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Taking the Z axis into cyberspace Cybelius' TouchMore does require some Java knowledge, but it has the tools to make 3D websites more interactive

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With the increasing use of the Internet for both training applications and e-commerce, many developers and designers are looking for better ways to integrate and communicate with users of screen-based systems. We live in a 3D world and often the best way to communicate an idea quickly is to use three dimensions.

Most Internet technologies to date have been 2D in nature, providing animated and interactive content restricted to the x and y axes. Exploring 3D on a screen has always been difficult, but is becoming increasingly popular with formats like QuickTime vr and vrml (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) being supported by more applications.

The main problem with placing 3D information on the Internet is the complexity involved in authoring these files. Even after this has been completed, making components of these files interactive requires a considerable amount of work.

Cybelius TouchMore has been designed to add interactivity and functionality to 3D vrml product models in Internet applications. Models created in other applications can be brought into the TouchMore environment and interactivity can be added. Real physical properties can also be added to components to simulate real-world conditions. After functions have been added, the model then becomes fully interactive and can be viewed and tested over the Internet. The advantage of using smart virtual-product models over the Internet is that they can be tested as if they were the real thing.

A library of components, or behaviours, can be attached, providing various levels of interactivity. It also includes a library to construct the user's own smart components. The component library is used for storage, from which the user can pick the right function and add it to the vrml geometry by dragging the desired component to the vrml tree. The component is then programmed to carry out the desired function by dragging it from the vrml tree to the FlowEditor window and graphically connecting the input and output fields of the components. This kind of feature could be, for example, a power button of a cellular phone, logically connected to an led, which is programmed to light up when the power button is pushed down.

The process, while quite straightforward, does require a sound working knowledge of vrml authoring and Java programming. It is not for the faint- hearted; many higher-end developers will want to go beyond the libraries it provides and produce functionality of their own.

Once files have been created, they can be saved out via the Optimiser. The Optimiser is a Java-based tool for reducing the size of vrml 2.0/97 files. The average reduction is about 50 per cent - depending on the nature of the original vrml file. vrml models can be optimised either before or after addingfunctionality in the Cybelius TouchMore workspace.

Version 2.0 adds support for the import or export of gzip files, in addition to vrml 2.0/97 files, extending the application's usefulness. The user interface can be selected from several pre-defined layout configurations, allowing users to customise their workspace.

A new edit-copy-paste feature makes everyday working mucheasier. There is a new floating toolbar in the Composer Window, allowing more flexibility within the working environment, and it is a standard function of most Windows applications.

The new NodeLocator makes it easy to navigate in the Tree Window, which can become extremely complex, and the interface and usability of the Composer Window has been improved.

Models authored in TouchMore can be viewed in any browser capable of reading vrml files. This usually means installing a plug-in and, unfortunately, the files don't appear to be platform-independent, as they failed to work when viewed on a Macintosh.

TouchMore is an excellent tool for those who wish to develop interactive, 3D websites. But it takes some work and the quality of the final product is very much dependent on the quality of the geometry produced in the first place.

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