Space Builder Moves Web Sites to Next Level
By John Makulowich
One of the more productive applications to hit the desktop with the advent of virtual reality and VRML 2.0 (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) is Internet 3D Space Builder (version 2.1.2) from Paragraph International Inc., now owned by Silicon Graphics Inc.'s Cosmo Software (http:// cosmo.sgi.com/).
Recently rebranded by Cosmo as HomeSpace Designer, this tool makes you realize the value of the more powerful chips now on the market and the large-screen, high-resolution monitors. In fact, running it requires your system to sit on the cutting edge of what's available.
The specifications recommend Netscape Communicator 4.0x or Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0, a Pentium 75 MHz or better, 32 MB of RAM, an SVGA monitor and the mandatory sound card for today's multimedia sites.
What exactly does this software do? If you are on the lookout for ways to take your Web site up a notch, the application can show you the way. ISB helps you fashion three-dimensional worlds for your home page, allowing anyone to float in and experience your site with the standard VRML 2.0 browsers. The software contains a complete library of three-dimensional shapes that you can edit, among other goodies.
You should know that Internet Explorer 4.0 uses Microsoft VRML 2.0 Viewer (version 1.0) based on WorldView 2.0 from In- tervista Software, while Netscape Communicator works with Cosmo Player. The latest version is 2.0 Beta 1.
If you have any questions about VRML clients, visit http:// hiwaay.net/~crispen/vrml/ viewing2.html for a browser test.
The point here is that taking the leap to VRML on your Web pages not only will put you a cut above the crowd - it also may cut off a lot of the crowd from viewing your Web pages.
With that proviso, HomeSpace Designer is well worth exploring, especially if you work with an organization in an industry that can exploit the technology to fit its image. A clear example, of course, would be home design, whether kitchen remodelers, cabinet designers, deck builders or home contractors in general.
On launching the application, you find an initial screen that will take some getting used to. For example, you face an array of seven frames, some empty, a few with arcane symbols standing for camera angles and others with symbols and figures you can drag and drop into the empty frames.
Once past that feeling of awkwardness, you're in for pleasant surprises. Just slide your mouse over to one of the frames with textures and shapes, let it rest on a figure, like a balcony, bridge or arch, hold the mouse button down while you drag it to an empty frame and voila! - you have a three-dimensional image you can manipulate every which way to Sunday.
After letting my children experiment with it, I realized that what I liked most about the product is the ease with which my 15-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter could create fairly complex scenes and learn along the way how VRML operates. This software is a great example of one that challenges your imagination, rewards creativity and quietly educates - all at the same time. This is clearly the stuff of which next-generation computing will be made from the user side.
John Makulowich is a contributing writer for Washington Technology. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; his home page is http://www.cais.com/makulow/.
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