Activeworlds 4.2 Expected
Written by Awportals.com
Activeworlds prepares to launch the latest major release of its browser technology tomorrow with version 4.2.


Version 4.2 has been designed primarily around the requirements of IBM whom has invested heavily in the Activeworlds technology in the past year with the push to include personal avatars being a direct result of IBM staff requesting the same avatar design abilities as Second Life.

Development Cycl

The initial development of version 4.2 began in June 2006 immediately after the release of 4.1 with the total development time registering at approximately 2 years making it one of the longest development cycles for a major upgrade of the browser technology.

Although Activeworlds Incorporated has given been no official reasons for the cycle length it is possible to see that the company has spent a significant amount of development time producing white box products for other companies such as upgrades to Stagecoach Island and the IBM universe which have consumed much of the time of Chrispeg and Shamus Young.

The Feature

The official feature list as displayed on the wiki contains the following elements:

* Custom Avatars
* Mip-mapping on pictures
* Sign Fonts
* Saved Outgoing Telegrams
* Better Image Processing
* Transparent Toolbars
* Web Capturing

Of these elements the Custom Avatars feature will be the most prominent and has already been discussed in previous articles.

The Mip-mapping of signs and pictures will be a welcome addition for many builders that bring in high resolution pictures to place upon picture supporting walls and panels in place of the standard low resolution textures available on most object paths.

The ability for signs to hold other fonts has been something that has been much discussed and long requested of the browser technology and its arrival in will be much appreciated. Previous discussions have revolved around what sorts of fonts will be available to the user, should they be available to download of the object paths and what if any security issues could this cause.

Outgoing telegrams being saved has been another long running feature that has been requested many times within Activeworlds community. Outgoing telegrams are saved in the same list as the incoming telegrams and are listed with a green arrow displayed next to them in place of the unread icon. Unfortunately the telegram feature itself remains unchanged with no additional power in terms of showing extended dates or threading.

The image processing feature is mainly an internal change, now using GDI+ image stretching using integer division and multiplication to gain better performance out of resizing; it is presumed that the toolbar images use much the same GDI+ processing to allow transparency.

Web Capturing is the feature that has been most recently added. It has attracted strong criticism from community and professional experts for its apparent lack of security with any user with build rights being able to execute any URL upon another users computer (including scripts) without them giving permission or even knowing it is taking place - a potential security nightmare where the objects in question may quite literally be invisible.

Since publishing this article, a new browser upgrade has been made available to 4.2 beta which includes an option to disable the web command in user settings.

On the positive side, the inclusion of a web command now allows the playing of flash animations including YouTube videos. Clicking upon a web enabled object presents the user with the webpage contained in a separate frame which they may then manipulate. This has come as a disappointment to some users that were hoping that it would be possible to interact directly with the web page by clicking upon the object in the 3D environment.

Launchin

It is unknown at what time of the day the browser is expected to be launched, or even if the browser will come at the expected date.

The introduction of version 4.1 held 2 years ago was a less than smooth affair; a lack of forward testing resulted in many hundreds of crashes when it was released to the primary universe. It had already been used in several galaxies and the Stagecoach Island universe however never to such an extent.

Upon release all users will receive a waiting for server message as the universe server is shut down followed by all 4.1 worlds will instantly ceasing to work.

Users will be presented by a forced upgrade screen which will download the latest browser; those which refuse to upgrade or are unable to will no longer be able to access the primary universe.

Bots and other SDK applications are expected to continue running without any conversion required; although most major Bot developers are planning on releasing updated versions.

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