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Plugin Free Browser Based 3d

There are a number of browser based 3d solutions out there. From the ubiquitous but slow Adobe Flash extensions to the growing Unity3d engine, to newer offerings such as Quake Live and Torque 3D.

Gamasutra has a review of these technologies with an emphasis on Torque3d's new COLLADA offering.


Most interesting is yesterday's announcement that Google, Khronos (the people behind OpenGL and OpenSL) and Mozilla are coming together to make their own browserbased 3d implementation, due to be released with firefox 3.5 in a year's time.



There's a firefox plugin called Canvas3D which safely exposes OpenGL library calls in JavaScript, taking advantage of new fast javascript interpreters which make such an exercise bearable.


The idea is that everyone already knows how to use OpenGL and everyone already knows JavaScript and uses it as THE client side language of the web. That means the learning curve is very easy to jump.

The Mozilla-Google-Khronos proposal is to use the ECMA-262 standard version of JavaScript/Jscript and extend it to expose OpenGL.



That should take care of the standards war problem with JavaScript in general, and make a worse-is-better ready-right-here-right-now solution that people will actually use, instead of an ivory tower solution that is technically brilliant but is never used because it is crippled by licensing fees (unity) or is in some language that people don't use or integrate into their web application development frameworks (eg ActionScript for flash's support in Ruby-on-Rails is nothing compared to the support JavaScript gets).

This new ECMA-262 extension has the potential to impact web surfers everywhere by offering secondlife like interaction without needing heavy client downloads. Newgrounds.com and InstantAction.com like sites should arise to simply index and rate the new content. Google will make it easy to search for (since they're rolling out Semantic Search at about the same time). Wikipedia will probably start having three dimensional illustrations for articles stored as COLLADA compliant files (complete with physics properties), much like they currently carry Scalable Vector Graphics illustrations right now.

Also the 3d engine can be as variable as the ajax engines are on the web. You don't know one web mail program is more responsive than another, but the ajax engines selected by the programmers make a genuine difference. All you notice is you like using one site more than the other.

Finally plugin-free integration into the browser means that plugin based offerings face an uphill battle to be the technology platform of choice. They'll have to offer massive performance benefits in order to compete, or people will simply not bother downloading the plugin.

The only problem I can see is that the JavaScript DOM has been in need of an overhaul for some time now. JavaScript is not the prettiest language in the world, and while ECMA-262 goes some way to neaten it up, it's not python or any of the other cleaner client side scripting options in existence.

But the fact is that JavaScript is ready as a mature technology. So is OpenGL. The time is now.