When it comes to computers, the technology has reached a point where we have opened doors for nearly any possibility you can imagine, especially when it comes to 3D graphics. It was obvious it was only a matter of time before people started using 3D technology on the web. If you've been keeping up with the news you may remember an article about using 3D software to create environments to be used inside your browser (if you have used TruePlace to browse the Renderosity 3D Gallery you are familiar with that technology). Although SpaceTime doesn't use 3D technology that way, it does offer a very interesting way to look at the web.
The SpaceTime browser is a software designed to work as a "virtual desktop" for web browsing (please note this has nothing to do with the "virtual desktop managers" that everybody should be familiar with). What the software does is to create a 3D environment where you can load different kind of web content depending on the services available (by the time of this software review, the services available included: Yahoo and Google web and image search, Amazon, Ebay, and Youtube, among others). This content is loaded onto "3D blocks" that are arranged in your 3D view, and you can very easily navigate from one to the next with either the keyboard or the navigation controls.
Since you are in a 3D environment, you can move around your windows and view them from any direction. You can even zoom out to see all the windows you have open. Although this may sound very nice, it would be useless unless it also let you navigate. If you are looking at some websites, for example, you can simply double click the window of your choice and that will cause it to "maximize", so you can browse just like you do when you are in Internet Explorer or Firefox. If you want to return to the 3D view, you can simply use the "Go back" button that appears on the maximized view. As you may have noticed, the browser's background is a sky (which is actually animated). However, there is no way to change it (or switch it to any other included background). Maybe it would be nice if the user could use a probe image projected onto a dome, or something like that, because it would make the software more customizable.
According to my experience, SpaceTime works based on the same browsing engine you may be using. I didn't need to install plugins such as Flash, for example, and my favorites would be just one click away. I found this very convenient since nobody wants to switch browsers just to realize he/she has to go get their bookmarks or install plugins.
As I said before, the navigation can be done using a set of buttons. These buttons will let you move to the sides as well as up and down. Although this may be better than using the keyboard, I believe people used to 3D graphic applications would be more comfortable using the standard ALT + mouse they use in their 3D applications, especially because sometimes it takes a good number of clicks (or keystrokes) to find what you are looking for in that 3D space.
A nice feature is the Youtube search. When you look for videos, they are arranged in a row, just like photos or websites. However, you can also view the video without leaving the 3D environment. This feature gives you quick access to the videos without having to load the entire page where they are located, making your browsing faster.
Since the SpaceTime browser lets you open a countless number of windows, it's easy to lose track of what you were doing. Luckily, there is a thumb-view bar at the bottom of the browser. You can scroll left or right to move to a specific website or search result, and every new search or window you open will automatically appear in that bottom bar.
SpaceTime system requirements state that you need a 3D acceleration card and a good amount of memory, which is to be expected considering the nature of the program. In case you are experiencing performance drops, you can even choose to use all of your system's resources to run SpaceTime. I actually tried turning on that option, but I didn't notice much difference (keep in mind that I have what you would consider a "fast machine", so I assume that was the expected behavior). To tell the truth, the slow part is when SpaceTime loads (it took from 10 to 15 seconds to load - longer loading time than Firefox on my machine). On the other hand, browsing is surprisingly fast, although if you are used to either IE or Firefox, you will feel you could use a little more speed.
SpaceTime is a very nice piece of software, and very fun to use. However, I don't see it as my default browser right now since it's still a Beta, and also because I am used to the speed of standard browsing. However, SpaceTime is such an original idea that it will be on my list of programs to watch.
Visit the SpaceTime website and check it out for yourself!
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.
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