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NTT preps 3D web browser

Not quite cyberspace

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Japanese software company NTT will release its three-dimensional web browser in October, the company revealed last week.

The ¥30,000 ($275) SpaceBrowser package works with Internet Explorer to render information in a 3D space. The example NTT uses is a wine store where the prices of the various cuvées on offer are arranged as items floating in space, the cheapest bottles closest to the viewer and the most expensive further away, and spread from left to right by type.

NTT Software's SpaceBrowser

The idea is that, like a chart, SpaceBrowser makes it easier to navigate information in a database. Instead of flipping between a stack of 2D pages, you can see all the items at once, as it were, and select the one you're interested in more quickly.

SpaceBrowser does the same thing with multiple web pages from different sites, as a 3D alternative to tabbed browsing.

The effect is not unlike Mac OS X's Exposé feature, which creates a mosaic of all open windows at the push of a button, allowing you to spot and select the one you want more quickly.

NTT Software's SpaceBrowser

Indeed, SpaceBrowser's 3D view is reminiscent of an Apple research project made public in the mid-1990s, which visualised the web as a fly-through 3D space. Connected websites were represented by linked page icons stacked into the screen, as it were. The code, separately dubbed Project X and HotSauce, was released in 1996 as a plug-in for a existing Mac and PC browsers. The shot comes from Niels Olof Bouvin's Spatial Hypermedia website.

It relied on an Apple-developed data format called MCF (Meta-Content Format), a forerunner to XML. "As HTML is to the displayed page, MCF is to structured content," Apple's then AppleNet division president, Larry Tesler, said at the time.

Apple's HotSauce

Sun's more recent Looking Glass project takes a similar approach and applies it to the desktop, and Microsoft has also tinkered with this kind of thing. Others have too.

Sun's Looking Glass

SpaceBrowser appears to be the first product of its kind to be launched as a commercial product, with NTT claiming it hopes to achieve sales totaling ¥300m ($2.75m) in the first year - or 10,000 copies. ®

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