Microsoft has licensed a 3D browser engine from Intervista Software Inc. to provide robust VRML capability for future versions of Internet Explorer .
Although an announcement will not be made until later this month, sources within Microsoft have confirmed that the company will include the C++ engine in Internet Explorer 4.0. Intervista is currently working on an ActiveX version of its WorldView 2.0 VRML plug-in, which will ship this quarter, says Brian Blau, chief scientist at the San Francisco-based software development company. Intervista also has developed a Macintosh version of the engine, as well as a beta plug-in for Netscape Navigator, Blau said.
Analysts said Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) technology, which includes a file format for transmitting 3-D data over the Internet, is still on the fringes in terms of business uses, appealing largely to game players and Web surfers.
"Microsoft's interest is to keep people attracted to their desktop environment and to keep pace with what Netscape is offering in Navigator 4.0," said Carl Lehmann, an analyst at the Meta Group, in Boston. "But for visualization and simulation, VRML is just not there yet. People are using Java applets on the Web to do 3-D."
Proponents of the technology argue that VRML is a better way to do 3-D on the desktop.
"Sun's dark secret is that Java runs badly on a PC," said Mark Pesce, a programmer and VRML guru.
Microsoft officials declined to comment on its upcoming announcement.