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  1. Technology
February 11, 1999


By CBR Staff Writer

By Rachel Chalmers

The Web3D Consortium’s X3D Standardization Initiative (CI No 3,596) replaces VRML-NG and is conceived as a way of making 3D content on the web easier to create and view. That’s the perspective of Tony Parisi, a co-author of the original VRML spec and now vice president of business development for Platinum Technology Inc’s internet commerce division. Since acquiring VRML pioneers InterVista and Cosmo Software last year, Platinum has become a force to be reckoned with in the 3D web world. Parisi says the change of name from VRML-NG to X3D is meant to reinvigorate the marketing message for 3D content on the web. Essentially, people should consider this as us getting together as a consortium and as an industry and looking at where VRML needed to be fixed, he explains, we are responding to the lessons we’ve learned in the markets for the last few years. VRML has always been fairly widely disparaged as hard to learn, hard to extend, slow to download and generally unwieldy. Yet Parisi says many of those problems can be addressed with improvements in just a few areas. The first step is to strip down the runtime engine, creating a far leaner core for use in broadcast platforms. Sony, Philips and France Telecom are all members of the consortium, and all are interested in using X3D in set-top boxes and on other thin clients. More than anything you need a core runtime that’s lighter, that doesn’t have as many features, and that doesn’t take up as much room, explains Parisi. That’s not to say X3D will be diluted for PC applications. Rather, the new standard should lend itself to domain-specific applications – a lightweight core for a set-top, and something more functional on a desktop. The next consideration was fixing integration. The problems with VRML 2.0’s application programming interfaces were widely known. They were extremely difficult for a lot of developers to use, Parisi acknowledges. X3D will employ a more straightforward object model, hopefully making it easier to integrate web 3D content with other applications. Finally, there’s XML. We’re taking a page out of Chromeffects’ book, says Parisi. While VRML’s native file format will endure, a set of XML tags aimed at the web and HTML developer market should make it much easier for non- specialist programmers to develop and deploy 3D on the web. This was exactly the marketing message behind Microsoft’s now-defunct Chromeffects. We were inspired by Microsoft, Parisi readily admits, they had the right vision. In fact, Microsoft will be participating in the ongoing design of X3D. Where the two technologies part company is that Chromeffects was tied to the Wintel platform, whereas X3D should work on all platforms. Ironically enough, the same Microsoft which coined the phrase embrace and extend has itself been embraced and extended. We’ve taken their vision and bring it into an open standards place, Parisi gloats, I think those are both goodnesses.

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