Microsoft will launch a software developers' kit for Chromeffects, its interactive media technology for the Web, on 17 August.
But the technology is already being criticised for being proprietary and for its hefty hardware requirements.
Chromeffects is a technology that allows advanced, interactive 2D and 3D effects and animations, as well as audio and video, to be embedded in Web pages. The technology can also be used for multimedia titles on CD-Rom.
The technology, known until now under the codename Chrome, was first demonstrated earlier this year at Microsoft?s Winhec developers' conference.
Chromeffects renders 3D objects and animations on the client PC, rather than on the Web server, saving bandwidth and enhancing resolution.
The downside - Web pages with Chromeffects can only be displayed on PCs running Windows 98 or, some day, Windows NT, not on Macintosh, Unix or even Windows 95. This is because the technology uses the proprietary Windows programming interface DirectX 6.0.
And it places hefty demands on PC hardware - the minimum platform is expected to be a 350MHz Pentium II system with 64Mbytes of Ram.
Chromeffects works by embedding DirectX API calls directly into the Web page, using XML (eXtendible Markup Language). According to Microsoft, there will be 'point and click' tools to allow even non-technical Web authors to create pages with "spectacular" 3D effects.
While Chromeffects will initially be positioned as a technology to enhance Web pages and CD-Rom titles, Microsoft has suggested that it could also be used to develop next generation user interfaces for any type of Windows application.
Microsoft is placing the Chromeffects SDK on its Web site for free download on 17 August. Originally, it had planned to make the technology generally available by the first quarter of 1999, but the company is now suggesting it might be released sooner.
A number of specialist software vendors, including Metacreations and Zapa Digital Arts, are announcing add-on tools for Chromeffects at the Siggraph 98 show in Orlando, Florida this week.
But other vendors are highly critical of Microsoft?s plans. Eric Byunn, group product manager for Navigator at Netscape, said: ?To the degree that [Chromeffects] is being proposed as something for the Web, I?m intrigued that it has not been proposed to any standards body that I am aware of, and that it will only be on Windows 98."
Byunn said he doubted that the product would appeal to Web developers, because of its Windows-only nature and the very high machine requirements.
Microsoft has countered that Chromeffects Web pages can be designed in such a way that they "degrade gracefully" when viewed on non Windows or non Internet Explorer systems.
Byunn couldn?t say whether Netscape would support Chromeffects in Navigator, should it become popular. He did say that Netscape would consider the technology if it were proposed in the appropriate standards body.
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