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XML Matters: The Web ain't just for 2D any more (15 Dec 2005)
VRML came about in the heady days when HTML was taking off like wildfire. It was an attempt to join the concepts of View Source and virtual reality with the rapidly expanding Web. As a concept it was great, but it faced too many limitations: The hardware wasn't really ready, OpenGL was not a standard feature, and existing implementations were both incomplete and incompatible. It didn't help that the most widespread use of VRML appeared to be virtual shopping malls, which combined the risk of Internet purchasing with nearly all the inconvenience of visiting a real mall. VRML continued to putter along, mostly in research contexts, but failed to take hold and was largely written off by the Web community.

But it never completely died, and times have changed. With the ubiquity of XML, the VRML spec was rewritten to take advantage of XML parsers (and programmer familiarity with XML). The resulting spec, X3D, is governed by the Web3D Consortium, which provides open-source tools, examples, and documentation (see Resources). Games, OpenGL, and inexpensive video cards drove the graphics of standard computers to levels that surpass all but the most advanced of earlier dedicated graphics workstations -- computers that cost orders of magnitude more. The pieces are now in place for VRML to rise again.

And X3D is rising. It's still a peripheral technology, but the niches that use it are growing and becoming more important. This article provides a couple of examples in areas outside of the main commercial uses of X3D: rapid prototyping and education.
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