Microsoft backs VRML

Microsoft will this week announce support for standards-based 3D worlds in the next version of Internet Explorer (IE) through a licensing agreement with Dimension X.

Microsoft will this week announce support for standards-based 3D worlds in the next version of Internet Explorer (IE) through a licensing agreement with Dimension X. San Francisco-based Dimension X has a Java-based Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) 2.0 development environment, called Liquid Reality, which includes a VRML viewer. Microsoft will license the viewer for Internet Explorer 3.0, set to ship next month. (See Web to take on 3D look.)

The licensing deal will give Explorer the first integrated VRML viewer, says Karl Jacob, chief executive of Dimension X. Although Microsoft has not officially announced the deal, officials alluded to VRML improvements for Explorer at last week's IE Reviewers Workshop, in Bellevue, Washington.

"VRML 2.0 will be coming to a browser near you soon," says Alex St. John, group manager for interactive evangelism at Microsoft.

The Dimension X VRML capability will be integrated into Microsoft's DirectX multimedia technology. Although often associated with online games and entertainment, VRML has a wide range of applications for business users on intranets and across the Internet, says John Chapman, vice-president of Information Assets, a Houston company specialising in collaborative engineering over the Internet.

"We think VRML has tremendous opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction fields," Chapman says. "A simple application would be a rendering of a chemical plant that would display where you should go in case of a leak."

Chapman says VRML could also be used in more mundane applications, such as parts distribution. "How many times have you ordered a part and then found out it does not match what you need?" Chapman says. "With VRML, you could verify the part is the one you want before you order it."

Jacob says the licensing deal with Microsoft could make 3D VRML a full-blown standard. "Because such a large software vendor is going to distribute it, a lot of people are going to see it," Jacob says. "It will be something everybody can have on their home page. People will have a natural way to communicate across the Internet."

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