Remember when -- not that long ago -- it seemed so next-gen simply to be able to see an out-of-office colleague during conference calls?
Now simple videoconferencing is starting to look downright archaic with Sun's announcement of a virtual workplace it calls MPK20. (We think it sounds like a particularly unloveable "Star Wars"character, but we digress.) The virtual office contains a host of real-world features that will allow avatars/coworkers to collaborate on projects and interact in meetings. In theory, just about any business application could be used in MPK20.
Along with IBM, Sun was an early advocate of Second Life, earning some trade press ink with its establishment of a Sun Pavilion in the online community.
Though we havelong questioned whether companies really want to be in Second Life, there seem to be few such doubts in the Second Life community. Second Life recently announced it planned tointroduce a voice application that would allow avatars to speak with each other, a feature that seems to be aimed squarely at the business market. Sun's MPK20 already boasts this feature.
We were intrigued by Second Life CEO Phillip Rosedale's recent mention of a "starter pack" that would lower the Second Life learning curve for enterprises by helping folks create avatars. We suspect business types might not want to invest much effort in doing so, a hunch confirmed during our recent interview with Unisfair, a company that specializes in online trade shows and other virtual environments.
"Business professionals don't want to have to learn a bunch of new functions and commands. They don't really want avatars, they don't want to dress up and have green hats," Unisfair's VP of marketing told us.
Though it doesn't have a virtual enterprise concept as fully fleshed out as Sun's, we wouldn't be surprised to see IBM making moves in the same direction. It recently rolled out a hybrid mainframe geared toward advanced 3D applications. While initially meant for use by online gaming communities, IBM has mentioned the platform will be suitable for a variety of business apps, such as resource planning, CRM and data management.
It seems to us that companies interested in virtual environments would be more inclined to work with Sun or IBM than with Second Life, which has little traction in the enterprise market. Both also have plenty of experience building the kind of heavy-duty computing environment necessary to keep a virtual office running smoothly. One of the knocks against Second Life, according to regular users, is an unreliable infrastructure.
Though still a concept, MPK20 could be ready for internal deployment at Sun within six months, according to a recent InformationWeek article.