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Sun Finds a Home in Second Life

Sun Microsystems knows all four million Java developers worldwide can't attend its popular JavaOne trade show, but it thinks it might have found the next best thing.

Tuesday, Sun became the first Fortune 500 company to hold an 'in-world' press conference to show off its new pavilion in Second Life, the popular 3D online world. Sun said it plans to invest in the Sun Pavilion as a place for developers to try out code, share ideas and receive training.

"Our problem is that every year our largest developer conference (JavaOne) attracts about 22,000 people and we get to meet with them face-to-face for a week," said Sun's chief researcher John Gage during the virtual event. He said Sun hopes to reach millions of Java developers in Second Life with training and other support features.

Technology companies have tried all sorts of gimmicks over the years to make their events more interesting, including pyrotechnics, musical numbers and celebrity appearances.

But Sun's  virtual press conference might have been the most unusual to date. About 50 journalists showed up as avatars  to hear Gage, Philip Rosedale (founder and CEO of Second Life's creator Linden Labs) and Sun's Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos discuss Sun's plans and the virtual community in general.

There are already over 700,000 residents in Second Life worldwide. You can simply cruise the virtual world for free after registering, but you can also build digital structures or buy and sell items, which is how its residents and Second Life's owners generate revenue.

Most of the newbie journalists had to pick an identity from a list of name choices, so it wasn't clear just what publications were represented by the likes of Jeffronius Batra, Mamuf Wilcke and Bitmason Pimpernel. But the group all dutifully plunked their digital behinds on seats set up in a virtual auditorium where the avatars for Gage et al. spoke.

Melissinos showed up in style, arriving on stage via a 3D-rendered automobile.

But Rosedale's (or Philip Linden, as his avatar is named) appearance was more distinct as his avatar was briefly naked (in a G-Rating kind of way). He explained that when too many people are online and the system is taxed, there can be a delay in seeing clothes and the frame rate can drop to ten frames per second.

"We're continuing to make avatars look better and move more easily," said Rosedale. "We've moved this world forward following Moore's Law . We only need to wait for improvements in graphics cards and processors to see things go faster."

The trio onstage gave an audio presentation, but everyone else was limited to instant message communications.

Gage said Sun hoped to invent a new way of collaborative programming development in Second Life. "You'll be anywhere in the world," and be able to "design an object and interact with it."

Melissinos said Second Life isn't a game. "It's an amazing platform for global communications."