Santa Clara, California based Sun Microsystems, developpers of the Solaris operating system, Java and builders of high-end server hardware have been in SL for a good long while now. The sims they own are only partly open to the public. Some are Sun employee-only isles. I often wondered why they didn't use SL more as they are known to be big proponents of the "the network is the computer" adagio and SL fits that bill perfectly.
The answer is simple, they have develeoped what they call "Project Wonderland". It is described as a "toolkit for creating collaborative 3D virtual worlds." Sun's vision for this Java based multi-user virtual environment is to "provide an environment that is robust enough in terms of security, scalability, reliability, and functionality that organizations can rely on it as a place to conduct real business". This all sounds like music to my ears because let's be frank: SL is neither secure nor reliable and I have a hunch they are at the end of the ride in terms of scalability. Functionality? Everything in Wonderland seems to comply with open standards which will make interaction with existing tools easier. At the moment Maya is used for content creation but other tools like Blender, 3D Studio Max, Lightwave and a number of others are being looked into. Imagine how much easier life would be if you could use these standardised tools to create content ready to upload.
Even though it is still in it's beta stage (present release is version 0.4) Wonderland is not just an exercise. At Sun's Menlo Park Campus there are 19 physical buildings named MPK1 to 19. Now they have a new building: MPK20, built in their own virtual world. In this video Nicole Yankelovich (Principle Investigator for Collaborative Environments program at Sun Microsystems Labs) shows us around MPK20.
Watching this video you can see it doesn't look as imaginative or artistic as SL does but, that's just a matter of content. The core functionality is there and what's more it's all based on open source projects. Wonderland relies on these existing technologies:
- Project Darkstar - provides the scalable, persistant server software infrastructure
- JVoiceBridge - provides realtime immersive stereo audio with distance attenuation
- Java 3D - provides the scene graph on which the 3D world and scene manager is built
- Project Looking Glass - provides the 3D scene manager
Even though they themselves seem to see Wonderland purely as a collaboration tool for businesses and educational puropses I think it's important that a big company like Sun recognises the fact virtual worls have an added value and deem it important enough to devote time and money to them well beyond setting up some sims in SL. Unlike LL's server code the Wonderland source is out there. Will someone pick up on it?
Interesting reads about Sun and its involvement with virtual worlds:
The Wonderland homepage: includes the Wonderland sources and a binary download
Wonderblog : a blog about project Wonderland
Virtual wolds at Sun: A blog about Sun's involvement in vitual worlds including SL
Just for the record: I'm in no way associated with Sun Microsystems other than being a Solaris sys admin :-)