Google Drops O3D, Gets Behind WebGL for Web 3D Graphics

Will provide a JavaScript version of the O3D library

There are web document editors, web photo editors, even web audio editors, yet the general conception is that the desktop is the only place for ‘serious‘ applications. That is gradually changing and one thing that will help is the work carried out to bring native 3D graphics to the browser. One very interesting project is WebGL, which is shaping up nicely. WebGL is intended as a standard and it has now won another victory on its way of becoming one. Google has decided to stop development on its O3D project and start focusing on WebGL.

“We did not take this decision lightly. In initial discussions we had about WebGL, we were concerned that JavaScript would be too slow to drive a low-level API like OpenGL and we were convinced that a higher level approach like the O3D scene graph would yield better results. We were also cognizant of the lack of installed OpenGL drivers on many Windows machines, and that this could hamper WebGL’s adoption,” Matt Papakipos, Engineering Director, and Vangelis Kokkevis, Software Engineer at Google, wrote.

When O3D was launched a year ago, JavaScript was not deemed a viable alternative. O3D would be distributed as a browser plugin, which would ensure that apps written for it were as fast as possible. This approach has one major advantage, performance, but several disadvantages. The biggest is that the need for a plugin would mean adoption would be very slow.

In the meantime, WebGL went from a project proposed by Mozilla to well on its way of becoming a standard. It is supported by all major browser manufacturers with the sole exception of, who else, Microsoft. Internet Explorer has never been much of a fan of standards or adopting new technologies. The fact that WebGL has OpenGL underpinnings, which competes, in a sense, with its DirectX offering on Windows, makes it even less likely that IE will get WebGL any time soon. Luckily, Google provides the Chrome Frame.

Thanks to the ANGLE project, which aims to make WebGL work with DirectX, and spurred by increases in JavaScript performance, Google has now decided to get behind WebGL even more, but not in detriment of O3D. While the plugin and the current APIs won’t see much development anymore, Google is working on a JavaScript equivalent.

“The JavaScript implementation of O3D is still in its infancy, but you can find a copy of it on the O3D project site and see it running some of the O3D samples from a WebGL enabled browser,” the two software engineers announced. “Because browsers lack some requisite functionality like compressed asset loading, not all the features of O3D can be implemented purely in JavaScript. We plan to work to give the browser this functionality, and all capabilities necessary for delivering high-quality 3D content,” they added.

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