Google released an experimental plug-in that may one day be released as a standard component of browsers and is said to supplement the efforts my Mozilla to bring 3D to Firefox.
Ars Technica reports that it will be several years before the approach to 3D in a browser is refined enough to make it ready for serious production. But with the efforts by the Mozilla folks to accomplish something similar, and the moves to bring 3D as a native component of Flash (building off of approaches similar to that of Papervision), and Microsoft looking to deepen the appeal of Silverlight, there are now significant players looking to overcome what is a frustrating barrier to exposing consumers and enterprise to rich 3D content: the plug-in or download.
With 3D embedded directly into the browser natively or via Flash applications, this promises opportunities for games, data visualization, or presentation of 3D content using existing navigation methods. Users know how to click, they know how to browse, and there’s the ‘comfort’ of being in a browser and avoiding a download.
This is one of the reasons that Metaplace is on to something: removing the plug-in or download helps to remove a major barrier to virtual world adoption. And where Metaplace benefits further is that their architecture will support all kinds of clients, whether Flash or, I’d imagine, built on components like those being developed by Mozilla and now Google.
Raph comments on his blog about the Google development:
“It’s not compatible with Mozilla’s Khronos effort, but Google says they intend it to converge over the course of a few years. And yes, it is fully cross-platform. There’s a shader language (again, non-standard, doesn’t match HLSL or Cg), and of course it supports loading SketchUp as well as from Max and Maya. It also can run inside an OpenSocial gadget, or run offline in Gears.”
But browser-based content isn’t, I believe, competition for 3D worlds that DO require a plug-in or download – but this will put increasing pressure for the ‘download’ worlds to either offer a far richer experience visually, or increasingly deep tool sets for simulation, education and collaboration. The “rich worlds” have as much to learn from where the gaming industry is headed as they do from advances in the browser – the biggest risk, perhaps, is ending up caught in a vague middle.