Mozilla gives 3D web another shot

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) – 3D on the Internet is about as old as 3D graphics acceleration itself. But all those ideas often disappeared quickly after their release, because they always required a special browser plug-in. Now there is a new idea to enable 3D web graphics that do not need a plug-in, but are enabled via JavaScript acceleration. Conceivably, this could hand Firefox and Chrome yet another advantage, while Microsoft will feel even more pressure to work on JavaScript acceleration for its Internet Explorer.

This new approach has been drafted by the Khronos group in a response to a proposal from Mozilla, which will chair the initiative to come up with an open, royalty-free standard for 3D graphics on the Web. The working group said that it is considering several ideas, including OpenGL and OpenGL ES 2.0 to enable a 3D world within a browser window.

What differentiates this approach from previous 3D ideas is that there are no proprietary technologies involved. Instead, the 3D capabilities will be integrated in ECMAScript and run in a browser window without the need of a plug-in. ECMAScript is often confused with JavaScript and while it is not JavaScript, it is closely related: ECMAScript was approved as standard in 1997 and contains elements of both JavaScript and JScript (Microsoft’s JavaScript-compatible client-side scripting language.) JavaScript and Jscript are compatible with ECMAScript, but include features that are not supported by ECMAScript.

What makes a widely used scripting technology especially interesting is the increasing focus on JavaScript performance in browsers. Firefox, Safari Chrome as well as Opera have shown dramatic speed enhancements in this discipline over the past few months and open the door for compelling 3D web apps right out of the gate – if 3D capabilities can be integrated into ECMAScript. OpenGL is available on every desktop operating system and a significant and growing percentage of embedded platforms have adopted OpenGL ES as their native graphics API.  

Of course, this development has one other interesting implication. Microsoft is the only major browser developer that has almost entirely ignored JavaScript acceleration so far. All three major rivals have a significant lead over the Internet Explorer at this time and if Microsoft cannot come up with a new acceleration engine before ECMAScript-accelerated 3D web applications emerge, the company may get into even deeper trouble it is at this time. Despite the recent release of IE8, Microsoft has not been able to increase its browser market share so far. According to Net Applications, IE currently holds a market share of 67.44%, followed by Firefox with 21.77% and Safari with 8.02%.