Web to take on a 3D look

The Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) technology for displaying 3D graphics over the World Wide Web enters the business mainstream this week as industry heavyweights IBM, Digital and Silicon Graphics announce products, partnerships and licensing deals.

The Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) technology for displaying 3D graphics over the World Wide Web enters the business mainstream this week as industry heavyweights IBM, Digital and Silicon Graphics announce products, partnerships and licensing deals. (See Microsoft backs VRML.)

Until now, VRML has been used primarily in 3D games and on Web sites, but these vendors are hoping to use it to create applications for scientific, design, engineering, financial and data warehousing markets.

Growth in VRML is expected to closely match the explosion of virtual reality on desktop PCs. "Compared to CAD applications, VR (virtual reality) offers better, real-time manipulation of abstract and complex data," says Jean Leston, an analyst at London-based market research company Ovum, which predicts the virtual reality market will grow at a 40% rate to a billion-dollar market by 2001. "VR allows users to see through the data, walk through and around it."

IBM will this week announce at New Orleans' Siggraph its plan to license ParaGraph International's VRML technology to serve as a front end for its Digital Library product, which stores and manages multimedia data such as images and audio in a relational database, officials say.

Digital will announce a partnership with Integrated Data Systems (IDS) to jointly market IDS' VRealm Builder authoring tool to build 3D interactive Web sites using Digital's Alpha workstations on Windows NT, according to IDS.

And SGI will announce its Cosmo 3D authoring system, which lets developers create platform-independent Web-based applications, says John McCrea, product marketing manager at SGI. The software has a C++ and Java interface and a run-time library for improving performance in rendering multimedia data.

IBM will license front-end technology that draws from ParaGraph's Virtual Home Space Builder 2.0, priced at US$50, and the Internet3D Space Builder, which will cost less than US$100, officials say.

IBM also plans to use VRML in conjunction with its compression technology to let users display and manipulate 3D files over a network, officials say.

(Torsten Busse and Ron Condon of the IDG News Service contributed to this article.)

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