectAnimation, governs the user of special effects-like explosions.

The crucial missing piece of Chromeffects--and what Microsoft's crown jewels promised to make this technology available to a mass audience of Web designers--is a high-level set of XML tags that would have facilitated the implementation of the animation technologies. Now developers will have to drill down to a layer of Java programming in Chromeffects content in order to make it run on DirectAnimation.

The missing XML tags will ship at some point after the release of Windows 2000.

In the meantime, in order to ease the programming pain, Microsoft said it will offer classes in DirectAnimation, beginning this month, for partners implementing Chromeffects.

Among the wider audience of Web developers, the anticipated arrival of Chromeffects has not generated much excitement. But the decision to release Chromeffects' underlying technologies is welcome news to those partners who began implementing the technology when it was introduced this summer.

Some programmers have lauded Microsoft's decision to delay Chromeffects as a responsible reaction to developer discontent. At a panel discussion last night that included members of the Web Standards Project, the Association of Web Professionals, Microsoft, Netcape Communications, and Wired Digital, the withdrawal of Chromeffects was hailed as a victory for a developer community that is increasingly intolerant of partial standards compliance.