Applications and Tools, Virtual World Platforms

3D in a Browser: Mozilla and Open GL to Build Plug-In – Could Lead to Virtual World Access in Browser

Mozilla and Khronos, the consortium that oversees the Open GL standard for 3D content, are banding together to bring 3D content to the browser. The announcement at the Game Developer conference was covered at CNet who noted that it will be some time before this work is on a desktop near you:

“There’s a long distance between a draft specification, a real standard, and incorporation into enough browsers that Web developers will be able to count on it, so don’t expect anything revolutionary immediately. Meanwhile, Adobe is working to build 3D technology into its Flash plug-in for browsers, so other alternatives already popular with online gaming programmers exist.”

The proposal is to build off of JavaScript and allow it to interact with the OpenGL standard (the same standard which drives the 3D graphics in Second Life):

“Underpinning the proposal is a trend toward significant speed improvements in JavaScript, the programming language used to write many Web-based applications. The proposal involves a mechanism to let JavaScript tap into the OpenGL standard to produce the accelerated graphics.”

For geekier types, Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard gives some background:

“The proposed spec (found in one of vlad’s post on 3D Canvas) is a pretty light wrapper on top of OpenGL ES 2.0, with some changes to support some JavaScript pleasantries. OpenGL ES is a decent starting point, which is why we picked it. OpenGL is supported as part of every major operating system and in it’s being picked up as a standard on mobile devices as well. Compared to the full OpenGL spec, the ES variant is a smaller subset that reflects the reality of what’s being used on the ground and most hardware and software vendors have actually been re-tooling to support OpenGL ES with support for older versions of full OpenGL emulated on top of OpenGL ES. Mixed with the fact that there’s a decent amount of knowledge out there in the industry of how to use OpenGL, we think that this smooths the integration between the current set of OpenGL users and larger web developer community.”

While heavyweight Mozilla begins this path to a browser-based standard, I can’t help wondering whether the MMOX working group, which is looking to build interoperability between virtual worlds, might need to change their thinking about clients and ‘world servers’ in light of the announcement.

If standards for the display of 3D are built to facilitate browser-based viewing, surely the issues of identity, asset portability, and cross-world communication should leverage off of the work on Canvas 3D.

Regardless, the move promises to make 3D environments like Second Life more accessible by cutting out the client – but somehow I’m guessing the build tools won’t be as um robust. The time has arrived, after all, for broader 3D application use and development, according to Vladimir Vukicevic:

“The intense focus on Javascript performance over the past year has seen tremendous improvements across all browsers. Raw language performance is getting to the point where it can keep up with the raw computational requirements of 3D. It will only continue to improve, spurred on by 3D and other use cases. Second, the hardware required for accelerated 3D is becoming pervasive; hardly any desktop computer ships without some form of hardware acceleration, and the latest crop of smartphones almost uniformly have at least OpenGL ES 1.1, if not 2.0 available. Starting this work now ensures that a standard will be ready when Web developers want to take advantage of the capabilities available in hardware. “


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.