Nortel demoed a virtual world prototype here in a Ottawa at a day long event. Dubbed Project Chainsaw, the virtual world is the first project to come out of Nortel new research effort that imposes a VC-like model for funding research.
Like other virtual worlds, Project Chainsaw allows avatars to interact with one another in a virtual landscape. Project Chainsaw differentiates itself through the use of proximity based voice and a thin client.
I’ve written before about virtual worlds and the impact they’re going to have on enterprise. Nortel’s Project Chainsaw project is a virtual world platform play that will compete in with similar offerings from the ActiveWorlds, 3DXPlorer, Multiverse, Forterra Systems, Proton Media, Croquet, and the OpenSimulator project.
All of these solutions are particularly interesting to the enterprise because they run on a server behind the firewall offering at least the perception of better control and security. This makes them well suited for internal collaboration or secured interaction with partners and customers. The Second Life Grid could be used in a similar capacity though as a service not as a server. IBM and Linden are working on an enterprise version of the SL that will live behind a firewall.
Project Chainsaw distinguishes itself from these other players on three accounts: Voice - With most enterprise virtual worlds, voice seems like it’s almost an after thought. The primary mode of communication is IM and voice, if supported at all, is pretty rudimentary. Nortel’s virtual world uses a 44Khz voice codec for amazing sound quality. It wasn’t just that the voice was clear, but that voice changed based on the avatar’s proximity to one another. Much like in real life, the closer avatars where to one another, the louder their voice. This enables cluster of individuals to have separate conversations over the same voice channel and still leave the voice understandable.
Nortel confirmed that it was licensing the technology, but wouldn’t say from whom. Rich Tehrani sees the technology being very similar to DiamondWare and wonders if the company might be an acquisition target for Nortel.
Client – Nortel showed a mock up of a virtual Dell store where people could browse and purchase Dell computers and products. The store looked remarkably like a SecondLife store with one major difference. Instead of launching a separate application Nortel requires just the use of a downloadable plug-in into the browser, similar to 3DXPlorer. As a result, many of the usability problems with installing an using the software are avoided. Organizations can use the software as a standard web page, something that’s not possible today with most other virtual worlds.
Unified Communications Integration – Expect Nortel to tie Web Alive into the rest of its UC play. This is still more concept than fact (but heck the whole project is more concept than product anyway) where you can expect Project Chainsaw to become part of the broader portfolio of collaboration product and projects Nortel is offering with Microsoft, IBM and on its own. One simple example of this collaboration that was offered by the Nortel folk: change the presence status on an OCS or Sametime client, for example, and it would change the presence status of a user’s avatar within the virtual world.
Project Chainsaw will be important for a number of reasons. Nortel continues to differentiate itself with its voice expertise. Yet through its relationship with Microsoft, PBXes are no longer a core message for the company. In fact, PBXs weren’t even discussed during the entire day at Ottawa. A virtual world platform allows Nortel to enter what’s expected to be a billion dollar plus market while leveraging its expertise in voice and UC. For enterprises, the Nortel play is significant because it introduces an established player with a long history of communication and collaboration expertise into the virtual world market.
No release date was announced for the technology, but the impression Nortel gave was that it would be within the year.