3Di OpenViewer almost ready for prime time

Japan’s Sanwa Supply Co., launched a site today where visitors can shop for computer supplies and peripherals using the immersive 3Di OpenViewer from 3Di that came in the form of a browser plug-in, instead of a standalone application like the Second Life, Hippo, or Meerkat browsers. The breakthrough is that the store is running on the OpenSim server platform, an open source alternative to Second Life.

Wagner James Au of New World Notes was able to get it to work shortly after the news came out earlier today, but here at Hypergrid Business it took us a few hours to get it going. The application repeatedly crashed the browser on our Vista machine — and required two tries at downloading and an upgrade to Internet Explorer 8 (even though the Web page lists IE6 and IE7) before we could even get that far. On Windows XP, we also needed to upgrade Internet Explorer to version 8, and then it ran. Eventually, it loaded on Vista as well, after we turned off the user access controls (part of Vista’s security system).

Entering the Sanwa store.
Entering the Sanwa store.

Even after it successfully loaded, it took about 15 minutes for my avatar to turn from a puffy white cloud to a real person.

At that point, the experience became relatively pleasant. Wandering around the store was fun, sitting in the office chairs, checking out the product line. The standard 3Di OpenViewer comes with a chat function, but none was obvious here. Maybe it was buried in the Japanese-language instructions.

The most interesting part of wandering around the Sanwa storefront was seeing all the other shoppers there. The store was pretty crowded, with at least a handful of other avatars around me at any given time, also trying out the chairs and peering at the products.

Trying out the office furniture.
Trying out the office furniture.

Although the bare-bones 3Di OpenViewer download is only 10 megabytes, Sanwa’s viewer came in at over 40 — a very bulky download for a Web plugin.  And about as much space as required by the Hippo browser, which is much more functional and a stand-alone application.

Maybe in Japan this 40 megabytes just blinks by, but here in Massachusetts it took a few minutes to download. Then, the dialog menus for the viewer were all in Japanese. Some options were obvious, and the answers in the same places they would be in English. Others weren’t. Again, it took a few tries to navigate the menus (though this would obviously not be a problem for users in Japan). Many people would probably be too safety conscious — or too impatient — to jump through all the hoops required to install this software.

If I could read Japanese, I might learn something about these products.
If I could read Japanese, I might learn something about these products.

One reason for the fatter clients is that they might be including much of Sanwa’s storefront in the plugin, in order to speed up the actual shopping experience. But this means that users will have to download a new plugin for every store they go to, and ruins 3Di’s opportunity to create a universally-used plugin for Web 3D applications.

Meanwhile, navigation was easy, using either the keyboard arrows or the mouse. Sitting just required clicking on a chair. The controls were responsive, even though the store was on the other side of the planet from me.

The virtual store was also integrated with the electronic catalog. Clicking on items brought up new browser windows with — I assume — purchase instructions.

I do have to say I liked the clothes and the shoes. I wouldn’t mind having them in my OpenSim closet.

Would be nice to stop and say hello.
Would be nice to stop and say hello.

Would I go shopping at an American store using the 3Di technology? Maybe.

My retail wish list:

  • English-language interface (obviously)
  • A faster download
  • Ability to talk or chat with live store clerks and other customers
  • If a clothing store, then I would need to be able to customize my avatar to match my real appearance
  • If a virtual goods store, then I would want to be able to bring products back to my own OpenSim grid
  • Being able to visit other stores through direct teleportation to other sites

Would I go to a virtual meeting with this viewer? Absolutely

My virtual meeting wish list includes all of the above, plus:

  • Voice support
  • Virtual desktops
  • Integration with enterprise collaboration products like Google Docs
  • Integration with corporate directories for single sign-ons
  • Integration with back-end systems like corporate databases and ERP systems
  • If a public meeting, then ability to teleport to and from my home grid or other grids

If 3Di moves away from custom Web clients for each new customer and to a universal client, and allows for teleports from store to store, or public meeting space to public meeting space, I could see this becoming a major step forward in the usability of the 3D Web.

3Di could accomplish this by piggybacking on OpenSim’s hypergrid teleport capability, which already allows full avatar teleportation between grids.

But even without hypergrid teleports, I can definitely see using 3Di OpenViewer within my own company for staff meeting and collaboration sessions, once the basic browser is updated to support local textures. Using the 3Di OpenViewer is a much more intuitive, natural experience than using any of the OpenSim-compatible standalone browsers currently available and would go a long way towards helping my staff become comfortable with the technology.

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Maria Korolov