First 3-D Web browsers are yours for the downloading

The first World Wide Web browsers that navigate
three-dimensional Internet spaces are free for the downloading.

A few of the early 3-D browsers run under one of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating
systems. Most, however, are designed for Silicon Graphics Inc. workstations, because the
underlying Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) is based on a subset of SGI's
OpenInventor file format.

The San Diego Supercomputer Center's new WebView freeware browser displays a flat
window looking into a 3-D world. You rotate the view around a point set by the scene's
creator, usually at the center.

You can dolly forward and back toward the point of interest, or use a seek mode to go
directly to a selected point. Other controls move the window view up, down or sideways.

VRML ultimately will link such views with virtual reality (VR) headgear and sensors, so
you could rotate the view simply by turning your head. Limited setups like this are
possible with proprietary VR viewers, but the free browsers represent a further step
toward full VR navigation of the Internet.

The defined space seen in your headgear or on screen contains scalable 3-D objects.
Details about an object get sharper as you approach it. You examine the details to find
new information, link to Web pages or explore other 3-D spaces or applications on other
computer systems.

When you select an object, the host server sends out a text stream containing VRML
commands, the same way a link on a Web page triggers a stream of Hypertext Markup Language
(HTML) commands. Future versions of VRML will support 3-D animated figures and multiuser

WebView runs properly only under SGI's Irix 5.2 or 5.3, with SGI's OpenGL and
OpenInventor software also installed. That's a controversial arrangement, because most Web
viewers until now have been standalone. But it's becoming more common to link enabling
software to a browser to handle, say, Motion Picture Experts Group-compressed movies.

Information on WebView is available on the San Diego Supercomputer Center's server at

Another browser, WebSpace from SGI and Template Graphics Software Inc. of San Diego,
runs on SGI, Power Macintosh, Windows NT, SunSoft SunOS and Solaris, IBM AIX, Digital Unix
and Hewlett-Packard HP-UX platforms.

Information on configuring WebSpace appears at

Other 3-D browsers in development include WorldView from InterVista Software Inc. of
San Francisco. WorldView will run on all Windows, SGI, SunOS and Macintosh platforms.

Another is i3D for SGI machines, from the Center for Advanced Studies, Research and
Development in Sardinia, Italy.

Still another is VRweb, a joint project of Graz University of Technology in Austria,
the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois and the
University of Minnesota's Gopher development team. VRweb runs on SGI, SunOS, Solaris,
HP-UX, Digital Unix and Linux platforms; Windows versions are under development.

You'll find pointers to some of these projects on the San Diego center's server, as
well as pointers to tool sets for creating 3-D Web spaces.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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