Adobe to unveil professional software to create 3-D worlds on the Web

Monday, March 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Much of cyberspace today is still two-dimensional: click on a Web site or chat room and you get text or pictures.

But the Internet could become more three-dimensional _ allowing surfers to virtually step into a site, walk around and talk to others _ if Adobe Systems Inc. has its way with a Web-authoring software tool to be unveiled Monday.

The new product, called Adobe Atmosphere, lets Web designers create 3-D Web pages where visitors can interact and chat with each other in real-time.

An auto dealership, for instance, could have a Web site where visitors walk into a virtual showroom. A visitor _ in an animated icon form _ could look at cars in different rooms, talk to other shoppers, and step up to a kiosk where a salesman stands by, eager to answer questions.

Virtual reality on the Internet is nothing new, but it has been slow to take off _ limited to the endeavors mostly of small start-ups, some now victims of the dot-com carnage.

Remaining 3-D Web software and service providers, including Newburyport, Mass.-based Inc. and San Francisco-based blaxxun interactive Inc., are making headway as technology has improved, Net-based communication has grown, and some businesses have begun to embrace some form of 3-D graphics on their Web sites.

``There aren't millions of people using this technology; it's just very early adopters,'' said Bruce Damer, principal of DigitalSpace Corp., a Santa Cruz-based company that specializes in 3-D Web services.

The economy's downturn and the belt-tightening of companies are an added challenge, especially for a feature considered more a novelty than a practicality.

``There's still a great need to have a Web presence, but there may not be as much investment in the bells and whistles for the Internet,'' said Lia Schubert, an analyst with Infotrends Research Group in Boston, Mass.

Damer thinks Adobe, in putting its muscle behind Atmosphere, could make the difference that will propel widespread adoption of the concept of a 3-D Internet.

``Adobe is a thoroughbred. It can run laps and it's designed to get to the finish line,'' he said, referring to the company's track record with tools in managing digital content.

San Jose-based Adobe is the nation's leading maker of desktop publishing software. The $1.27 billion company is well-known for Photoshop, a photo editing program, and Acrobat Reader, which has become a de facto standard for document distribution on the Web.

Atmosphere is Adobe's first 3-D interactive Web-authoring tool.

A beta, or test, version of the software will be available for free public downloads from the Adobe website beginning Monday. The beta will work only on Windows-based systems; a Mac-version will be available in the early summer, the company said.

Adobe expects to start shipping the final product in the summer. The company has not disclosed a suggested retail price.