Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

twirl – 3D Microbrowser

Frederick Shaul
zap technologies

Figure 1: twirl screen shot.

What is the work all about?

twirl is an open source micro browser for the Macintosh (and soon Linux) that has been in development since 1998. The objective of this project is to develop a compact and concise no-frills browser with native 3D support. The current version parses VRML 97 content, renders it in a 3D display and supports view selection and limited navigation. The binary executable is less than 60KB and has very modest system requirements (PowerPC, MacOS 8 w/QuickTime).

What do you get out of presenting?

An opportunity to present is an excellent catalyst for polishing and organizing a project for public demonstration. Some 3D parsing enhancements to twirl were added specifically to make demonstrating it at the Web3D RoundUP easier.

What are the unique/interesting contributions made, and why are they significant?

twirl is trying to make it easier to communicate complex and abstract information across long distances, and between very different kinds of users. twirl has native support for VRML 97 because it is the most widely documented and supported dynamic 3D file format on the Internet and because presenting complex information requires a dynamic 3D presentation format. twirl is implemented as a straightforward, compact and concise open-source solution so that it can endure potentially harsh business climates and simplify portability to new platforms. For uninitiated new users to be able to share information with others, the tools must be as bullet proof and as simple to deploy as possible. For this reason twirl is a stand alone application, and not a plug-in to some other application.

How are common problems like initial installation and 3D interface handled for ordinary everyday 3D-naive users?

Complex installation and system pollution are serious problems for new users. By design twirl runs stand alone so that it only needs itself to run. There are still no well-established means for new users to interact and navigate in 3D. By adhering as closely as possible to the guidelines in The Annotated VRML 2.0 Reference Manual (Rikk Carey, Gavin Bell - Addison Wesley), twirl tries to present as consistent a metaphor for 3D navigation and interaction as possible.

How does it leverage capabilities of the web? Does it scale?

The Internet is a field from which 3D content can be easily harvested using established web services. twirl’s native support for the VRML 97 file format allows the most 3D designs to be read while keeping the executable compact and concise. There are also plans to add MP3 streaming and multi-user dungeon features to twirl.

Who makes up the intended audience and likely participants?

Anyone who would like to play with VRML on the Macintosh, and soon on Linux. twirl’s small footprint when executed is nice for tweaking VRML files in concert with a text editor.

What did it feel like presenting at the Web3D RoundUP?

The Web3D RoundUP was an excellent venue for twirl. I received very positive feedback and additional press coverage due to visibility gained from my presentation. No other forum captures the excitement and potential of 3D and the Internet as well as the RoundUP.

Where can the work be accessed on-line?

More information about twirl and zap technologies is available from the Internet at Binaries and source for twirl are available from

Frederick Shaul
zap technologies

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.