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Explorer sees the world in 3D

Microsoft announced that it is licensing VRML technology from DimensionX.

Microsoft today announced that it plans to add a new dimension to Windows by incorporating VRML technology from Dimension X.

Virtual reality modeling language is a standard, platform-independent language for creating 3D environments on Web sites that can be navigated using VRML-compatible browsers or viewers. Although the technology hasn't skyrocketed to acceptance as quickly as its HTML cousin, a couple of factors could significantly boost its popularity on the Net.

First, a new version of the language, VRML 2.0, is expected to greatly improve the richness of 3D worlds, allowing publishers to create VRML environments with animation, background textures, sound and video, scripting, and Java applets. VRML 2.0 will be officially ratified at the Siggraph '96 trade show this week in New Orleans. VRML could get another boost as companies such as Microsoft and Netscape Communciations begin distributing VRML viewers with their products.

Initially, Microsoft will license Dimension X's Liquid Reality VRML 2.0 viewer technology and offer the software as a downloadable ActiveX control for Internet Explorer 3.0. Microsoft will later bundle the control with Internet Explorer and, eventually, incorporate it directly into the Windows operating system. Microsoft already offers a VRML 1.0 control for the beta version of Internet Explorer 3.0.

Microsoft also plans to bundle with Explorer 3.0 Narrative Communications' ActiveX Enliven, a viewer for streaming graphics, animation, and audio, according to sources close to the company.

The VRML control should be available for downloading within a couple of months, said Karl Jacob, CEO of DimensionX. The company also offers Liquid Reality, which is written entirely in Java, as a separate toolkit and viewer for creating 3D applications.

Also at Siggraph, Netscape will show off a VRML 2.0 version of its Live3D plug-in for Navigator, software that should be able in beta form on the Net in the fall, said Mike McCue, Netscape's director of client technology. The company currently offers a VRML 1.0 version of Live3D with Navigator.

"This is the beginning of real 3D content on the Web," McCue said. "It doesn't just sit there. It does stuff."

One analyst said VRML support in the two leading browsers is critical for the technology to take off. The new version of the language could even help draw novice users unfamiliar with existing browser interfaces to using the Web.

"[VRML 2.0] is another step towards providing the visual experience consumers expect if they're going to do anything on the Net," said Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies of San Jose, California. "Except for infomaniacs, the Net is incredibly boring to the traditional consumer."

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