Browser-based and plug-in-less: 2 different levels of accessibility in web3D.

Web3D has made huge progress recently in terms of accessibility! Just a few years ago, the only available 3D Internet applications were games and a few virtual worlds like Second Life, that require installation of “thick” software components, each with their own proprietary user interfaces.

The power of the web no longer has to be proven. The web architecture has become one of the strongest standards in the history of technology, together with the underlying IP infrastructure architecture which has been so open and robust that it enabled the integration of  other networks like voice, and now mobile networks. Reasons for the strength of the web standard are its openness, its thinness, its simplicity, and the hyperlink concept enabling navigation.

This is why web3D developers are looking for open, thin, simple 3D spaces that can be hyperlinked to each other and customized with standard web tools such as html, javascript and PHP, and consequently are looking for browser-based technologies to satisfy these criteria.

In the past few months several browser-based technologies have been either newly introduced or repackaged from older technologies. This is good progress, as it standardizes the user interface, but it’s not enough, especially if the technology still requires the user to download and install proprietary software, which can sometimes be 50MB or more. In most cases, for more advanced tools and applications, the installation of an Active-X control is required. Some installation processes are presented particularly well, and for a standalone Windows user with Internet Explorer the installation process can be smooth, however, the reality is that the proprietary software (i.e., plug-in) has been installed on the computer for good! This type of installation is a problem in most business environments where it is common for IT managers in mid-size or large corporations to prevent the installation of software from external sources for obvious reasons (i.e., security, reliability, quality. etc.). Thus, since offices cannot access 3D worlds and applications based on technologies that require the installation of proprietary software, they do not satisfy the need for widespread accessibility that is a requirement for much wider adoption of web3D. Moreover, Active-X plug-ins do not support Mac or Linux machines whose market shares are growing every day.

Browser based technologies are to be considered in two categories:

* Those requiring installation of a plug-in, with the following issues:
    o Difficulty installing in a corporate environment due to IT policies and firewall incompatibilities
    o Rarely cross-platform
    o Need for the end-user’s action for regular update of the application
    o Less market penetration due to the end-user’s lack of trust to unknown plug-ins
Those thin “plug-in-less” technologies enabling web-native applications that are fully compliant with standard web navigation. These technologies are necessarily based on one of the following underlying web technologies:
    o Flash: not offering any immersive walkthrough possibility
    o Silverlight: seems promising, although likely not ready for prime time for quite a while, as well as not being multi-platform
    o Java: The only viable technology available , enabling plug-in-less web3D

3DXplorer is one of the rare technologies from this last category that is available today, offering immersive 3D worlds, web sites and applications all in a browser-based and plug-in-less environment, enabling web3D in the exact same architecture as the web itself.

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