PageFX a 2nd Generation VRML Authoring Tool

Dateline: 6/29/98

The much touted and anticipated PageFX VRML authoring tool from Cosmo Software has finally shipped. I got my shrink wrapped copy this past week and aside from the usual Win95 annoyances it's really a cool package or as I like to say "it's so simple to use even I can handle it."

I call PageFX a 2nd generation authoring tool because you really don't have to dive into raw VRML code or javascript. It's the first tool I know of that let's you concentrate more on content development than the mechanics of the language. Objects are placed in a world and the timing and interactions are placed along a timeline.  Objects can be easily directed to travel along complex paths. These motions can be triggered easily from other motions start of stop events and it's straightforward to build up a collection of sequences. All of this can be accomplished without hand scripting or looking at VRML code.

I must confess that I was predisposed to a favorable opinions from my first exposure to PageFX in it's beta incarnation. My gut level test of most software is a two stage test 1) can I install it without problems and 2) can I actually do anything cool without reading the manual. The install gets a grade of B because you're presented with the option to install CosmoPlayer 2.1 (CP2.1) AND PageFX but there was no obvious option to install just PageFX without CP2.1, which I already had. In reality the install process was smart enough to recognize that I did have CP2.1 so everything was fine, but it was annoying. For stage 2, doing something cool without reading the manual, PageFX passed with flying colors. I was able to create flying text and simple objects that traveled along complex spiral or helical paths with practically no effort.

So on to the released version. The good news is the product is a typical Win95 application. The bad news is the product is a typical Win95 application. The obligatory collection of incomprehensible icons was present. Actually that's a bit harsh and the icons aren't that bad but the Cosmo folks got a bit too cutesy with the icon for importing another VRML world represented as a teapot (the teapot is a historically significant object for computer graphics insiders) and the joke/cuteness gets old after the first click. Another nit I have to pick is that there is no simple one button icon to create a link from an object to a URL. I wanted to set up some links between the objects and some places on this site so I almost gave up 'till I found the magic which was to create some mouse events and then route the button press to a "Load URL" effect. Not bad once you figure it out but it's not documented in any obvious place, and is such a fundamental great thing about VRML that it should be made more prominent.

But enough criticism overall I really like it! Some of the cool features are: a smart timeline on the bottom of the interface that aligns events and triggers quite easily, a preview feature to see the whole animation, a large assortment of clip art built into the installation directory, asset management that treats objects and events in a coherent manner, the ability to add logic without diving into javascript, robust control of 3D VRML text. It's a flying logo creator's wet dream.

When you're all done your masterpiece PageFX allows you to simply export in a expanded ASCII readable form, or as a compressed file. A really handy feature is the "HTML Tag" command with pops up a display with the EMBED HTML tag and appropriate VRML browser detector (sniffer) code that you can simply copy and paste into your HTML page. Unfortunatly the sniffer code is not present for this page because The Mining Co.'s navigational container wouldn't allow additional javascript, nasty problem, and one no due to the Cosmo folks.

The VRML embedded on the top of this feature was (duhhh) created with PageFX in about an hour, on a lousy laptop. PageFX certainly gets two cyberthumbs up.

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