Sun’s Project Looking Glass: A 3D view

Sun Microsystems Inc. recently released to developers its 3D desktop enhancement application, code-named Project Looking Glass. Sun believes that this begins the next era in desktop operating systems.

“We first started toying with the concept of a true 3D desktop operating system enhancement tool, or skin, a couple of years ago,” says Craig Nicholas, technical support engineer at Sun. “Although Project Looking Glass has been under development in-house for some time, we feel that, if it is really to succeed, we need to have other developers working on it. With their input and expertise we will have a 3D skin complete with working applications in the not too distant future.”

The reason that Nicholas refers to Project Looking Glass as a skin, and not an operating system, is because it is merely that – something that sits atop an operating system. “At the moment Project Looking Glass is still in development, and so only runs on a computer using the Java Desktop System. We are currently shipping the developer’s version with Java Desktop System and Solaris, and plan to have a working version available for Linux,” he says.

“Our whole goal whilst developing Project Looking Glass is to give users an uncluttered workspace. We also want to give users the ability to easily manage their desktops. For example, with Project Looking Glass, at the touch of a button users are able to easily view all their open windows, so, instead of having to ALT-TAB through dozens of windows at a time, we developed a solution that lets users view them in a similar fashion to viewing files in a filing cabinet,” says Nicholas.

“Our other goal is to deliver a complete 3D user experience. When you start up Project Looking Glass it almost feels as if you are standing in the center of a sphere. You can then roam around the sphere with your mouse, viewing windows and open applications as you move around,” he says.

“We also want to make the transition for users of other operating systems, such as Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, as seamless as possible — hence the same look and feel as any Microsoft operating system.”

“As can be expected, normal 2D applications will not run on our 3D skin yet. However, the great thing is that we do not need to rewrite an entire application in order for it to run on Project Looking Glass,” says Nicholas. “We merely have to rewrite the way the application handles its window management code,” he says.

At the moment, the following applications are supported by Project Looking Glass:

— Mozilla 1,4 and its mail client;

— Star Office;

— Evolution’s mail client

— Real Player.

“We are also in the process of developing an application that will automatically rewrite the window management code in order for it to run in a 3D environment,” he concludes.

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