Mozilla’s mission statement is to ensure that the Internet remains a global public resource, open and accessible to all, and they’ve been helping bring VR to the web for the past three years. A-Frame is an open source framework that has gained a lot of momentum over the last year with more participants on the A-Frame Slack channel than the official WebVR Slack.
I had a chance to catch up with A-Frame core developers Diego Marcos & Kevin Ngo at the IEEE VR conference in March to get an overview of A-Frame, and how it’s driving WebVR content and innovations in developer tools. Mozilla is also planning on shipping WebVR 1.1 capabilities in the desktop version of Firefox 55, which should be launching later this year in August.
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Mozilla believes in open source and the open web, and they have a vibrant and very supportive community on the A-Frame Slack that is very helpful in answering questions. Ngo has been curating the weekly highlights from the A-Frame community for over a year now posting the latest experiences, components, tools, and events in his Week in A-Frame series on the A-Frame blog, which has helped to grow the A-Frame community
A-Frame uses a entity-competent model that’s very similar to Unity’s model where you spatially position 3D components within a scene, and then you add behaviors and scripts that drive the interactive behavior. There’s a visual editor to move objects around in a scene, and a VR-editor is on the roadmap to be able to put together WebVR scenes in A-Frame while being in VR. There’s an open source collection of components that is being officially curated and tested in the A-Frame registry, but there’s also various collections of interesting components on GitHub repositories such as these Awesome A-Frame components or this KFrame collection of components and scenes.
Google even announced at Google I/O that they’re using A-Frame in order to rapidly prototype Google Expeditions experiences. WebVR and A-Frame is a perfect combination for Google as they’re trying to organize all of the information in the world. The strength of the open web is that you’re able to mash-up data from many different sources, and so there are going to be a lot of educational and immersive experiences focusing on mental presence are going to built on top of WebVR technologies.
In my interview with WebVR spec author Brandon Jones, he expressed caution of launching the Google Chrome browser with the existing WebVR 1.1 spec because there were a lot of breaking changes that will need to be made in the latest “2.0″ version order to make the immersive web more compatible for both virtual reality and augmented reality. Because Chrome is on over 2 billion devices, Jones said that they didn’t want to have to manage this interim technical debt and would prefer launching a version that’s going to provide a solid future for the immersive web.
Some WebVR developers like Mozilla’s Marcos and Ngo argue that not shipping WebVR capabilities in a default mainstream browser has hindered adoption and innovation for both content and tooling for WebVR. That’s why Mozilla is pushing forward with shipping WebVR capabilities in Firefox 55, which should be launching on the PC desktop in August.
Mozilla wants developers to continue to develop and prototype experiences in WebVR without worrying that they’ll break once the final stable public version of WebVR is finally released. Mozilla is willing to manage the interim technical debt from the WebVR 1.1 spec in order to bootstrap the WebVR content and tooling ecosystem.
Mozilla is also investing heavily in a completely new technology stack with their Servo browser, which could eventually replace their mobile Firefox technology stack. Marcos previously told me that Servo is aiming to be built to support immersive technologies like WebVR as a first-class priority over the existing 2D web. Servo has recently added Daydream support with GearVR support coming soon. They’ve shown a proof of concept of a roller coaster Daydream app built in three.js that runs natively as a native application within Daydream.
Overall, Mozilla believes in the power of the open web, and wants to be a part of building the tools that enable metaverse that’s a public resource the democratizes access to knowledge and immersive experiences. There’s a lot of questions around concepts like self-sovereign identity, how an economy is going to powered by some combination of crytpocurrencies and the Web Payments API, as well as the concepts of private property ownership and how that might be managed by the blockchain. A lot of the concepts of a gift economy that Cory Doctorow explores in “Walkaway” are being actively implemented by Mozilla through the open source creation of the Metaverse, and everyone in the WebVR community is looking forward to a stable release later this year. For Mozilla, that begins in August with Firefox 55, but this is just the beginning of a long journey of realizing the potential of the open web.