Dateline: 12/22/97

VRML97 ISO Banner 
This past week a momentous event in the history of VRML evolution occurred. VRML 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 and so on disappeared. VRML97 the official ISO standard, an IS, was approved. Official known as The Virtual Reality Modeling Language International Standard ISO/IEC 14772-1:1997. The "-1" after the 14772 means that this is Part 1 of a standard, some ISO standard have many parts.

The ISO standardization took place within the JTC1/SC24 (Computer Graphics) subcommittee. There are oodles of committees within the ISO organization.

Having seen a few ISO standards evolve, the VRML process ran at warp speed. Typically a technical document starts as a Committee Draft (CD), then it's mulled over, usually for years, and eventually gets turned into a Draft International Standards (DIS). The DIS is an almost complete document, it's supposed to be technically complete, and it eventually goes out for a vote and if it passes gets blessed as an International Standard (IS). It is not uncommon for this process to take more than 4 or 5 years. In the VRML situation the document was "Fast Tracked" which allows for a much shorter cycle time to the process.

A great deal of the technical work and most if not all of the document itself was produced and is acknowledged by the VRML Consortium as follow:

One of the truly unsung heroes of the process is Steve Carson chair of the JTC1/SC24 ISO committee. Under his leadership the SC24 committee devised a Cooperative Agreement between the VRML Consortium and ISO. The agreement was subsequently shepherded through JTC1 up to ISO and IEC Council approvals. Dick Puk served as the VRML Consortium to SC24 liaison and co-editor. Miraculously everyone managed to keep talking to each other! It is this Cooperative Agreement that allows us all to view the official VRML97 standard on the web for free. ISO charges for copies of standards, always an abhorrent thought to the VRML community. The hard work of the SC24 committee make the process a model which ISO should follow in the future.

Now that there is an official standard one might ask who cares? This is where the issue of interoperability, conformance and stability enter. If content providers have to keep producing VRML worlds with little tweaks and differences for the different VRML browsers the overhead will eventually destroy VRML. The solution is for all VRML browsers to interpret the standard in a uniform way. The way to ensure uniform interpretation is via conformance testing. Conformance testing is the teeth of a standard. It is the mechanism by which users can be assured that a product actually implements a standard the way in which it was intended. The VRML Consortium has an active Conformance Working Group which is actively soliciting comments on browser interoperability problems.

Standards Acronym Soup

ISO is not an Acronym! According to ISO: Of course it ain't all over yet...all you VRML developers get cracking on the multi-user, streaming, networking extensions...I'll expect them in a couple of weeks :-)

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