While VRML is in somewhat of a state of confusion and turmoil, natural with the growth and evolution of many technologies these days, one thing is quite clear - the use of 3D on the Web is exploding. Just as clear, VRML is the premier technology for using and interacting with 3D worlds on the Web. VRML isn't alone however. If VRML was the only technology than it would probably be doing the wrong thing.
Some of the new major technologies are Sun's Java3D and Microsoft's Chromeffects. Java3D has been around for about almost a year but is just starting to get some momentum. Sun to it's great credit is creating a VRML browser written in Java3D and is going the OpenSource route, making the source code available. As part of the initial Java3D specification they included a VRML loader and explanations of the support for VRML included with and not included with Java3D.
The other big 3D Web technology comes from our favorite 800 pound gorilla Microsoft. The rumors of what CHROME was and wasn't were somewhat clarified at SIGGRAPH 98 where a half dozen vendors were showing a variety of applications that use the new Chromeffects technology. In very simple terms Chromeffects is a way of truly integrating 3D graphics with HTML. The integration mechanism uses primarily XML. The nice aspect of this is that XML is becoming the Web-way of describing meta information in a standard way. Overall it's a nice architecture and quite general. However the performance requirements and specific operation system (only Win98 for now) are quite stringing and restrictive. Chromeffects for now excels at letting you at 3D types of eye-candy to web pages like bouncing balls with shadows and those types of things. More importantly it let's you take an HTML page and place it on a 3D plane, a layer. The layers can fly around on the overall window and can create compelling effects. Time will tell if it all succeeds.
In the coming few weeks I'll be fleshing out more of the aspects and
current issues for both Java3D and Chromeffects...so stay tuned!