HTML5, the 3D Web, and the Death of Plugins

Hopefully, the world will soon be as hungry to show 3D stuff without a plugin, as the world has been to show rotating banners and videos without Flash. And for all the same reasons. Here’s some thoughts on the agonizingly slow death of plugins.

I spent many years working in Adobe Flash. From fun little flourishes to otherwise flat websites, to full-on interactive educational applications that provided feedback as to what was working educationally and what was not – I really liked Flash. I liked it, even as the Death of Plugins lurked menacingly around the next corner.

Then came the decree – “Flash is Dead”. While it took some people more years than other to accept this – by this point in time it is clear – if you want your stuff to be on the “open web” – you cannot use Flash. If you’re still disinclined to disagree with me on that, here’s just one article to try and dissuade you:

http://thenextweb.com/apps/2015/09/01/adobe-flash-just-took-another-step-towards-death-thanks-to-google

The saviour of rich, interactive experiences on the web was said to be HTML5. Want to show a video? Can’t use Flash? Just use HTML5! We’ve survived the Death of Plugins! Well, that sounds awesome at the proposal meeting. Here’s a howto on how to do that:

http://www.w3schools.com/html/html5_video.asp

But where does this leave us, for deploying 3D content on the web? There was a time that we could use hopped-up Flash things to do so. But no more! Flash has a bright past, and a murky, siloed future at best. And much like Cosmo Player – it’s likely to be a distant memory decades from now.

And, while HTML5 alone does not solve the problem of how to deploy 3D content on the web, there are a number of other “open standards” that co-exist nicely with HTML5 that give us options. Three.js and Blend4Web are two obvious examples for displaying (and allowing interaction with) 3D content in a web browser. There are “open standards” for the storage, archiving, and transmission of 3D content – but there is no strict overlap between these, and ways of showing (or interacting with) them in a web browser.

All this leads me to bring up the Web3D Consortium. Founded in 1997 to promote VRML – an “open standard” itself – they are now the official purveyors of X3D, an XML-based system that features “ISO standards for web-based 3D graphics”.

From the Web3D Consortium website:

“Founded in 1997, we are an International, non-profit, member-funded, industry standards development organization. We develop and maintain royalty-free ISO standards for web-based 3D graphics. Our standard   X3D (Extensible 3D) originated from VRML and is available in XML, Compressed Binary, and classic VRML formats. X3D is open, royalty free, extensible, interoperable, and runs on all platforms including desktops, tablets, and phones. Our members are from business, academia, government and the military.”

This is very interesting. And at some point, I’m going to look into something called X3DOM that will supposedly allow us to show X3D in browsers.

But for now – I’m looking at stuff like three.js or Blend4Web, as they actually do seem to provide a way of pumping dynamic 3D content into the vast majority of browsers, including those currently available on low-end commercial smartphones.

But, it does leave me wondering – HTML5 was said to solve all the problems that arise from proprietary plugins and proprietary browsers by providing an “open standard” that we can dependably assume will be in place everywhere. At what point will we be able to say we have a system that allows 3D content to be stored, transmitted, displayed, and interacted with, using “open standards”, everywhere?

I could stumble upon it any day now. It could rear it’s head next week. Hopefully, the world will soon be as hungry to show 3D stuff without a plugin, as the world has been to show rotating banners and videos without Flash. And for all the same reasons.

 

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Author: Pete

Editor-in-Chief, Lead Software Developer and Artistic Director @ 3dspace.com

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