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June 01, 1998, TechWeb News


Xerox subsidiary releases Hyperbolic Tree technology for licensing -- InXight user interface adds XML to 3-D Web
By Bernard Cole

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Xerox Corp. subsidiary InXight Software Inc. is continuing its drive to make Xerox' Focus+Context user interface the industry standard for visualizing complex information on PCs, databases and the World Wide Web. In its latest move, InXight has released a powerful new version of its Hyperbolic Tree component technology for licensing to developers.

The upgrade incorporates the Extensible Markup Language (XML)-the follow-on and complement to the Web's Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) format-and defines a Document Type Definition (DTD) that will let developers customize the user interface for any application that requires visualizing, organizing and navigating through large amounts of information.

Hyperbolic Tree Version 2.0 builds on the success Version 1.2-which provided 3-D-like displays of hierarchical relationships for Web-site management-by enabling more complex, non-hierarchical structures to be shown on a PC's user interface. Hyperbolic Tree displays documents, data and their organizational relationships in 3-D-like structures that present smooth, animated transitions as users navigate the system.

The approach is radically different from conventional, 2-D graphical user interfaces, such as Microsoft Windows 95, the more Net-friendly Windows 98 and such proposed network-user-in-terface successors as Netscape's Constellation, SCO's Tarantella, Oracle's WebTop, Sun's HotJava Views, IBM/Lotus' Kona Desktop and IBM's Bluebird. All of those next-generation interfaces simplify the interface by eliminating the choices a user can make.

Rather than eliminate choices, the Focus+Context technology-patented by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Parc)-enlarges areas to which the user points while retaining fisheye-like contextual views of surrounding "nodes," or representations of folders, documents and data. Unlike traditional navigational methods, such as clicking through pages on a Web site, Hyperbolic Tree interfaces let users know at all times where they are in relationship to the overall data set.

"It is much like the way a human views the real world, not through a window but by viewing in detail what is the center of attention and retaining a fuzzy representation of what is on the periphery," said senior product-marketing manager Barry Engel. The user thus focuses on the area of interest but is not confined "to one particular view."

Version 2.0 extends the available range of icons and graphics, letting developers customize the interface to present visual cues that help users more easily and quickly identify the nature of underlying content. For example, in a network-management application, Hyperbolic Tree 2.0 could provide a complete overview of all nodes on the network, letting managers easily scan and effectively drill down to items of interest. Relationships of clients to multiple servers-and problems at any of the client or server nodes-are indicated through a variety of graphic and color codes.

Network activity, too

Similar techniques are used to represent network activity, giving managers an interactive view of network traffic that lets them better map and analyze flow between clients and servers for bandwidth-needs forecasts.

"The initial release of Hyperbolic Tree transformed Web-site development and management," said Ramana Rao, chief technology officer and director of engineering for InXight. "Products from Microsoft and SoftQuad, which integrate InXight components, have created a more intuitive environment in which vast Web sites are easy to visualize."

In addition to support of C, C++ and Java, Version 2.0 is available as ActiveX and Java Beans object technology for use in such development environments as Visual Basic, PowerBuilder and Symantec Visual Cafe.

According to Engel, data can be presented by the Hyperbolic Tree either as a true hierarchical tree or in directed graphs, which depict non-hierarchical structures. Graphs within the Hyperbolic Tree framework are transformed into either an equivalent tree or a set of trees, to represent multiple parentage of nodes.

Support for XML

But the most important enhancement to Hyperbolic Tree, according to Engel, is its support for XML, the emerging data-representation standard for describing relationships among large sets of data on the Web. That opens the way for Xerox' pioneering Focus+Context visualization technique to become the standard for navigating the Web in the same way the Xerox-developed WIMP (windows, icons, menu and mouse/pointer) interface approach has become the standard on the desktop.

Xerox did not gain commercially from the popularization of the WIMP GUI. But InXight's licensing of the Fo-cus+Context technology should ensure that the revenue opportunity is not lost this time around, Rao noted.

Among other licensing arrangements, Hyperbolic Tree has already been used as the foundation technology for Web-site-development and -management software in the popular Microsoft Site Server and SoftQuad HoTMetaL Pro products. It has also been licensed by Comshare Inc. for use in Comshare Decision, a tool used within closed intranet and database applications to visualize and manage huge amounts of data. About 20 developers are said to be in various stages of product development with the Hyperbolic Tree component package.

With the addition of support for XML as well as Java, JavaBeans and Active X, the way is open to developers to design navigation tools for the Web that are not limited to particular Web sites or databases. That is because XML provides mechanisms for adding so-called "metadata" to information in a database or particular Web site that is readable across diverse hardware and software platforms.

Until the inception of XML, said Engel, sophisticated, 3-D-based Focus+Context visualization tools were limited to use on individual Web sites and databases because of the lack of

a common metadata format across the Web. Large repositories of information were often formatted and organized in unique ways, employing information tied to each file-metadata-that allowed users inside the database to access information in ways that were not possible to users accessing it through the Web.

"As XML, rather than HTML, becomes the common language of the Web, the average user will be able to use such advanced 3-D visualization techniques to navigate more easily throughout the Internet," Engel said.

Hyperbolic Tree Version 2.0 will be available to application developers and system integrators this month as component object technology, packaged as ActiveX for the Windows platform. An updated Java and Java Beans version will be available later in the summer.

For more information, call (650) 852-0290, e-mail info@inxight.com or access www.inxight.com.

Copyright 1998 CMP Media Inc.