Microsoft is currently showing a Windows 98 add-on code-named Chrome that sends high-end multimedia content through the Web to users with fast PCs. The technology minimises the amount of bandwidth necessary to transmit heavy-duty graphics and interactive content by putting more of the work on the PC's processor and graphics board.
To use Chrome, you'll need a powerful PC. The minimum requirement is a 350-MHz Pentium-II class PC, with at least 64MB of RAM and an AGP graphics board. You'll also need an ActiveX-capable browser (Internet Explorer 4 is ActiveX capable; Netscape Communicator 4 is not) and DirectX 5, which ships with Windows 98.
Microsoft plans to roll out the Chrome end-user software, expected to take up about 7MB to 10MB of disk space, by the first quarter of next year. Chrome also will be available for Windows NT 5, which should be available about the same time.
The company is evangelising Chrome to developers, pushing them to produce applications that take advantage of the technology. It reduces the download size of animations that would normally be so big a Web surfer wouldn't wait for them, so Microsoft expects developers to use Chrome to create online games and other immersive environments. Chrome uses relatively straightforward XML and HTML tags to generate 3D effects in the browser; a browser viewing the same page without Chrome installed displays a standard Web page. Once the software is released next year, Microsoft will also distribute simple authoring tools for free.
One demo shows a series of HTML pages floating inside a single window. Clicking on a page brings it to the front. The technology allows HTML to be mapped onto 3D objects, which is not possible with current browser technology.
Of course, developers will have to decide whether Chrome offers enough to attract visitors to a site, or to stick with better-established technologies, such as Macromedia's Flash plug-in, that offer animation and interactivity across multiple browsers and platforms.