Flatland and Open Source, Mike Powers Speaks

Dateline: August 23, 2000

In early mid-August of 2000, I conducted an email interview with CEO and Founder of Flatland Mike Powers. Earlier in the year Flatland moved to a form of Open Source.

Why did you decide to make Flatland 3DML opensource?

I had wanted to do this for a long time but when you are raising money the investment world wants you to keep things close to the chest. It always seemed counter-intuitive to me to want to spread a simple, expressive 3D format while keeping it with one company. Flatland as a company has lowered its costs so that we can maintain ourselves for some long period of time. This gives us the opportunity to follow our intuitive and open up the format to all the great 3D and XML developers out there to enhance and extend.

What exactly did you opensource?

Flatland technology is made up of two formats really. First there is 3DML which is a simple XML based layout format for positioning 3D building blocks and attaching textures, sounds and movies. Second, there is the BLOCK format which is used to describe individual 3D building blocks with default textures and sounds - this is also XML. Flatland opensourced the 3DML player that displays 3DML files. This player runs on Windows and Macs, in Internet Explorer and in Netscape Navigator. We also opensourced a number of tools for developing BLOCK files and sets of building blocks. All of this is available for download at http://www.3dml.org

Opensource is used rather freely, what do YOU mean by opensource?

We released the source code under the FPL [ed note: FPL is the Flatland Public License] which is essentially the Mozilla Public License (that Netscape used to release the browser) with a couple items gleaned from the Apache license to make sure new additions don't clobber each other when people use them. The Mozilla license is very open and much used. You can read the FPL license at http://www.flatland.com/FPL/FPL-1_1.html or go to the opensource.org site for a laymans description of what is in the Mozilla license.

Note that the term "Open Source" is via general use becoming somewhat imprecise. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) are the people that certify licenses as being OSI Certified. FPL consists primarily of a pointer to Mozilla and a couple of clauses from the Apache license so if the OSI Certification process was still active (apparantly it isn't because of manpower problems) it would be on the list.

Does this mean I can make my own 3DML player?

Sure does. You can take the code, compile it, change the name and you are ready to go. It is my hope that by opensourcing the format and tools that developers will enhance the core 3D engine and also extend the XML formats. The core feature set of 3DML is quite strong and people want to build on this with features such as real world physics, smoother motion, animation and possibly even avatars.

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