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Moving multimedia into the mainstream

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The recent announcement of the Linux based FIC neo1973 mobile phone gives another path for breaking the mould, at least in the portable device space. However, back in the office software world the only commonly used application that has a well used multimedia element is PowerPoint and that still tends to be limited, perhaps more by the imagination of users and developers than the technology, to stills and text animation.

If you expand the concept of commercial software to take in the online world, there is a lot more action around, which is perhaps not surprising if you consider the multimedia possibilities of the World Wide Web. Online shops, information services and even Estate Agents can enhance the information available to potential customers by incorporating multimedia elements. To date these still tend to be pretty staid and don't actually represent any kind of "cutting edge" in the techniques or technology, so perhaps a better place to look for the future of multimedia is elsewhere on the web.

One example is the MySpace community which, despite all its obvious faults, provides a simple way for people to create a media rich web presence without needing any great programming skill. Browsing through the various pages you see an odd mixture of innocence and experience, good and bad design practices, and so on. The point is that the editing interface gives the user a lot of choice and a variety of tools for both creating their own MySpace page and for linking to related pages, searching and generally interacting with the rest of the online community.

Maybe we should be looking further away from the mainstream to find innovative ways to use multimedia in commercial and technical applications. For instance, consider IBM's deal with US electronics retailer Circuit City Stores to build a virtual store using Linden Labs' Second Life. So one possible future would have each customer using a kind of Gibson-esque cyberspace avatar that allows them to shop, access entertainment and have a virtual trial of a product or service, all from the comfort of home.

Now that Linden Labs is making some of the code which powers Second Life available under the GPL, even more possibilities arise for third party developers to get access to the virtual world. Just imagine using it to enable a geographically disparate software development team to work together on a large project.

IBM's "Secret Island" project on Second Life shows this is probably just round the corner, and it won't be the first or the last time technology from the games world has had a major effect on mainstream computing. ®

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