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Adobe Intros Tool for Creating 3-D Worlds

San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. Monday moved to open the doors to 3-D virtual worlds on the Web with the Adobe Atmosphere Web tool.

The Atmosphere tool is for authoring, viewing and interacting with "immersive" virtual 3-D worlds. Adobe said it will allow end-users to "walk the Web," and suggested that the software will transform everything from gaming and teaching on the Web, to online retailing and collaboration. But while the tool is intended to take the Web in entirely new direction, it leverages standard Web design practices. Worlds are connected through URLs, and JavaScript is used to animate objects, add sound and program special effects. It also retains the Adobe user interface. Unsurprisingly, Adobe said Atmosphere works well with industry-standard Web content creation tools including Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

The software allows designers to import objects created with 3-D design tools -- including those from Viewpoint, Curious Labs, Discreet 3DStudio Max and Alias|Wavefront Maya -- through importing Viewpoint file formats.

"Adobe Atmosphere adds an entirely new dimension to the Web experience -- the third dimension," said Bruce Damer, principal of DigitalSpace Corp. and author of Avatars (PeachPit Press, 1998). "Today, browsing a site means clicking on a document and doing simple searches. In the near future, browsing a site will mean walking through 3-D rooms spaces, speaking with other visitors or site representatives, and seeing animated objects in real-time and in a more life-like setting. Imaging the implication this holds for something like collaboration and education -- we'll see a complete transformation of what it means to be in cyberspace."

The 3-D worlds created through Atmosphere are rendered through the Atmosphere browser, the first product of Adobe's investment in Viewpoint last year. The browser is powered by the Viewpoint Media Player.

Viewpoint is also the preferred e-commerce object format for Atmosphere and the recommended system for 3-D Web content delivery.

Adobe conceded that the public has seen virtual world technologies before, but said that Atmosphere stands apart because it is more than just a language standard.

"Atmosphere is a complete system that offers high performance and true immersion for end-users," the company said. "For example, when a user walks into an Atmosphere world, the world loads immediate, which enables continuous exploration and movement within the world. Additionally, Atmosphere worlds will not be centrally hosted. Worlds can be hosted by anyone, anywhere and can be linked to each other -- allowing for the proliferation of 3-D environments on the Web."

Adobe said it would announce a suggested retail price for Atmosphere when the final product ships. In the meantime, the company has made a public beat for Windows available here. A Macintosh public beta will be available in the summer.