Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
May 16th, 2012
Adobe Atmosphere
#2,286

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Fixing the past

Periodically, I still receive inquiries about the Atmosphere Community Server, which powered real-time, multi-user chat inside the 3D “worlds” of Adobe Atmosphere. Long before they pulled the plug on their copy of the server and discontinued Atmosphere development, Adobe released the server software under a very permissive open source license. However, obtaining the software has always been a challenge: Adobe no longer accepts signups to host the server, and it no longer seemed to be available for download anywhere online.

A few years ago, after searching high and low for a chat server to hook my world up to, I finally got my hands on the server source code. Joe De Costa was one of the few enterprising hobbyists who ran their own chat server. He meticulously documented the steps to setting it up on his Linux computer, but reading his tutorial easily dissuaded me from setting up my own copy.

The source code as it exists today is something of a game of telephone: as successive hobbyists have handed it down over the years, they’ve each jury-rigged the software to run on their Windows and Linux computers, not necessarily keeping all the features intact. The changes have all the hallmarks of guess-and-check, which is understandable given the disconnect between the server’s systems-style, multithreaded C and the DHTML-era JavaScript that most world builders were familiar with.

Despite my initial apprehension, curiosity got the better of me, and I sat down one weekend to get the thing up and running on my MacBook Pro. The result is an Xcode project that builds and runs in a 32-bit Mac OS X environment, with far fewer caveats than the package I received. You can download either package here. Of course, please respect Adobe’s intellectual property, which should be easy given their downright liberal licensing terms.

I’m under no illusion that Atmosphere will one day return to its former prominence. After all, the industry has moved on and there’s only so much a ragtag band of hobbyists can do to revive a dead, closed-source platform. But Atmosphere has a allure for me, as I suspect it does for the people who occasionally contact me about it. It was the one 3D platform that was never exactly a game, or a shopping experience, or a chat room, or an HCI research project. It was open-ended and decentralized, like the Web. Maybe that’s why it flopped. Then again, maybe another, more successful Atmosphere will come our way in the future. We’ll be ready to pick up where we left off in 2004.