I’ve seen so many lousy approaches to three-dimensional Web browsing that I had pretty low expectations when I heard about SpaceTime. Surprisingly, this free public beta includes some interesting and useful ideas, though overall it’s still too buggy for sustained use.
When you launch SpaceTime, the opening screen suggests a calm summer sky, with a few wispy clouds floating past. Type a URL into the address field, and an image of the site you identified pops up in a window. As you open more windows, they arrange themselves in a sort of 3D parade that marches from right to left on your screen as you click from one image to the next.
In this view, though, you can only look at the image of the Web site. To launch the page, you must double-click the image, causing it to fill the SpaceTime window. For basic browsing, SpaceTime has no appeal: If I’m trying to view a specific page, I want it to open directly, without my having to type its URL and click its image before I can interact with it.
The SpaceTime approach to searching showed some promise, however. Put a few keywords into the search box, and SpaceTime brings up a parade of images showing the first ten search results. Flipping through these images can sometimes give you a better idea of whether you want to visit the site itself than if you were to just read the snippet of text you’d get if you used the same keywords in Google.
SpaceTime lets you search Google and Yahoo for pages and images, Flickr for images, YouTube for videos and eBay for auctions. But the image search using Google or Yahoo shows only the image found, not the Web page containing it. Clicking the image using Google opens the actual Web page, but at press time I couldn’t do this using Yahoo. When using either search engine you can’t download the image directly–a capability that would make this feature much more useful. Until that bug is worked out, the image search neatly demonstrates quick scrolling through image results, but otherwise isn’t useful.
SpaceTime requires a somewhat powerful system configuration–512MB of RAM, a 3D graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory, and a screen resolution of at least 1280 by 1024. I ran the program on a desktop with 1GB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce 6800 with 256MB of RAM, and the application still felt slow and jerky. The images of Web pages are somewhat fuzzy as well.
SpaceTime is the first 3D browser I’ve seen that may eventually become useful, but its functionality is not there yet.