Friday 27 April 2007

Sun gets on the Virtual Worlds bus

Thanks to my friend Port7 Sodwind - hey, I didn't choose the name - for bringing this to my attention. Following IBM's announcement yesterday regarding their construction of big boxes for hosting bitverse 3D virtual worlds comes word that Sun Microsystems is working on 3-D virtual workplaces.

To quote snippets from Information Week:
Sun Microsystems put the spotlight on its next-generation technology and showed off research projects that ranged from faster switches and more efficient servers to 3-D virtual workplaces in an open house for analysts and reporters. Among the projects that would wow even a nontechnical person is Sun's MPK20 virtual workplace. Sun has built a client called Project Wonderland that handles the graphics rendering and provides the controls for moving an avatar through the make-believe world.

While MPK20 isn't a physical office, it contains many real-world collaboration features. A company employee could have their own office in MPK20 and hold meetings with other workers. Within the virtual office, presentations could be shown on a wall, along with documents and spreadsheets that could be modified by the group. Basically, just about any office application can be brought into the virtual world.

Another feature is voice communications, which is handled through headphones and a microphone. The voice capabilities are designed to simulate the real world, so a person, for example, leaving a meeting would hear the voices of the others slowly fade. Walk toward two people talking, and the volume of the voices increase.

MPK20 could be ready for deployment within Sun in six months, said engineer Nicole Yankelovich. Sun would use the application internally before releasing it outside the company. The odd name stands for Sun's Menlo Park (Calif.) Campus, which has 19 physical buildings, and now a 20th that's virtual.

MPK20 is built on top of the new version of Sun's open source
Darkstar gaming server. While Wonderland does the graphics rendering, Darkstar handles everything else, such as load balancing, managing game state, and voice communications. For storing avatars and other game objects, Darkstar uses the Berkeley DB database, another open source project.

The Darkstar upgrade is scheduled for release in the summer, project director Karl Haberl said. A major feature in the new version is the ability to tie the servers in a cluster for handling more users. Load-balancing tools in the servers make it possible to move workloads around to avoid overtaxing any one machine.

UPDATE - 29th April:
For more on this here is the relevant webpage on the Sun site. This, in turn, contains a link to their "Collaborative Environments" home page. For their 3D environment they have turned to the Open Source Wonderland project which, in turn, builds on Darkstar (mentioned above).

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