Multiuser Worlds IV: Holodesk

Dateline: 4/28/99

Beach world in Holodesk Communicator
Used by permission of VRTelecom

This past week, a much awaited, (at least by a few of us) new VRML based multi-user product, called Holodesk from VRTelecom, was released. It's one of the few examples of a product designed around CosmoPlayer.

Holodesk is a high-end multi-user chat environment. You can chat with people in specific "places". At the time of product release and until Jan 2000, the Communicator and access to the "Holodesk Telepresence Network" is free. After the new year there will be a "minimal charge". My guess is that access will really be quite inexpensive. If your interested in lots of detail go to the online manual.

One of the most striking things about Holodesk is the way it looks. It's a Windows application but doesn't look like it at all. It has a very stylish hitech design. It looks like a hitech control pad and display device that reminds me much more of cool multimedia interface rather then an application.

You interact with the system via two main windows, the Connector, a small listing type window in which you select the people and places you want to talk to and visit, and Communicator. Speaking of talking, the system also allows voice chat, which functioned quite well when I tried it, but I was on a high speed line, and voice chat in my experience seems to be a hit or miss thing.

The demo worlds that come with the system as "places" to visit are absolutely top notch and very high quality. Both visually and technically. The places themselves such as a beach area, and business conference room all look wonderful. As VRML worlds they are also quite efficient considering their visual complexity. Clearly these folks know all the VRML tricks.

You appear in the world as an avatar. You get to pick from about a dozen avatars, and once in the world in the right lower corner of the screen is a HUD (Heads Up Display) of your avatar performing whatever motion others in the world also see. One of the best VRML tricks I've seen is a pop-up menu that shows up when you move the cursor over the avatar. Green outlines of about a dozen figures pop-up and when you select one, the avatar performs that particular action.

Inside of these worlds are some tools. One is the Holodesk Presenter, a VRML tool to play slides, sort of like a PowerPoint presentation in cyberspace. Speaking of PowerPoint, you can actually drag a PowerPoint presentation onto a Presenter and the slides get magically embedded as texture onto the slide screen...way cool! Actually Holodesk has a powerful file sharing ability. In some locations (called a FileX) such as the desk in a conference room you can simply drag files from your Windows desktop onto the table and they become shared, to all other users in the "place".

Another cool technology is the ability to have "active objects". The Presenter mentioned earlier is considered to be an active object. There are also games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Reversi that you can play with other people. One of the more interesting objects is the "stylus". Basically it's a crayon you can use to draw on stuff in the world...and of course your drawings are shared.

From a technology point of view Holodesk is amazing. It's got some of the most interesting capabilities I've ever seen in a VRML world. From a functionality point of view I'm not sure what to make of it. It's a strange cross between a cool chat world, and a business presentation utility. I hope these folks make a million with this thing but I'm not clear of their business model.

All in all I'm hopeful these folks figure out a way to stay in business. Everything about the product and the company is of top-notch quality. The software breaks new ground for VRML. The web sites (VRTelecom, Holodesk) are both of high quality and the worlds inside of Communicator are simply gorgeous. Good luck folks!

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