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News
by Bernie Roehl with Adrian Scott

SGI Acquires Paragraph; Spins off Cosmo Software

UPDATE 2: May 14, 1997 -- From an exclusive interview with John McCrae of SGI and Gregory Slayton of Paragraph. According to McCrae, "We found incredible synergies between SGI and Paragraph. This will form the first complete software line, including browser, professional authoring tools, consumer authoring tools, and multi-user servers." McCrae will become Director of Marketing for Cosmo Software.

"I hope that what people will see is 2 leaders committed to the open standard (joining together)... and a critical mass in terms of commitment to the (VRML) standard," said Slayton. "My role is to insure a smooth transition. It's been a really smooth process and I have to thank SGI for that," said Slayton, who will take a 3-month vacation with his family after the transition.

UPDATE: May 14, 1997 -- Confirming a rumor first reported in VRMLSite (see below), SGI today announced that it is acquiring 3D and Pen software company Paragraph International, and spinning off SGI's VRML and Java software efforts as a separate software-only company, named Cosmo Software. Paragraph International is the developer of VRML authoring tools including Virtual Home Space Builder.

Cosmo Software, which will include Paragraph, will be headed by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, who was previously general manager SGI's Web Products Division. Cosmo Software will include SGI's Cosmo Player, Cosmo Worlds, and Cosmo Code software. Financial details of the Paragraph acquisition, such as whether stock in SGI or Cosmo Software was exchanged, were not disclosed in the announcement.

SGI Cosmo Software release

SGI Paragraph Acquisition release

Microsoft Acquires Dimension X

UPDATE: May 7, 1997 -- A day after VRMLSite reported on Microsoft's acquisition talks with Dimension X, it became official when Microsoft announced its acquisition of Dimension X. Financial terms were not disclosed, but are said to be in the range of $42 million.

For the past several weeks, according to sources in the VRML industry, Microsoft has been in acquisition talks with Dimension X, the company that created the Liquid Reality VRML browser. Microsoft licensed Liquid Reality some time ago, in order to provide VRML support for their Internet Explorer web browser.

Spokesmen at both companies would not comment by publication deadline. In many respects such a deal would make sense. Microsoft would gain full access to the technology behind Liquid Reality, which is implemented almost entirely in Java. Such a deal would offer further proof of Microsoft's commitment to the VRML standard. At the same time, Dimension X has other assets, including the Liquid Motion Java animation software and a Web design studio.

Microsoft
Dimension X

Black Sun Downsizes California Office

Black Sun Interactive has laid off almost everyone in their San Francisco offices, in order to devote more of their resources to their European operation.

Although sales in Europe are reportedly brisk, the North American operation has been relatively unsuccessful. The company's goal is to reduce costs in order to become profitable; the 20-person San Francisco office represented roughly 40% of the firm's total payroll, and was a significant drain on the company. Black Sun has reportedly secured another round of financing, and their goal is to achieve profitability within the next three months.

Company spokesmen were quick to deny the various rumors that have been circulating recently. In particular, they denied that there were any plans for Black Sun to merge with any other firm. The spokesman also re-affirmed the company's commitment to the VRML standard.

Black Sun

There had been some speculation that Black Sun's recent collaboration with Superscape would cause them to re-focus their efforts away from VRML. As it turns out, Superscape is planning to heavily re-architect their product and will have a native VRML authoring environment by February of next year.

Newfire Releases Catalyst, Announces Game Contest

Newfire, the company that is developing the game-speed VRML browser known as Torch, has anounced the release of a VRML authoring tool designed for creating commercial-quality 3D internet-based games. Called "Catalyst", the product will produce fully-compliant VRML 2.0 files that can take advantage of many of Torch's speed optimizations such as the use of BSP trees for static scene geometry.

The package will include a world builder, an interactivity editor, an optimizer and performance analysis tools for fine-tuning of worlds. The package is scheduled to be shown at the Computer Game Developers Conference.

In a related announcement, Newfire has begun a contest to find the best 3D games on the web. Prizes will apparently include hardware and software, and contest entries must be in by the end of July.

Newfire

Cosmo to Support Java Beans

In a surprise announcement, Silicon Graphics has revealed that they will be supporting the JavaBeans specification. Java Beans is designed to allow reusable Java components to be combined easily into applications. Java Beans support in SGI's CosmoPlayer will allow it to become a software component, or "bean", which can be used in conjunction with other Java software.

This should make it easy for Java application developers to incorporate VRML support into their products, since they will be able to embed CosmoPlayer directly into a Java application or applet.

The Java Beans approach provides yet a third way for developers to integrate Java and VRML. The first is the Java Script Interface, which allows VRML script nodes to be implemented in Java. The second is the External Authoring Interface, which allows other applets to access a VRML browser and the scene which is being displayed.

It's unclear which of the three approaches developers will end up favoring. Most VRML browsers are expected to adopt the Java Script Interface and the External Authoring Interface, but so far only SGI has announced Java Beans support. Unless other browsers choose to support that specification as well, developers may shy away from it in favor of techniques that will run on the majority of browsers.

SGI

Onlive Releases New Version of Traveler, then Stops Development

Onlive Technologies has released version 2.0 of their Traveler software package, which provides access to three-dimensional multi-user virtual environments. The new version features text chat, user-built spaces, and belated support for VRML 1.0.

However, less than ten days after that release, Onlive announced that they were ending development of the product, laying off their entire design team, and re-assigning the programmers to other projects. The software will remain part of their product line, but without a development team behind it the future of Traveler appears to be uncertain.

Onlive's audio technology is certainly impressive, and their Traveler product is an excellent showcase for it. The combination of lip synch and facial expressions is very effective. However, Traveler was mostly a proprietary system, which meant that it required a lot of development and support relative to a standards-based approach built around VRML.

Onlive

OpenWorlds

Draw Computing Associates has begun beta-testing a set of C++ and Java libraries for adding VRML support to applications. OpenWorlds handles traversal of the VRML "scene graph", executing nodes and passing events. The developer fills in the code for each of the nodes in order to create their application.

OpenWorlds has been used to add VRML support to Transom Jack, a human simulation system being used by NASA and others.

The OpenWorlds libraries will mostly likely be used for providing VRML input capabilities for such applications as 3D modelers and CAD packages.

Draw Computing Associates

Intervista Announces Strategic Partnership with Bitstream

Intervista, maker of the WorldView browser that will be bundled with Internet Explorer, has announced an alliance with Bitstream Inc to incorporate Bitstream's font compression technology into future Intervista products. The two companies also hope to make the Bitstream file format a standard for text in VRML.

Intervista
Bitstream


Rumors...

There has been speculation that SGI is planning to purchase Paragraph International. There have been other rumors that they would be spinning off the Cosmo Group as a separate company. SGI spokemen refused to confirm or deny any of these reports.


Bernie Roehl is a software developer based at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He is probably best known in VR circles for REND386 and AVRIL, free VR software packages that are still in widespread use.

Bernie is also the author of two books on VR, "Virtual Reality Creations" and "Playing God: Creating Virtual Worlds", and he recently co-authored Que's "Special Edition: Using VRML". He is currently writing for VR News, CyberEdge Journal and VRMLSite and has previously written for VR World and VR Special Report. Bernie is also a popular speaker on VR and VRML at various conferences throughout the year.

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