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  1. Technology
September 17, 1998

MICROSOFT AND CHROMEFFECTS: A VRML INVENTOR RESPONDS

By CBR Staff Writer

It looks like the war between Chromeffects and virtual reality modelling language (VRML) has just begun. Mark Pesce, who with InterVista founder Tony Parisi is credited with the invention of VRML, has taken exception to certain comments Microsoft director of business develop and multimedia Chris Phillips made in ComputerWire yesterday (CI No 3,497). In particular, Pesce rejects Phillips’ imputation that Chromeffects is easier than VRML to use. To do anything interesting with ChromeEffects, you need to do serious ActiveX programming, Pesce claims. This is simply not true for VRML, which can be learned in just a few hours, by someone with no prior experience. Phillips bases his assertion on the fact that Chromeffects defines 56 XML tags, which he maintains are easier for non- technical design folk to learn and use. Pesce is dubious about the power of those tags. If you’re going to spin cubes with HTML on them, those 56 tags will be just fine, he says, presuming you’re on a Win98 system, which isn’t the case today for most computers. However, if you want to do anything even remotely interesting, you’ll need to begin to hack ActiveX. That’s the big weakness of Chromeffects. Phillips revealed that Microsoft is constantly reassessing its commitment to shipping Platinum/InterVista’s WorldView VRML browser with Internet Explorer and Windows 98. Pesce wonders why that is. What, exactly, is it costing them? They don’t develop the software, nor do they maintain it. Do they ask the same question about Flash or Shockwave? I doubt it, he says. But Microsoft doesn’t have any equivalents of those – yet. Phillips also remarked that the millions Microsoft had spent marketing VRML as an internet technology had arguably been wasted. MSFT did not spend millions to promote VRML, Pesce asserts, they spent, at most, a few hundred thousand, and made a half-willed effort for about six months before they either grew bored or frightened of a technology they could not control. Phillips asked where he could find the compelling VRML content people are supposed to be demanding. In fact, Microsoft has seen a number of outstanding VRML demos that people would knock down doors to see, claims Pesce, but they’ve directed those folks into Chrome development, saying ‘VRML’s dead’, while disguising the fact that they’re the ones holding a shiv to VRML’s throat. Pesce concedes that VRML is not as integrated with HTML as it might be. Tony and I tried to do HTML integration two years before Chrome was a gleam in anyone’s eye, he says. It was, at that point, still a little too hard to do. Now ChromeEffects has leapfrogged VRML, which only means it’s time for VRML to leapfrog ChromeEffects. In the end, the most startling thing about Microsoft’s effort to promote Chromeffects as a web technology is that the only possible Chromeffects clients are souped-up Windows 98 boxes. Heterogeneous networks need not apply. Nonetheless Phillips is confident he can sell Chromeffects, hardware and all, into the enterprise. Pesce finds this ridiculous. No one’s gonna buy a particular hardware strategy for 3D graphics, period, he says. Just ask SGI.

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