HotMedia Cooks Up Sizzling Java-Based Multimedia

SAN MATEO (07/17/2000) - Perhaps you are seeking ways to increase Web site traffic, up the amount of time visitors spend at your site, or just reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts in your e-commerce applications. Interactive rich media (various types of multimedia) elements can keep visitors coming to your site and increase the number of completed transactions with ease.

Research shows a growing interest and business viability for interactive rich media elements. Jupiter Communications recently stated that 90 percent of Web users polled prefer interactive Web sites and 42 percent are more inclined to leave an e-commerce site without making a purchase when interactivity is lacking.

Steve Kleyanhans, an analyst at Toronto-based Meta Group Inc., said he believes rich media and interactivity help encourage Web site visitors to make repeat visits to an e-commerce site. Clearly, companies will need to focus on adding interactivity and rich media to remain competitive.

IBM Corp.'s HotMedia 3.0, which is based on Java, neatly supports multimedia and makes it possible to deploy rich media easily across multiple platforms.

HotMedia's tools require only a very slight learning curve. I was able to create multimedia applications with HotMedia in less than an hour. Thus, your development staff and designers will be able to incorporate multimedia elements in your site without a large investment in training.

You might use HotMedia to create interactive ad banners that jump directly to an e-commerce storefront without leaving the originating page. This feature comes in handy when a shopper wants to view information about a product but doesn't want to leave a current Web page where an existing transaction is taking place. Developers can use HotMedia to insert hotlinks in their ads that allow users to see a product in a separate browser window. Customers complete their transactions with minimal mouse clicking and without leaving the originating site.

Assembly, not creation

Some of HotMedia's rivals include MetaStream (used to make and deploy 3-D objects), Flash (for 2-D vector animations), RealMedia (for streaming audio and streaming video), and QuickTime (for creating panoramas). Of these, QuickTime is limited to single media formats and requires client-side plug-ins for Web display. All of these tools include creation and editing tools.

By contrast, HotMedia requires that the multimedia elements already exist.

HotMedia's focus is on assembly; it doesn't allow you to edit or create content. Instead, it is used to assemble various types of existing media created in other products. For this reason, you'll need a product such as Adobe Photoshop or Internet Pictures' iPIX software to create multimedia with which to work.

This free tool surpasses competing solutions by solving the problem of delivering a variety of rich media without adding specialized servers or multiple plug-in architectures. This enables users to easily create a wide variety of business applications, including Web presentations, educational coursework, self-service help, customer service, interactive advertising, and electronic catalogs.

HotMedia also greatly reduces development time compared to its competitors. The product makes quick work of rich media assembly. Other products require a multiple pass operation (creation, assembly, and deployment) to accomplish the same goal.

Moreover, most of the other tools are capable of creating and assembling only a single type of rich media. For example, Macromedia Flash allows you to create and assemble only ShockWave content.

In contrast, HotMedia allows you to integrate 360-degree panoramas, synchronized audio, multitrack animations, video, scrolling tickers, and 3-D VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language ) objects into a single file format served from any HTTP server. Interactive hot spots can be added to HotMedia elements so end-users can jump from one rich media element to another or to Web pages.

Unfortunately, HotMedia does not support vector graphics. Flash, which is the market leader for vector-based 2-D animations, doesn't support bitmap graphics.

It would be great if HotMedia supported open standards, such as the ShockWave format. Still, I don't consider this a major problem because those who want to create 2-D vector animations will probably use Flash or another available tool.

If you want to create spherical 360-degree-by-360-degree panoramas, for example, in a real estate application, you'll need to use HotMedia with iPIX media, a camera with a fisheye lens, and iPIX authoring software. HotMedia supports the creation of single-direction 360-degree panoramas using third-party stitching applications.

This latest version of HotMedia adds support for streaming video and manipulation of 3-D images along with some more general enhancements.

Free and easy

HotMedia is downloadable for free via IBM's Web site. In addition to the download link, I located plenty of HotMedia documentation and a bevy of sample multimedia elements with which to work.

I tested HotMedia on both the Windows and Mac OS platforms. My configuration included Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0 running on Windows NT 4.0, and I ran the HotMedia assembly tool on both Windows 98 and a Macintosh running Mac OS 9.04 without incident.

In no time flat, I was assembling multimedia elements for my test applications.

I was impressed with how easy HotMedia was to use.

After assembly, I was able to preview my test applications and publish them to my Web server very easily. The only real issue I encountered was a lack of information regarding HotMedia's tracking feature and support for JavaScript.

Eventually, I was able to figure things out, but more detailed information would have been welcome.

Business applications that include HotMedia elements are compatible with any Java-enabled browser. The HotMedia elements are served to end-user browsers as Java applets. This architecture is suitable whether the end-user is leveraging a slower-speed dial-up connection or broadband connectivity.

If you are concerned with increasing site traffic or decreasing the number of incomplete e-commerce transactions, introducing multimedia elements is one solution to consider. IBM's HotMedia is easy to use and freely available, making it a good choice for businesses that are already leveraging other tools for multimedia creation.

Senior Analyst Jeff Senna (jeff_senna@infoworld.com) has been evaluating emerging multimedia and other Internet-based technologies for seven years.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

HotMedia 3.0

Business Case: This Java-based rich media solution can help Web designers enhance many types of Web sites with interactive multimedia content without using specialized media servers or plug-ins.

Technology Case: HotMedia makes it simple for Web developers and designers to create interactive banner ads, streaming video, and animated content with background audio that's highly compressed -- without degradation in quality.

Pros:

+ Free

+ Easy-to-use assembly tool

+ Combines multiple media types

+ Allows you to add hyperlinks in most media typesCons:

- Weak documentation

- Does not support vector graphics

- Requires iPIX media for spherical 360-by-360 panoramasCost: FreePlatform(s): Server: Any HTTP-capable Web server; Client: Windows 95/98/2000 and Mac OSIBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.; (800) 426-4968; www.ibm.com.

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