Are You Serio.us?

I was pretty excited last night. At long last, Famo.us was going to release its public beta at the April 9th launch party in San Francisco. I couldn’t make it to the party, but I was one of the early signups, so I figured the code would be available online.

Out of breath from running to my browser, I logged in to my Famo.us account. This is what I saw – an actual screen shot from my account page.

whatthefrell

My number in line?

LINE?!

Oh wait, I get it: they’re going retro. I expect to see my shiny new shrink-wrapped CD-ROM in the mail any day now. I hope it comes with 100 free minutes of API use!

Are they fucking serious?

Unsubscribe… oh wait. There’s no button.

 

Infamo.us

I don’t like using this blog as a bully pulpit. I really don’t. Especially since my kid is now attending mandatory anti-bullying classes. I know it’s not the fashion. But in this case I have decided make an exception.

Unfortunately I had to miss last night’s Famo.us “launch event”– dubbed #launchalready and announced, like everything else they have done, with much fanfare– because I had to stay home to take care of my sick wife. (And watch the US continue to flail in Sochi but that’s another story).

As it turns out, according to an anonymous source who shall remain nameless, it’s OK because I didn’t miss anything. Yet again, Founder Steve Newcomb cavorted onstage showing info-viz demos mislabeled as 3D, took potshots at the DOM, CSS, basically anything a browser actually does today. He also poked his cattle prod at AngularJS and PhoneGap for good measure. (Guys maybe I missed that class in startup school, but I don’t see how maligning the technology your prospective users rely on to earn their daily bread is a viable strategy for winning them over.) According to my source, the event was “underwhelming,” came off as “arrogant,” and Newcomb came off more like the “Justin Beiber of the Internet” than a serious player.

At the end of the day, code talks and bullshit walks. I might forgive all of the above if they had actually released the product. Go to their site right now http://famo.us/c/ and you’ll see the same message I have been looking at since I signed up for the beta nearly two years ago:

sign up for the beta

Go ahead, sign up. Maybe in two years it’ll actually be out.

In the meantime I will continue to ask Why Do We Need This? Especially when you can render D3 to WebGL and use Three.js to create CSS 3D presentations without having to throw out everything else you know.

And I only have one thing to say to Steve Newcomb at this point:

Your lunch money. And I’ll be back tomorrow.

Sweet Sixteen

WebGL just had its big coming-out party.

At last week’s San Francisco HTML5 Meetup, All about WebGL, a quartet of speakers plus lightning presenters wowed a record crowd of 500 plus at Google San Francisco, and many more via the livestream.

After my typical opening talk introducing WebGL to the uninitiated, Don Olmstead of Sony showed how to make WebGL really work in a constrained environment like the PS4; Goo Technologies’ Victor Sand showed content creation made easy with the company’s new tools,  which Peter Moskovits from Kaazing promptly wired up to mobile controllers using the company’s web sockets tech. Finally, Isaac Cohen Leap Motion’s Isaac Cohen found his happy place with WebGL and the Leap, and blew minds in the process. And there was more. The program was too big to go into detail here; check out the event page for links to the live stream and all the presentations.

But it was big, the biggest ever SFHTML5 meetup. And it was all about WebGL.

The Tipping Point

2014 is the year WebGL tips. Do we need more proof than:

  1. Microsoft is on board, with WebGL in both desktop and mobile Internet Explorer.
  2. Amazon built WebGL into the Silk Browser and WebKit for Fire OS. At $229, the 7″ Kindle Fire HDX is probably the best multimedia device deal on the planet… thanks in part to WebGL.
  3. Sony built the whole PS4 user interface out of WebGL. 4.2M seats in one whack… and growing.
  4. The NORAD Tracks Santa site saw 48.8% WebGL success across all browsers & platforms for 20M visitors, an increase of 146% over 2012.
  5. And next week, we’ll be talking WebGL at one of the best-ever-attended SFHTML5 meetups. We broke the group’s record for wait list (over 500)!
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you – then 3D is everywhere.

WebGL On Fire!

Thanks to some friends at Amazon, I was fortunate enough to get hold of a Kindle Fire HDX the minute they hit retail. Naturally, the first thing I did was pop open the Silk browser and, hoping against hope, opened a web site with WebGL.

It JUST WORKED. Fast JavaScript; beautiful rendering.

Apple, Google: take notes.

This changes EVERYTHING.

Extreme Makeover, IE11 Edition: WebGL now in IE (Live Report from Microsoft Build)

No more rumors; it’s confirmed: today, Microsoft announced that IE 11 will ship with WebGL.

!#@$ng pinch me. They finally, really did it.

I am blogging live from Frank Olivier’s talk, Hyper-Fast Web Graphics with WebGL, at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco. Frank is a senior program manager responsible for getting their WebGL out the door. Some tasty tidbits from Frank’s presentation:

  • Frank has been working on IE since IE9, when they started rendering with hardware acceleration. They have been building the IE WebGL support “for a while…”
  • Great demos: the popular Minecraft voxel world, Three.js physics that shows off Microsoft’s kickass JavaScript VM. and some very photorealistic rendering using postprocessing.
  • Demo of Photsynth 2 – preview built with WebGL – take your own photos, upload to web service, it stitches them all together and presents in a browser. This is a very exciting application.
  • According to Frank, the power of WebGL is, you get to control and program the GPU yourself. It’s for more than just 3D. You can do a lot of things, really fast, programming each pixel on the canvas using the hardware to accelerate and parallelize your processing.
  • Tutorial on WebGL API – photo warping – basically 2D intro – actually a good tutorial! Will get link later.
  • Overview of GLSL. Very good, made accessible for Web devs.
  • Frank called WebGL the “best choice” for web content that requires 3D or GPU programming – but also consider CSS Transforms, 2D Canvas or SVG. Also hardware-accelerated but simpler to use, helps you avoid “gratuitous 3D.” Or of course go Direct3D if you are OK building a native app.
  • Status of the implementation: common WebGL/three.js functionality works; they’re happy with perf so far but looking for performance feedback.
  • WebGL will be ON BY DEFAULT in ALL IE11 DEVICES – this includes Windows RT. Also in web-based Windows apps such as in the Store. Talk about burying the lead… !
  • Architecture: API translation to DirectX runtime. Is it slow? No, it’s a very thin layer. (Chrome does this kind of thing on Windows already with ANGLE, right?)
  • r/e Security: Frank related that the IE team is “happy that things have changed a bit,” – spec updates w image security via CORS and context loss handling. Whew.
  • MS also has their own security innovations: they sandbox GLSL via translator that reconstructs it to be safe; they also do GPU recovery to halt a wayward driver or shader program. In addition, they leverage various secuirty improvements that come with the DirectX 11 runtime. Plus GPU driver source code audits. Finally, they have a software renderer as a fallback. Sounds very robust!
  • The presentation covered techniques to help with interoperability across devices, and best practices e.g. use requestAnimationFrame(), avoid background rendering, don’t overdraw. Hear, hear!
  • From the Q&A… somebody asked if you could also write a shader in HLSL. Thankfully, Frank said, “no.” I’m glad, because that way lies madness…

This was good stuff. A great talk for the MS audience, and in my opinion, a shot in the arm for 3D web developers. With Microsoft in the mix, WebGL is only going to get better, stronger, faster. If you’re interested, follow Frank on Twitter @frankolivier.

Microsoft used to know how to win developer hearts and minds. They didn’t have to bully developers (though they did their share of that), they just built great tools and delivered huge audiences, despite having a so-so platform. But that was the old days. Now they have to work at getting people back. Adding WebGL to IE is a step in the right direction. We’ll see if it’s enough to get Windows 8 and IE11 some developer mindshare.

For the WebGL faithful, this news is monumental. Lack of WebGL support in IE has been a serious impediment to adoption in certain circles; elsewhere it has been a continued perception problem. As part of this initiative, Microsoft has also about-faced on its hard stance about WebGL and security. In one fell swoop, we have universal adoption and endorsement. Huzzah!

Ahem. But there is still one significant WebGL holdout. So I have to ask– not being one to see an elephant sitting squah in the middle of the room without saying something–

When the hell is Apple going to build WebGL into Mobile Safari?

Almost Famo.us

Steve Newcomb is a really sharp guy. In a time when everyone thought search was sewn up, he created Powerset, a natural-language search engine that sold to Microsoft for a reputed $100M in 2008.  Now, he is bucking trends again with Famo.us, a framework that solves performance for HTML5 apps.

Newcomb managed to raise millions in investment for Famo.us on the strength of demos and team alone, a feat that many entrepreneurs in today’s  topsy-turvy venture capital climate would sacrifice a limb to emulate. I signed up for the beta;  I’ve been waiting for months to get more info. Apparently the team is in no hurry and, bucking another trend, has told the media that won’t release the product “until it’s ready.” The site has no technical info, but there are demo reels that show fancy rich web interfaces featuring gesture-based interaction a la Minority Report.

From what I have been able to glean from articles, and my occasional brush with Steve at the conferences we present at, is that Famo.us deals with performance by getting around HTML5 as much as it can. For a time, the company logrolled on the FUD created by Facebook after its massively inept early attempts at HTML5 development. This strategy will get harder over time as HTML5 proves itself worthy. In the meantime, the incredible Mr.doob recently decided to scratch an itch and create his own snazzy user interface demo, literally cribbing the Famo.us periodic table; except this one is all HTML5, rendered with Three.js, using a new CSS3 renderer plugin he wrote over a weekend.

css3d_periodictable

So this leaves me wondering… why does anybody need Famo.us? I suppose that I would have a better idea if they ever release the product.

Which leaves me with two things to say to Steve Newcomb:

  1. NEVER bet against standards.
  2. Release the beta already.

VR and Coffee

Two great tastes that go great together… sort of.

Check out my test drive of the Oculus Rift – my first foray into actual virtual reality in over a decade.

I’m sure the caffeine contributed to my occasional vertigo. There were some seriously unpleasant moments, especially trying to walk up the ramp in Unreal Citadel. Still, you can’t beat flying way up in the sky, better than the Second Life version! I think I lasted about ten minutes, which according to Dave, was an excellent first-timer flight time.

I’m hoping that when they release the 1920 x 1080 version the woozies will get better.

Many thanks to Dave Arendash for letting me try out the gear, and Damon Hernandez for the documentation.

 

Learning WebGL

Word is starting to get around so I might as well cop to it: as of today I have official taken over as Editor-in-Chief of Learning WebGL. While I fancy myself more a programmer than a journalist, I must say that the opportunity to guide this great site into the future was simply too good to pass up.

Giles Thomas created Learning WebGL in 2009, when WebGL was just getting going. Most browsers didn’t do WebGL yet, and if they did, they did it wrong or they all did it differently. There was no documentation, other than the specification, which is itself based on the public spec for OpenGL ES. To say that the spec is obscure and a tough read for any but the experience 3D graphics programmer would be an understatement. I’m a fairly experienced 3D programmer, and my first look at the spec back in 2010 was nerve wracking. So I googled, and found Learning WebGL.

Giles started the site as a way to teach himself WebGL programming. He wisely chose existing OpenGL tutorials as a starting point and built from there. In the four years since, he has created an awesome resource, the first stop of any programmer’s wanderings through the thicket of information that comprises WebGL development. If Learning WebGL didn’t exist, I’m not sure I could have written my book, or made sense of what Mr. Doob’s Three.js code was doing half of the time. (Open source is great, but unfortunately in this modern world, access to the source has become synonymous with no documentation.)

Giles has given the world a fantastic gift. I hope I am equal to the challenge of maintaining it.

For the “official story” of the site’s leadership change, you can read the press release here.

From the Front Lines, February 2013

WebGL continues to gain in popularity. New fun showcases are coming out all the time, and we are starting to see experimentation from big media names like Disney with its Find Your Way to OZ movie promo, and The New York Times showing a visualization of last year’s record hang-gliding flight. Google also recently released mobile WebGL support in the latest beta of Chrome for Android, and Blackberry continues to lead with its most-conformant HTML mobile implementation that has included WebGL for over a year.

With big brands, great content and growing mobile support, 2013 is already shaping up to be a great year. Is this the year Microsoft relents, and Apple uncorks WebGL for iOS? Here’s hoping.

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