January 25, 2009

Longtime readers of this blog – again, all two of you – will recall that I’m still a fan of Adobe Atmosphere, that brilliant online virtual reality platform, even though Adobe killed it off shortly after version 1.0, more than five years ago. But even though Atmosphere has gone virtually unused in the years since, I’m on a quest to preserve its memory:

  • Shortly after Adobe pulled their support, I asked the user community for help in establishing an “abandonware” website specifically for Atmosphere, similar to websites that memorialize other long-gone software. That led to the article on Wikipedia. The article still lacks numerous details and contains scant citations, but it’s a start.
  • A few months ago, I updated MingerWorld – which I painstakingly developed during my freshman year in high school – for compatibility with Atmosphere 1.0. Finally.
  • My latest project is “Dialup”, an avatar that Atmosphere’s beta testers will instantly recognize. It imitates the placeholder avatar that other users would appear to wear as Atmosphere downloaded their real avatars.

The breakthrough came when I found Joe De Costa, who’s been running a working copy of Atmosphere’s chat server all these years. With his permission, I hooked MingerWorld up to his server, allowing you to explore the world as it was meant.

Atmosphere’s powerful chat functionality allowed users to see and converse with each other in-world, setting the software apart from countless other 3D offerings, including Adobe’s later ventures in 3D modeling.

In a fit of irony, Adobe released the chat server under an “Atmosphere Open Source License” but neglected to publicize the fact. In fact, the only way to obtain a copy of the source code was to contact Adobe directly. So even at the height of Atmosphere’s popularity, there were only a few chat servers in operation, apart from the official Adobe server. The vast majority of worlds were connected to the official server. After 2004, these worlds went silent: even in the worlds that saw dozens of visitors at a time, each user would appear to be alone. For the many thousands of meticulously-built worlds, the “killer app” was gone.

I want to fix that. I have a copy of the Adobe Community Server software, which I’m planning to run on my own computer in the future. I’d love to make the software publicly available, the way it should be, but first I have some legal questions about it. The key passage in the server’s license agreement reads:

Subject to the terms of this Agreement, Adobe grants you a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty free license to use, reproduce, prepare derivative works, publicly display, publicly perform, distribute, and sublicense the Software for any purpose provided that the copyright notice below appears in a conspicuous location within the source code of the distributed Software and this license is distributed in the supporting documentation of the version of the Software you distribute.

That’s all well and good, but contained in the source code are two references to patent applications held by Adobe. The first was granted as patent 6,842,786 and seems to describe a server-side dynamic language runtime. The second is still pending after all these years and covers the way worlds “cloned” when full. (An overflow copy of the world was created automatically, so that worlds wouldn’t fill up so severely and users wouldn’t have to load 150 avatars on their dialup connections. Most of us found the feature annoying but dreaded the alternative.)

So my question is: would I be legally permitted to distribute and even modify the server software, as provisioned in the license, even though Adobe holds a patent on certain parts of the server? Note that the license never mentions patents, but rather grants sweeping rights. If not for the patent question, the license would even let me relicense the server under something very much like the MIT license.

Any help appreciated.

April 27, 2006

Google just released a free version of the 3D modeling application they bought last month, SketchUp. It looks like Google has the intention of really developing this software. Let me just take this opportunity to wax nostalgic and lament that Atmosphere didn’t strike nearly as much luck when Adobe bought it a few years ago, then later abandoned it. Google found a good idea and is going to popularize it, but Atmosphere was so much better of an idea, and it would’ve really jived with Google’s other services: it was SketchUp with a built-in Google Page Creator (the Builder), an immersive Google Talk (in-world chat), and a Google Video to boot (embedded videos and Flash animations). Plus, it had a grassroots-style community, one that I really miss.

At least I still have my copy of Atmosphere to tinker around with…

July 20, 2005

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. Some of these are responses to Brad’s post, so you might want to head on over there first:

  • Moon Children – An odd story behind this odd tool. Now all they need to launch is Google Sky, which’ll let you navigate the skies above you – constellations, galaxies, stars, and all.

  • Beam It Right There, Scotty – If you already had qualms about Tasers, the military’s new toy puts it all in perspective. This AP article takes a look at technological barriers to deploying ray guns on the field.

  • Pathname not found – the once-vibrant Adobe Atmosphere User-to-User Forums have gone to the big 404 in the sky. As my long-time readers may recall, Atmosphere was discontinued in December, and Adobe has gradually taken away its life support ever since.

  • The Kelo Floodgates – In case you believed that Kelo v. New London would be used in good faith by local governments, this should shake that belief. Many segments of our population were vulnerable enough before the Supreme Court ruled that land doesn’t even have to be “blighted” to be taken by eminent domain.

  • Under Construction – Think twice before creating a page like my ancient construction page.

    Thanks to Ken Walker for the scoop.

  • Why PHP Sucks – Why I’ve never actually used my copy of PHP Advanced for the World Wide Web, Visual QuickPro Guide, as good a book as it is. I must’ve gotten spoiled by the interactive REPL environment in Python and Scheme.

  • history flow – Via the , a neat IBM visualization software package that analyzes how Wikipedia articles evolve. The resulting images are interesting to gander at.

  • Fairness worth protecting – PBS is my favorite TV network; unfortunately, it’s the victim of an oversimplified understanding of American politics. From the same story:

    [There is] a new emphasis to eradicate bias by Kenneth Tomlinson, the Bush administration’s pick for chairman of the private nonprofit corporation [Corporation for Public Broadcasting], which was created by the federal Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

    Tomlinson also hired Fred Mann, a secret consultant, to study the “liberal bias” found on PBS and National Public Radio. Mann, a former Republican campaign consultant, reviewed a number of programs, including “Now with Bill Moyers” on PBS, and NPR shows hosted by Tavis Smiley and Diane Rehm.

    Guests were labeled with L for liberal or C for conservative; questions and comments about the Bush presidency were, according to Mann, “anti-administration.”

    It may be no secret that Bill Moyers is critical of the current administration, but to place such blanket statements on everyone who appears on the network, while current national politics remains quite complex, is to do a disservice to the multitudes of loyal public broadcasting viewers and listeners.

  • TactaPad – This input device would beat a mouse or trackpad any day. The only concern I have about it is precision, but it’s so intuitive and natural that I can’t wait until they find a company willing to bring it to market.

    Thanks to Steven Garrity for the scoop.

  • Optimus keyboard – Via, an innovative keyboard that looks cool; unfortunately, it looks as if it’s just a few meticulously-drawn images by a design company.

  • Which evil nation state are you? – An interesting simile attached to a humorously long disclaimer.

    Thanks to Neil Turner for the scoop.

  • Wikipedia’s Word on Folksonomy – Wikipedia may give you a lot of freedom, but it’s not an “exercise in anarchy.” Again via the , why this is a Good Thing™.

  • Accessible Data Tables – Not your father’s HTML table: one that the blind can actually use.

    Thanks to Dave Shea for the scoop.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled procrastination.

  1. Revisiting Atmosphere
  2. A luckier one
  3. Link fest!
  4. The obligatory “I went to see the latest Star Wars installment already and I liked it” blog entry
  5. Two more weeks…
  6. Pheidippides
  7. Going forward
  8. Eyeballs
  9. Delivered
  10. Atmospheric Happenings
  11. Pardners
  12. Changes in the Atmosphere
  13. Moore’s Law
  14. Egg Bounty
  15. Atmo for Moz
  16. Storefront… sorta
  17. New MingerWorld location
  18. AtmoWorlds Poll
  19. On scrapping the Standalone II
  20. On scrapping the standalone
  21. What happened?
  22. A day late… and 21 builds ahead
  23. Almost here…
  24. Now what?
  25. On Avatar Moderation
  26. MingerWorld 2.62
  27. New Storefront!!!
  28. Another three weeks?!
  29. Another referral
  30. MArc Under Way
  31. What about me?
  32. Atmospheric Decay?
  33. MingerWorld 2.6
  34. Afterlife
  35. MP
  36. Flood!
  37. MingerWorld 2.1
  38. MArc
  39. On the List
  40. It’s Coming!
  41. Atmo News
  42. Betatesters on Strike
  43. Going, Going, GONE
  44. Land for Grabs
  45. Brave new worlds