On the heels of IBM‘s recent announcement about their new mainframe-class machines geared for 3D virtual worlds comes the news that Sun Microsystems has constructed its own 3D virtual environment for business. Currently an in-house demo project, the software could be ready for release within six months, according to a Sun engineer quoted in this InformationWeek story.
The system is currently known as MPK20, which identifies it as the 20th building at Sun’s corporate campus in Menlo Park, California — which is known as MPK and in fact houses only 19 buildings. The MPK20 environment is built atop the open-source Wonderland software and the Project Darkstar infrastructure designed to run online games.
According to Sun, the key difference between MPK20 and other 3D environments is that it is explicitly designed for business use. The Wonderland software permits the creation of live, shared applications that are ideal for a workplace environment, Sun says. And of course the virtual world lets Sun employees work together no matter their location in the real world.
One interesting thing about Sun’s vision for MPK20 is that the company seems to be looking toward a mirror world environment for business. “The next stage in the MPK20 project is to design complementary physical and virtual work spaces. If personal and team workspaces primarily exist in the virtual world, then people in physical spaces should be able to project their workspace around them no matter where in the world they are and interact seamlessly with people who are remote.” [Emphasis added.] It will definitely be interesting to see exactly what that means.
A number of tools will be provided to enable effective use of the environment, Sun says. Key among these is fully integrated stereo audio, using the Sun Labs Voice Bridge. This offers functionality that sounds like it’s similar to the new Second Life voice facility, providing a full spatial simulation. In other words, it allows you to hear people’s voices coming from the appropriate directions, as you would in the real world, fading out as a function of perceived distance. The software has been designed to deliver stereo at CD-quality. However, it will also adapt to support low-bandwidth users, supporting a much lower, telephone quality where necessary.
MKP20 is part of a series of Sun initiatives in Collaborative Environments aimed at the business community. The new wave of business-focused 3D environments will have a distinct appeal to many larger companies, where the opportunity for reducing internal travel costs and increasing collaboration can be translated directly into bottom-line savings. Without a casino or lap-dancing club furry in sight it is a more sober world, maybe, but one perhaps better suited to the business user.
Aleister Kronos appears by kind permission of Ambling in Second Life.