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Step Into Your New Browser

2Ce’s CubicEye gives you the Web in 3D.

Do you drum your fingers when you surf? Have you, in fact, ever tried to surf on two computers at once? If so, you’ll probably appreciate 2Ce’s CubicEye browser.

2Ce unveiled its 3-dimensional browser at the Demo 2001 show in Phoenix in late February. Aimed at more efficient browsing, the package uses a cube (or room) metaphor, placing a Web page on each surface. It’s a bit like looking into a middle-school diorama, except that instead of George Washington Crossing the Delaware, you might see your homepage straight ahead, E-Trade on one wall and CNN on another, or whatever other combination of pages you decide to pull up.

Each cube face you see has five additional sides, each of which can display a page. Cube rotation and selection are controlled through navigational buttons. It’s a clever way to work around the limited area available even on large computer screens (see demo).

The software is an add-on to Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5, so it can use the features and plug-ins that work in IE. Some features get a boost, such as the Favorites bookmarking tool, which in CubicEye allows you to place a favorite page on all sides of the cube. The software doesn’t force you to learn a whole new system for browsing. Instead, it adds new elements to the existing setup.

Just Like Being There?

Other virtual reality-based browsers map Web pages into bandwidth-hungry visual metaphors that resemble worlds or cities. But most alternative browsers have had difficulty striking a chord with users.

Mike Rosen, 2Ce’s CEO and president, blames the poor acceptance of earlier attempts on sluggish performance and “this issue of disorientation in virtual reality.” He claims that CubicEye’s cube metaphor sets the company apart. “That 90-degree rotation is an organizing principle that people are very comfortable with,” he says.

Adds Bill Santos, 2Ce’s chief technology officer, “It does lend a sense of location to the experience. You can imagine, for instance, what a museum site would look like in a 3-D environment.”

On the efficiency front, the software not only shows multiple screens at one time, it pre-fetches linked pages, so that pages linked to the one you’re viewing load more quickly. “Even on low-bandwidth connections, when you’re ready to go to the next link it’s already been loaded,” Rosen says.

You can download a beta version of CubicEye for free at 2Ce’s Web site. The software requirements are hefty: a Pentium III with 128 megabytes of memory, Windows 2000, and a 3D card with 16 megabytes of memory. Versions for Windows 98 and Millennium Edition are expected this spring.

2Ce plans to extend the browser to the operating system, allowing users to open multiple applications as faces of the cube. Subsequent versions will be ported to set-top boxes and mobile devices, Rosen says.

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