Today, a New York-based company called SpaceTime launched a new browser, free to download and use, that presents Web pages and search results as floating slabs that can be flipped through, organized, and navigated in 3-D. The graphics concepts are similar to those found in “first-person shooter” video games, in which players navigate an immersive virtual environment. But instead of shooting monsters, SpaceTime users can “fly” through search results such as Web pages, pictures, and eBay auction items. When a user turns her view to the left, the right, up, or down, she can see all the Web pages she has previously called up and zoom in on the one she wants. “SpaceTime is interesting because it constantly redraws the scene that you see … just like a video game where you can assume any position,” says Edward Bakhash, CEO of the company.
Anyone who has used Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system, knows that viewing 3-D content on a computer isn’t new. With Vista, windows are arranged in a 3-D stack, and users can flip through them and pick the one they want to bring forward. The upcoming version of Apple’s OS X will use a similar effect in a feature called Time Machine that presents and saves every version of a file created on the computer. Bakhash says that SpaceTime is different because it doesn’t need to be hardwired into an operating system, and it allows for more-dynamic navigation.
SpaceTime is part of a trend to take advantage of the massive amount of memory that’s available in today’s standard computers. Software designers are able to build graphical bells and whistles into applications, thanks to the steady increase in computing power with each successive generation of processor. For the most part, says Bakhash, high-powered graphics chips are used to “beautify what you see, to make a video game more realistic, or add more lighting effects.” With SpaceTime, he says, “we take that power and give the user more utility.”
SpaceTime, which is still in a testing phase, can work on Windows XP and Vista, and it’s designed for systems that have a minimum of 128 megabytes of video memory and 512 megabytes of system memory. Bakhash says that the company has tested the software on computers with half of the above requirements, and “it worked, but not properly.”
When you launch SpaceTime, you’ll see a Web page address bar at the top of the screen as well as a bar for entering search terms. As with Firefox and Internet Explorer 7, a user can select different search engines; in this first version, SpaceTime’s search bar includes Yahoo and Google (and their respective image-search functions), Flickr, and eBay. Web pages and search results are shown in the center of the screen and float against a light-blue background with clouds. At the bottom of the SpaceTime screen, there is also a two-dimensional timeline that shows a thumbnail view of each search you’ve made or page you’ve called up. Additionally, on the left there is a window (it’s hidden in default mode) that lets people navigate through their Web history by using drop-down menus.