Sun’s Wonderland and Darkstar projects
Wonderland is the client side of the 3D web project pushed by Sun Microsystems (MPK20 initiative). The man behind the project is Kevin Roebuck. Kevin wrote about the project in one of his posts. It is Java based system that supports 3D-based graphics engine, manages world, animation, and avatars in extensible and customizable worlds. It has a build in ability to share X-windows applications in-world. Currently supported applications are web browsers, openoffice apps, and xterm.
Darkstar is the server side of the project. It is decoupled from Wonderland, and supports communication and application framework, handles persistence and allows extensible set of core services. It is entirely based on Java and it provides highly scalable infrastructure.
The selling point at the moment for this technology is the audio bridge with spatial 3D voice technology, that allows avatars to have informal audio conversations within spatially dispersed groups of people simple by walking from one group to another. Another good aspect is the current ability to have in-world X-windows applications integrating seamlessly with the rest of the objects in the region. How innovative that is I am not sure, perhaps others would be able to comment on this better.
I think one of the important aspects of the platform is the ability for developers to create put custom applications written in Java in-world. One example is the CD covers and music browsing demonstrated here (towards the end of the presentation), which is either not possible, extremely difficult or cumbersome in proprietary systems such as Second Life. Seamless integration with Java may appeal extremely well to some groups of developers and 3D web enthusiasts.
Virtual Worlds are gaining more traction in Research and Education segment. New initiatives such as the Immersive Education from University of Boston (initiated by Aaron Welsh) and Media Grid are attracting a growing number of partners and participants. Others have noticed the growing impact of project Wonderland in this area.