The Internet has been around for more than 30 years in one form or another. For the first couple of decades of existence, the Internet was mostly textual and required a certain knowledge of the commands used to interact with a remote computer. The creation of the hypertext markup language (HTML) and the World Wide Web (WWW) led to an incredible explosion of growth. The Web opened the Internet up to everyone by making it easier to use. The key to the Web's usability is that it is visual and provides for an intuitive point-and-click interface.
While the Internet has grown from an obscure research tool to an integral part of most people's lives, the medium has not changed significantly since the introduction of HTML. There have been improvements in the tools and the presentation, as well as a steady increase in the speed of our connections to the Internet. But the basic concept of flat pages that you click between has not changed. While there have been attempts to create a more interactive and visual Internet experience, each one has failed. This has been mainly because of the need for high-speed connections to download the large amounts of data needed to create a detailed environment.
ViOS plans to change the way we view the Internet with a radical new approach. ViOS, which stands for Visual Internet Operating System, has created a multi-part system that combines a software application that resides on your computer with dedicated servers operated by ViOS. Reminiscent of 3-D games like "Quake" or "Tomb Raider," the ViOS software maintains all of the necessary graphics and texture information on your computer. It uses a sophisticated rendering engine to build the 3-D world you travel through in real-time.
In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you will learn about the ViOS world and how it came about. You will also learn about proximity caching, moving around in ViOS, avatars and leasing.
How It Began
Dr. Julian Lombardi is the man behind the ViOS vision. A tenured biology professor turned Internet entrepreneur, Lombardi specialized in the development and evolution of complex biological systems. While working as an associate professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he developed The Bone Box, software that allowed students to view a human skeleton in 3-D and navigate around the different bones.
It wasn't long before Lombardi combined his passions for 3-D games, the Internet and complexity theory (and its applicability to the development of distributed computational systems) to build a better way to navigate the Internet. Lombardi formulated his idea of a virtual Internet landscape, added the concept of leasing virtual real estate within that landscape, and applied for a patent on both. Lombardi’s patent was awarded in 1999, and ViOS, Inc. was officially born.
The basic concept of ViOS is to take the virtual world of the Internet and adapt it to a physical representation of a landscape, complete with mountains, rivers and cities. Lombardi's belief is that a virtual landscape that resembles our physical world is more conducive to exploration and social interaction than the flat world of the current Internet. By building cities and regions with particular themes, the ViOS team hopes that their users will discover sites that they may never have found through conventional surfing.
Let's take a closer look at how you interact with ViOS...
You can also travel directly to cities of interest through special 3-D portals, maps or by using a keyword. For example, this is how you might find shopping sites:
- You type in shopping or click on Shopping in the Find menu.
- Immediately, you begin soaring over green pastures, mountains and lakes to the ViOS shopping city.
- In the shopping city, you can browse storefronts belonging to retailers ranging from the largest national chain to the smallest corner boutique.
- A single click on the storefront takes you directly to the home page of a retailer you are interested in.
- You browse through the retailer's site just like you would do in a conventional browser.
- Once you are finished, you leave the browser window and return to the ViOS landscape.
The ViOS browser contains all the features you have come to expect in a Web browser, including Back, Forward, Favorites and a history of visited sites.
You can click on the Map button on the Menu bar to bring up a real-time overhead map of the ViOS world. A small red dot shows you where you are and a yellow cone represents your field of view.
Landscape and Leasing
In ViOS, information is organized visually. There are approximately 420 content areas that appear as 3-D communities. ViOS’s information specialists (Information Landscapers) have populated ViOS’s primary cities and towns with approximately 15,000 Web sites representing the best of the Internet. Every other Web site is available somewhere on the landscape, but may not be in or near a primary city. The ViOS team believes that the owners of these Web sites will want to relocate to “better” real estate as ViOS gains users.
ViOS brings the real estate concept of “location, location, location” to the Internet. According to ViOS, anyone wishing to strategically locate in the ViOS landscape can lease space. This allows a company to set up a site anywhere on the 3-D landscape, whether it’s next to Yahoo, Amazon, Disney or all three. The pricing of the virtual real estate in ViOS is based on location and commercial density. These are real-world principles used by businesses to assess, plan and develop their physical location. ViOS believes that the economics of location and commercial density can transition to the online world if that world is built on a physical model.
A key concept of ViOS is that it enables the Internet to self-organize. The Information Landscapers have provided the foundation for this organization with the content areas they have created. Companies or individuals can also choose to lease space and locate:
- in or near a city (or cities) representing the interests of their main audience
- next to a competitor
- in a topic pavilion that may bring them a new audience
- atop a mountain or along a river where there are no other sites close by
Renting space in ViOS is easy. You fill out a short online form. You then get traffic and visibility statistics about the land you are considering. You can either lease property (open space, a building, a kiosk, a flag) from ViOS, or build your own structure anywhere on the landscape through ViOS’s patented “Instant Lease” system. With just a few mouse clicks, anyone with a computer can find “land” they like, lease it from ViOS and develop it.
Once you have logged into ViOS, you can create a personality and associate an avatar with it.
Avatar came from Sanskrit originally, and referred to the incarnation of a god that appears in this world. In computer terms, an avatar is a graphic representation of you. It can be visually similar to you or something totally different, such as a horse or dinosaur. For example, you see a dolphin, a man with a flaming head and two men in uniforms with helmets in the images below.
Most of the avatars are animated. They walk, run, fly and have a small range of gestures that include waving, shrugging and clapping.
You can also create a custom avatar that is not animated. The custom avatar can even be a photo cutout of yourself!
Probably one of the best features of ViOS is that it lets people travel through the Internet together. Through the Lead and Follow options, users can meet friends and family at any location, link up and move from city to city, site to site, chatting and sharing the experience along the way. ViOS provides a huge number of tools for social interaction:
- text messaging
- instant messaging
- chat rooms
- video mail services
- friends and family contact and notification services
- private text chat
- streaming audio chat
- friends list
- personalization tools
- lead and follow option
Since all ViOS users share a common visual understanding of the entire Internet, they are able to recognize and remember sites, comprehend the relationships among neighboring sites and share this common knowledge base with their friends. You are able to see your friends (and anyone else) as avatars when they enter the chat areas. You can create a friends list and interact with the avatars of these friends while navigating in the general landscape.
Chat rooms in ViOS appear as translucent rooms with bubbles floating in the air. When you enter a chat room, it feels like you're actually there because of the visual interaction with other people.
Benefits and Additional Features
ViOS provides a number of benefits over the standard Internet experience:
- Real-world experience: Since ViOS is modeled to resemble a realistic landscape, it is easier for many users to relate to, particularly Internet newcomers with little or no computer experience. At the same time, the immense ViOS world appeals to experienced users who will enjoy searching for all the special features hidden throughout.
- Easier searching: The grouping of similar sites makes it easy to move from one to another as you look for information on a specific subject.
- Built-in rich content: While every Internet site that you could reach through a conventional browser is available within ViOS, a team of professional information specialists have worked diligently to create 20 subject-specific primary cities with top-quality Web sites.
- Proximity caching: Through the use of proximity caching, ViOS can make your Internet experience more efficient. Proximity caching means that ViOS preloads (caches) all of the Web sites in your immediate vicinity. The idea is that you are most likely to click on one of the nearby sites rather than type in a new URL directly. As soon as you click on a cached site in ViOS, it pops up without having to load. When a user types in a URL requesting to be transported to a particular site, the length of travel time through the ViOS world is coordinated with the length of time needed to download the site’s contents. The Web site appears when the user arrives at the site’s location in the ViOS landscape.
- Sharable experience: For most of us, surfing the Web is a lonely experience. You may talk to friends or see other people in chat rooms, but you do not travel to Web sites together. In ViOS, you can meet up with friends and go to sites together. You can meet people as you travel around, and talk with them. You can enter chat rooms in ViOS that have visual representations of everyone in the room.
- Freedom of movement: The fact that you are physically represented in the ViOS world makes you want to move through it and explore. You view the Internet as a single, comprehensive, 3-D landscape that you move through as you locate and interact with anything and everything on the Internet.
As you move around in ViOS, you may find that there are certain sites that you visit regularly. ViOS provides a Build function that lets you create your own structures within ViOS and assign specific properties to them. For example, you could build your own small town with your favorite shopping, reference and entertainment sites grouped together. You could add your favorite chat rooms as well.
ViOS provides a Preferences section that allows you to adjust the ViOS experience to suit your tastes. For example, you can choose from several variations of sky settings or create your own custom sky.
You will be amazed at the sheer size of the ViOS world. In addition to containing every site on the Internet, there are many secrets scattered throughout the landscape. In fact, a large part of ViOS's appeal is the thrill of exploration.
As we move forward in the 21st century, one thing is certain: The role of cyberspace in our society will steadily increase and the Internet will continue to evolve. ViOS believes in this evolution and has provided their vision of the future right now.
Related HowStuffWorks Links
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- How Sony's PlayStation Works
- How Sony's PlayStation 2 Works
- How 3DO Creates Video Games
- What does Gouraud shading or texture mapping mean?
- How do the characters in video games move so fluidly?
- How do developers get such realistic environments in video games?
- HowStuffWorks' Video Games Category