Oracle Unplugs Sun's Virtual World

Oracle is dropping support for Sun Microsystems' Project Wonderland, a Java-based platform for developing 3-D virtual worlds, according to a Jan. 30 post on the project's official blog.

After a protracted delay due to a European antitrust review, Oracle's deal to buy Sun was finalized last week. While many of Sun's products will be a strategic part of Oracle's plans, that is apparently not the case for Wonderland.

"We found out on Friday that development resources are no longer being applied to Project Wonderland," the post reads. "The good news is ... a core group of the Wonderland team intends to keep the project going. We will be pursuing both for-profit and not-for-profit options that will allow us to become a self-sustaining organization. Having anticipated this possible outcome, we already have some promising irons in the fire."

Wonderland has "so much great momentum," with three companies selling products tied to the project and eight others pushing services for building worlds, the blog adds.

Oracle's move dovetails with Monday's announcement that virtual-world provider Forterra Systems had sold its product line to Sciences Applications International Corporation (SAIC), said Erica Driver, principal of the analyst firm ThinkBalm.

Combined, the events represent evidence of "the necessary churn that has to take place" in the space, she said.

There's no telling whether Project Wonderland will gain another corporate sponsor, although the fact that it is based on a language as pervasive as Java doesn't hurt, Driver said.

Alternatively, there's already a precedent for a successful open-source virtual-world platform, in the form of OpenSim, she said.

But it is nonetheless early days for the technology.

The enterprise immersive-software market, which ThinkBalm defines as "a collection of collaboration, communication, and productivity tools unified via a 3D or pseudo-3D visual environment," stood at only about US$50 million in 2009, yet there are some two dozen vendors in play, she said. The market figure does not include systems development costs, she added.

Right now, Oracle is not interested in pursuing virtual worlds, but that could change. "We're smack in the early adopter phase," and early mainstream adoption could come within a few years, Driver said.

There are already some bonafide success stories, such as Cisco Systems' recent decision to hold a major sales meeting virtually, she said. The event hosted more than 19,000 attendees and cost about 10 percent of a traditional event's expenses, according to a Cisco blog post.

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