On August 11, 1999 the Web3D Consortium and blaxxun interactive announced an agreement to release the source code for blaxxun's browser, Contact into a form of "Community Source".
Access to the source code is now possible and you would think that people would be saying "yay", "great stuff", "about time" and those sorts of things. Instead a small chorus of "it's not really Open", "they are just in it to take advantage of the community" has arisen. No wonder VRML has had a continuing string of problems!
The actual Web3D/blaxxun agreement states for the definition of Community Source: Web3D shall establish a “Community Source Program” with respect to the Community Source Code. The purpose of this program will be to further Web3D specification, implementation and adoption, and to integrate the availability of the Code into the Standards Activities, including but not limited to the creation of sample or reference implementations. In furtherance of the foregoing, Web3D will license the Code, as it may over time be modified and enhanced pursuant to the Programs, consistent with terms of Sections 2.1 above.
The intent is for the source code to contribute to the development of the VRML standard. It will help create a reference implementation, and with conformance testing issues. It is not intended to be simply given to commercial parties to go and sell or to use to benefit their products. I do suspect, however that if a commercial party did want a particular piece of code that blaxxun would simply negotiate a license with the party for the code.
An interesting side development is a discussion thread taking place in the premier geek site Slashdot. While many of the comments are simply ill informed many of the comments are of the nature "VRML's dead anyway" or "VRML can't do anything useful". Clearly VRML is still suffering from the overhype it encountered a few years ago. In reality of course VRML is used for a great deal of serious applications (just check out the hundreds of links in the VRML Application Gallery here). Just as clear is that VRML has not lived up to it's hype. Nothing could. The Slashdot community should not be ignored as it represents a vocal community of developers whose opinions represent an important group of people.
Another quite valid concern with the source code is that of the "tainting issue". The idea is that if someone looks at the source code (in this case the blaxxun Contact source code) and then at some later date independently develops a similar product, the developer may be held liable. Some statement of intent from blaxxun about this issue (which is quite real) would be useful.
There are valid legal concerns commercial developers of 3D software must be aware of when dealing with any Open source code. This blaxxun source code is not being released to benefit commercial software developers, but to benefit the larger community. The VRML (now Web3D/X3D) community has a long tumultuous history. Several large and small leading companies have gone bankrupt or been bought out and this has led to a leadership vacuum. Clearly a stable "open" set of source code is one of the best ways to bring some stability to the community. Also as clear blaxxun's motives while certainly not selfless are a terrific benefit to the community and in spite of limited sentiment to the contrary they are to be soundly commended.
One Year Ago in Focus on Web3D VRML Domain Name Roulette
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