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Google shelves 3D interwebs plug-in for Mozilla play

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Google has shelved its 3D graphics browser plug-in - the open source API known as O3D - opting instead for the WebGL standard originally developed by Mozilla.

On Friday, with a blog post, Google announced that O3D is morphing from a plug-in project into a Javascript library that runs atop WebGL. Backed by the Khronos Group, WebGL uses the existing OpenGL desktop graphics interface to hardware-accelerate 3D inside the browser.

Google says that previously, it was concerned that Javascript wouldn't be fast enough to drive a low-level API like OpenGL - and that so few Windows machines offer OpenGL drivers. But Javascript performance has improved significantly in recent months, with the introduction of new browsers from Mozilla and Opera and the continued evolution of Chrome, and in March, Google itself introduced an open source project - dubbed ANGLE - that lets WebGL work in tandem with Microsoft's DirectX APIs.

"We did not take this decision lightly," Google said in its Friday blog post. "JavaScript has become a lot faster. We've been very impressed by the demos that developers have created with WebGL, and with the ANGLE project, we believe that Chromium will be able to run WebGL content on Windows computers without having to rely on installed OpenGL drivers."

Of course, there's another problem - and it too is down to the fact that Microsoft isn't exactly in step with the latest standards. The new O3D won't work with Internet Explorer, which lacks support for WebGL.

To solve this problem, Google will turn once again to Chrome Frame, the plug-in it invented to add HTML5 to Internet Explorer. Chrome Frame does not include WebGL support, but Google indicates it soon will.

Redmond doesn't like the idea of a plug-in that turns a Microsoft browser into a Google browser. But there's nothing Redmond can do about it - except maybe speed up its standards adoption.

Microsoft actually has a point when it comes to Chrome Frame. But Mozilla has a better one.

Google described the new Javascript incarnation of O3D as "in its infancy," bur a copy is available for download on the O3D project site. Because browsers lack certain tools available with a plug-in, the Javascript project can't quite do everything the plug-in did, but Google says it will work to push such tools into the big name browsers, including the ability to load compressed files.

Google's O3D plug-in and its source code will remain available for at least a year, but after a maintenance release, Google will cease development. ®

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