Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
December 21st, 2004
Adobe Atmosphere


Going forward

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Thanks to trebeler for bringing this T. S. Eliot quote to my attention. We had just covered it in European Literature class.

Every few months, I return to the Adobe Atmosphere forums to see if any new is going on. I came back last night to discover that the last remnants of a once-thriving online community are being dismantled, via a brief, quiet little note.

In about a month, Atmosphere will officially become abandonware. It is the next VRML.

(You might remember me as “minger.”)

For those of us who still remember the “good ol’ days” (for me, it was Build 67), it was a long time coming.

Ever since Adobe appeased us by sending us complimentary copies of the 1.0 release, Adobe has been weening the software off of life support. First, our essential HomeWorld was stolen from us. Then the chat servers periodically stopped working for no apparent reason, and people simply stopped using them. Then the community was cut off from its presence at the User-to-User Forums, relegated to a highly-inaccessible Village forum.

And now this. But I shed no tears for Atmosphere – 3D Anarchy, as it was once called. I shed tears for the community that has somehow managed to thrive under the crushing burden of uncertainty. Two more weeks, the developers would always promise us. Two more weeks. Two more weeks.

Speaking of whom, I feel for the developers, caught in the middle of all this. The Atmo community has been lamenting the waste of all their hard-fought hours with this software, but what about the people who brought it to us in the first place? Are they still employed at Adobe? What will they do now? What about all their hard work, while we drooled and longingly waited for the next release. If two weeks was a long time for us the users, two weeks was an eternity of deadlines to meet for the developers.

For now, the forums and free FTP downloads of the software will still be available. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Going forward, I will be looking for a new, promising VR technology to get involved in. VR isn’t usually a promising field at first, so whatever I pursue might be ridiculously obscure. But it will be worthwhile. You can help me out. Google is your friend.

What do I expect of this new software? Read on…

Meeting the standard

Primarily, I expect this new software to embrace the features that made Atmosphere so enjoyable to use during my freshman year:

  1. It needs to be about exploration, not about staring at yet another three-dimensional model of a teacup or a theoretical car. I want to explore new worlds and exciting bits of history, like I did at Khufu, Museum, Tea Garden, Lost World, and Community.
  2. It needs to be about interaction, not just panning and zooming. I want to get to know the community, share bits of our worlds with others, and experiencing an environment in a variety of ways. I want to visit a place that isn’t about the place itself.
  3. It needs to be about creativity. I need to be able to create worlds, experience what others have created, and improve on an idea.

This clearly rules out VRML. And this also rules out ActiveWorlds and all its descendants. I’m not in it merely for the chat. And I’m not in it merely for the sights. Atmosphere maintained this fine balance well; it set a high standard. And I expect this software to meet the challenge.


Atmosphere waned in its final months, because the only company that really backed it… really didn’t back it. This new software will have to have not only a dedicated, enthusiastic community (which Atmosphere had), but also a system of development that ensures the software a long, prosperous life ahead.

These days, many turn to open source, because it doesn’t lean on corporate support and corporate interest to keep going. That’s why Mozilla is still growing, after all. The software I’m looking for doesn’t need to be open source. But the software needs to have a future.

(And the player needs to be free, of course.)


When Atmosphere was still about having fun exploring and creating, the software had a definite purpose: it brought us the (virtual) world.

When Adobe finally realized that they (a company like any other) had to make a profit from the software, the project’s direction changed drastically. And in retrospect that may have been a mistake.

When you suggest a piece of software (or a “virtual platform”) for me to try out, I will first ask you what it’s for. No, I mean, what it’s for.

I don’t want to hear about “having fun chatting on a Friday night.” (Besides, I always used Atmo on Saturday mornings.) On the other hand, I also don’t want to hear about “a platform for immersive environments,” e-commerce of any sort, or marketing lingo of any sort whatsoever.

Because regardless of what even some optimistic Atmosphere users still want to believe, virtual reality is not for buying and selling anything. Virtual reality is meant to retell the story of reality to an extent. We as human beings already have enough business and commerce in our lives; we don’t need any more of it in an artificially-maintained reality.

To sum it up nicely, what I want is 3D Anarchy. (Hat tip to Shaun Strickland (aka Knight), who keeps dragging its memory back on us.)


  1. This month’s issue of Computer Graphics World features a very favorable review of Atmosphere. Makes me want to cry…

  2. Various news agencies are now reporting that Google is considering the possiblity of hosting Wikipedia and its sister projects. This is big news! But read this before you start blowing it way out of proportion.

  3. Brad’s newest post spurred me to list some of the links I’ve had in the queue for awhile, but have never gotten around to posting.

  4. Google just released a free version of the 3D modeling application they bought last month. It looks like Google has the intention of really developing this software. Let me just take this ...

  5. Updated worlds and avatars for Adobe Atmosphere. Plus: In my quest to preserve the memory of the virtual reality software platform, I get stuck on a patent question.

  6. Now you can download the open source Atmosphere Community Server, which powered real-time, multi-user chat inside the 3D “worlds” of Adobe Atmosphere.


  1. PoorLittleGothBoy

    Such is the lamentation of being part of a thriving online community only for the main directorial force to diminish its will persevere. Tis a sad day. *sigh* Nice program too. *funeral music*

  2. Nice catching up with you again. I will keep your Gumby avatar for posterity.


  3. For those of you following the link from the Atmosphere forums (thanks Erik), you may remember me as minger. Maybe that clears up the Gumby reference for you. :^)

  4. Hello Buddy
    Hope things are good with you? Do you happen to have the source / php code for the chat server at all? have some world made up - FRESH for 2012 and would love to integrate the chat server. all help appreciated. Mark

    1. Hi Mark. The source code package Joe De Costa sent me way back when is available here. Note that it’s written in pretty obtuse C and requires lots of fiddling to get up and running. I also made a snapshot of the server tweaked to build and run on OS X 10.6, in case you happen to be using that environment. (Just unpack the files anywhere and run the Xcode project.)

      The Atmosphere Community Server probably won’t run on any free hosts because it’s a traditional, C-based server that requires low-level access. I really like the idea of world builders being able to run their own chat servers, so I recently started porting the server to Node.js, for which there are some free hosts. (Besides, the old world builder inside me couldn’t resist the idea of a JavaScript-powered chat server for a JavaScript-powered world.) Reentry Server is only in its infancy, but I hope to have it usable come Halloween.

    2. I just wrote up an entry about downloading the server.